In pursuit of a better tool bag

Recently, I found myself in the uneasy position of trying to complete a home repair in spite of my being completely ill-equipped to do the job. In addition to having no tools that were truly essential for the task, I also had no ladder capable of reaching the area, nor the experience to properly deal with the problem in a manner that would make a lasting difference.

Though I would spend a substantial amount of time trying to figure out a way to overcome my lack of equipment, skills, and supportive resources, I remained truly unable to provide myself what was necessary to do the work and do it safely. In time, I called upon a professional who arrived fully pre­pared and took care of the problem immediately and completely.

This experience came to mind not much more than a week later while I was at work. Someone who had a particular challenge called upon me to help, and in this case, I was the trained, equipped, and ready-with-resources person who could solve a tough issue. Though my colleague had struggled for sev­eral days with an ongoing concern, his call to me allowed him to rely upon someone to look at the problem with eyes of experience and the confidence to handle things effectively, efficiently, and safely.

It is remarkable that the “tool bag” we all carry around can become, over time, filled with very special instruments. Someone who paints houses professionally may rely heavily upon a compressor and spray gun, but in all too many instances that painter must pull out the smallest of brushes to properly cover and complete intricate areas. Likewise, a heavy-duty truck mechanic may need some of the larg­est and most sophisticated wrenches to repair various vehicles but will also inevitably need to opt for a fine, small-shafted screwdriver to adjust a setting or to remove or replace a small but essential connection.

Yet the tool bag they and we have created is much more than a collection of large and small tools. You see, there are very important supporting resources that help us access difficult spaces and places to do that skilled work. Where the painter might need a ladder, or our mechanic might need a lift to get under his customer’s car, we too rely upon resources to access a problem more effectively.

For law enforcement and public safety profes­sionals serving higher education, these resources most certainly include networks of peers and col­leagues whom we can call on to add perspective to our paradigm of a given problem. Simply put, the more we can see the problem, the more we can see the available solutions. These networks also offer us advanced training and new techniques, even if we are using the same fundamental tools.

There is one more essential set of assets inside our tool bags: our experience. This experience is an ever-developing compilation of successes and failures in many shapes and sizes, and in various stages of our careers. Our previous experiences of either success or failure simply add to our awareness of the many things that can arise and throw us a new challenge within an existing challenge. Peter M. Senge described this quite well when explaining how much we learn from failure and how little we glean from success in his landmark text, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.

The challenge in all of this is not how willing we are to put new tools, resources, and experiences into our tool bag. The challenge is growing through this process so that we will be willing, capable, and even eager to transition to a larger tool bag that will have room for all the yet-to-be-discovered tools and techniques that await us in our future.

There is a very important symmetry to the distribu­tion of skills across our campuses and communities. Those who work primarily with people, and those whose skills are to develop, maintain, and repair the great many machines and instruments that sup­port our daily lives have enormous importance to the quality of life we can and seek to enjoy.

Therefore, we must strive to serve these dedicated people, whose interests and skills contribute so much to our ability to succeed, at the highest possible level.

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