The Battle of the Prefixes

In recent years the term “outsourcing” has become a dirty word. This is of course due to the practice of US companies “outsourcing” jobs to subsidiaries or subcontractors overseas, resulting in the loss of employment here at home.

Despite the bad reputation it has garnered, outsourcing is something we all do every day. In fact, Americans are more adept at outsourcing than they are at just about anything else.

Every morning you wake in a bed you outsourced to a mattress company, a furniture manufacturer and sheet supplier. You have breakfast in a kitchen filled with appliances you outsourced to appliance companies, using food you outsourced to farmers, food processors, and bakers.

You plunk your butt into the car you outsourced to an auto manufacturer, burning gasoline you outsourced to an oil company while listening to music you’ve outsourced to artists all over the world.

You arrive at your job where you spend the next eight or so ours performing some task that is likely something someone else does not want to do… so they outsourced it to your company.

We Americans don’t really know how to do much at all by ourselves. Even clever do-it-yourselfers like me, still need thousands of dollars of tools designed an built by someone else, using supplies obtained from huge warehouses full of parts and materials, prepared for us by yet another group of people that are not us.

In addition to being a problem solver, I am a lover of the English language and one of my favorite things has always been the idea of the prefix and the suffix.

English allows us to change only part of a word to modify it, sometimes a little and often completely… like so many little word Legos.

So the word outsource is actually the word “source” married up to the prefix “out.” Technically, “out” can be an adverb, an adjective, a preposition, a noun a verb or an interjection, but in this case it is being used as a prefix, so all you grammar Nazis out there… power down, this isn’t about you.

So the battle of the prefixes I speak of, is the fight between “out” and a much more modern and hip prefix… “crowd.” As you might have guessed, I have a story.

As most of you know, my family recently moved from New York to North Carolina. We are in a new city where we don’t know too many people. One day my cousin Dennis told me about something called It is basically Facebook for neighborhoods. If you’ve never been, I recommend you check it out.

So I signed up, entered the minimum amount of personal info and began to (politely) cyberstalk my neighbors. At first it wasn’t too interesting, so after a few days I typed up a “hey we’re new to the neighborhood” message and broadcast it to the 100+ folks in my immediate neighborhood, who are on the website.

I received several polite little “welcome to the neighborhood” replies, but within a day I received an interesting note:

“Hey Steve, I live around the corner from you with my Husband and daughter. I grew up one town over from you in NY and your sister was my high school English teacher. Welcome to the neighborhood! -Melinda”

Welcome to small world 2.0.

Melinda and I got together for coffee, compared notes, played a little “who do ya know” and we both left pleased to have made a new friend.

Generally the kind of messages you see on have subjects like:

  • Dog found at the corner of …
  • Looking for recommendations for a landscaper
  • Did anyone else hear that loud bang at 10:04 am

All harmless, but somewhat helpful stuff. So, one morning I received my daily digest of next door messages by email, and one looked like this:


The post that caught my eye

Normally I would have cruised by that one, since I know no locksmiths of any kind here in Charlotte, NC. However I stopped and clicked on it since it had been posted by none other than my new friend Melinda. Turns out Melinda had a broken lock on her sliding patio door and after two unsuccessful attempts at outsourcing the work to a locksmith, she decided to give crowdsourcing a try.

I sent her a direct email and told her I had recently rebuilt the lock mechanism on a sliding patio door, and I would be happy to come have a look. She replied that she would like that since her attempts to fix it had resulted in the door being stuck in the closed and locked position.

A few days later I stopped by her house and after a little fiddling with the lock, I managed to get it unlocked, but clearly the mechanism was shot.

The door was a very generic model with no real markings of any kind.

I recommended she take pictures of all the parts we had removed (and the still installed broken lock mechanism), and head over to the badass hardware store here in town. This is not a Home Depot or Lowes, no sir.

This is one of those hardware stores where they have a sleeping dog on the floor, free popcorn and… all the answers.

If you’ve ever been in such a place you know what I’m talking about. Back in Rochester NY, it was called Debbie Supply, but here in Charlotte NC, it is called Blackhawk Hardware.

I left Melinda, feeling good about the help I had given her. A few minutes later I got this text:


The text of progress

Two days later, she stopped by while out for a walk with her daughter. When I inquired about her door she told me the following.

After I had left her house, she managed to get the broken lock out and sent me the text above. Buoyed by her progress, she packed her toddler into the car and headed to Blackhawk Hardware. The folks there knew exactly what she needed, and sold it to her for just under $20. She brought her shiny new part home, and before her husband returned from work, the new part was installed and functioning.

Crowdsourcing for the win!

Melinda was prepared to outsource the repair of her door to a locksmith. She shared with me she was prepared to pay “in the hundreds” of dollars to fix the problem or even replace the door. In the end it cost her very little money, but she actually ended up way ahead. I have no doubt the next time Melinda needs something fixed, she will ask for advice and take a crack at going it alone before succumbing to the lazy American habit of outsourcing.

In the battle of the prefixes, I encourage you to get behind “crowd” and consider “out” as a last resort. It has been said, “none of us is as smart as all of us.” I think Melinda would agree.

I’d love to hear your stories of crowdsourcing success. Please share in the comments section below. You never know who you might be helping!

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “The Battle of the Prefixes

  • When I retired I decided to offer my services as a handyman, mainly to help single moms and senior citizens.
    While it was gratifying to help a few folks who were truly in need, the administrivia (LLC reporting, taxes and liability) was a pain.
    Plus, it was discouraging to find so many persons who were perfectly capable of doing the fix themselves but had no interest in learning how. It’s nice to hear there are still “Melinda”s around!

    A couple comments…
    – More folks need to learn that one of the best tools available is free: all those how-to videos on YouTube! I have yet to Google a repair that someone hasn’t done before.
    – Blackhawk Hardware is good – but Little Hardware (Mint Street, near uptown) and Renfrow Hardware (Mathews) are even better. Even if they don’t have the part you need, it’s worth a trip to Refrow’s just for the step back in time.

    John (another immigrant from the Rochester area)

  • There is nothing more rewarding than figuring something out by yourself, and all the better with using as many crowdsourcing avenues in advance! I bought a cookbook at our local Goodwill called Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade..20 minute meals. Sandra’s theses is “…all about getting that “made from scratch” taste with a realistic amount of energy and effort. Life is short, and when you think about how much every minute with family and friends counts, you’ll savor every shortcut.” That’s what Melinda did by crowdsourcing first, and then completing her recipe for Working Door all by herself. Bravo Melinda! Thanks Steve for another penny!

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