Humans like starting new things much more than taking care of older things. This is true on both an institutional and individual level: it’s more exciting to build a new road than to maintain it; more exciting to lose weight than to keep it off. There’s plenty of short-term pleasure and intrinsic motivation when it comes to pursuing something novel, but the effort to keep up unsexy maintenance on what we’ve already got takes real intent. 

My guest today says we’ve lost that intent and need to revive it. His name is Lee Vinsel and he’s a professor of science, technology, and society, the co-founder of The Maintainers, a research network dedicated to the study of maintenance, repair, upkeep, and ordinary work, and the co-author of The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession With the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most. Lee and I begin our conversation with how our cultural focus on innovation has come at the expense of attention paid to maintenance and repair, and yet how talking more about innovation hasn’t really led to greater progress. We then get into the way the necessity of maintenance, repair, and caretaking has been neglected in business and government, creating a situation where we keep on building new things without investing in the upkeep of our current infrastructure. From there we turn to the way our all too common neglect of maintenance applies not only to big institutions, but also our personal lives, as in the areas of home ownership and health. We discuss how there’s less incentive these days to repair things in our disposable society where everything is cheap, and stuff is harder to fix, even when we want to. We end our conversation with how we can revive a maintenance mindset in our culture and individual lives. 

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Show Highlights

Why does innovation get the focus, to the detriment of maintenance?Innovation vs. innovation-speak The difference between progress and innovation The ways in which life hasn’t changed much in the last handful of decades Why is maintenance neglected?The incentivization of short-term gainsWhat happened to the higher status of maintenance jobs? Why is it so hard to keep our nation’s roads maintained?Ownership, right to repair, and the breakability of thingsGetting to a maintenance mindset

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

The Innovators by Walter IsaacsonThe Strategy ParadoxGoogle NgramThe Boring Decadence of Modern SocietyThinking for Yourself in an Age of Outsourced ExpertiseFinding Money and Meaning in the Blue Collar TradesAoM series on reviving blue collar workChuck Marohn and Strong TownsHow I Finally Made Flossing a Habit4 Reasons You Should Learn to Repair Your Own FurnitureRight to Repair MovementMy interview with Mike Rowe

Connect With Lee

Lee’s website

Lee on Twitter

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