Help me convince them to hire more improvers.
December 19, 2019 11:29 AM   Subscribe

What's a common item that is made MUCH more useful when you also have another common item?

I'm looking for a simple metaphor that might explain why an engineer is more productive when she has coworkers who are UX experts, agile coaches, technical trainers, technical writers, product managers, and the like. My management chain tends to see a problem and assume that hiring more engineers must be the way to solve it.

I've rejected things like ice cream + chocolate syrup, because the chocolate syrup isn't really required, and the ice cream doesn't suffer without it.

I've also rejected things like a computer + a power cord, because the computer literally just doesn't work without a power cord, which isn't the case here.

The best thing I've thought of so far is the beach + sunscreen. Sunscreen enables one to be at the beach for much longer and leave much more happily than one otherwise would. But you don't really buy a beach, or have multiple beaches become more effective with sunscreen...

So: what's a common item that is made MUCH more useful, longer-lived, or more efficient when you also have another common item?
posted by woodvine to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A saw is much more useful when combined with a yardstick. Measure twice, cut once.
posted by SPrintF at 11:32 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

A car isn't very useful without brakes
A sink isn't very useful without a drain
A train isn't very useful without train tracks
Nails aren't useful wtihout a hammer
posted by entropone at 11:33 AM on December 19, 2019

A knife and a honer?
posted by ananci at 11:34 AM on December 19, 2019

You can use the metaphor of building a house: you don't only need carpenters, you also need plumbers, electricians, roofers, painters, etc.
posted by entropone at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2019 [17 favorites]

Olives are great on their own. They are also just full of oil, but you can't get it out without the press.
posted by DSime at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2019

Sink and/or tub + plumbing. Dry sinks and tubs exist, but are much more work to use.

Fork + knife. A fork alone is sufficient for many foods, but a fork and knife are a perfect pair.

A child + parents + doctor, dentist, teacher, vision/hearing screenings, etc. Parents do a lot, but can’t substitute for experts in their field.
posted by epj at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the nice things about the "you need specialists to build a house" is that the metaphor can get stretched a little on specialization: If all you're doing is putting together a really simple two-room house, you probably don't really need an architect, because a general contractor can wear that hat. If you want a really good house you end up needing an architect. If you just need to keep the rain out of a construction site, maybe your carpenters can put something up that's perfectly servicable - but to have a house people live in, you really do need specialist roofers.

By the same token, an early-stage or very small project might not need a specialized product manager or DevOps expert! But as you scale up, you start exceeding the limits of what somebody doing "the wrong job" can do well.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2019 [22 favorites]

Cake ingredients - eggs, flour, butter etc are nice things to have but they need to be combined to become a delicious cake.
posted by randomnity at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

A drill is all you need to make holes in walls but you probably want a stud finder to make sure the holes go in the right place.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:49 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's a bit obscure - but, lubricating hardware? If you don't grease your bearings, they'll seize and eventually destroy the whole mechanism. If you don't add oil when cutting screw threads, you're likely to destroy both the bit and the piece. You can get pretty far without it. . . but, you're better of with it, and it's far cheaper than buying more taps and regularly replacing bearings.
posted by eotvos at 11:55 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sex and lube if you're looking for one with a bit of color
posted by bbqturtle at 11:58 AM on December 19, 2019

Fridges and electricity. Can buy the best fridge in the world, but if you can't plug it in...
posted by rue72 at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2019

I know you rejected the computer/plug idea but I was just thinking of a story of our company founder -- he was a great salesman, and when he was first starting out, he sold fridges. He was assigned to a poor neighborhood out in the boondocks. And he sold the hell out of those fridges! Soon every house had bought a fridge. But then he went back one day to check on on his customers, was invited inside for a drink, and discovered to his horror that the customer's fridge wasn't powered up. It was just a big sealed box. So he asked. Turns out that the neighborhood wasn't electrified. NOBODY could plug their fridge in. They thought that at least it made for a good sealed box...

He lobbied and eventually got the neighborhood electrified. And his clients were even happier with their fridges then!
posted by rue72 at 12:10 PM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think the house-building analogy is a real winner in this context, but if you really want an example for your original analogy, how about computer + internet access (or, if we want this to be object, the cable box that provides internet access).
posted by mhum at 1:14 PM on December 19, 2019

Nitro and cars (in the movies). Cars work great, but then you press the nitro button and they really start flying.
posted by matrixclown at 1:32 PM on December 19, 2019

Toothbrush and toothpaste? You could brush without the paste, but it's much more effective to use both.
posted by kochenta at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

A bike is useful by itself, but if you want the bike to be safely rideable at night you need a headlight, and if you want it to quickly recover from a flat tire you need a repair kit. Buying 3 bikes instead of the 3 different items won’t allow you to ride at night or fix a flat.
posted by lakeroon at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe this won't work in your world, but a tablet without a keyboard. When I got an iPad in 2013, it was a toy. It wasn't useful for me at all except for scrolling through things; you just can't be productive without a real keyboard. The day I got a bluetooth keyboard for it, the iPad became a powerful force for achieving my work goals.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:00 PM on December 19, 2019

Car (or bike) and map? Sure the car does the bulk of the work and we'll probably find the destination eventually, but with a map we'll get there more efficiently. You could extend it with a GIS based navigation system -- sure the paper map was good, but we had to pull over to use it. Now we can get directions and even be directed back on track immediately if we make a wrong turn? (Maybe that's like your agile coach?)
posted by slidell at 4:17 PM on December 19, 2019

For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the soldier was lost;
For want of a soldier, the battle was lost;
For want of a victory, the war was lost.
posted by scratch at 7:27 PM on December 19, 2019

A camera and tripod and lights. Sure you can put the person near a window to take a portrait with just a camera and existing lighting. Add lights and the picture can go from amateur snapshot to professional quality. Add a tripod and you can take a long exposure to capture the night time city lights outside that window, and pop the strobes to expose for the person, making an impactful portrait.
posted by Sophont at 10:52 PM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sports teams?

Examples of teams that aren't going to win many games:

An American football team made up entirely of quarterbacks with no one to throw to, or block for them
A hockey team of only goalies or big scorers and no defensemen
A baseball team of only the best hitters, but no pitchers
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:53 AM on December 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

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