You get philosophical when you’re fixing a broken toilet. I do, anyway, which is probably an indication that really I should be thinking about what I need to do to the toilet rather than trying to improve on Aristotle.

But anyway. There I was, sitting on the bathroom floor, reasonably happy thinking that my Dad, an obsessive DIYer to his dying day, would be proud of me. I had all the bits. I had all the tools. I understood the problem – a busted siphon. (I’ll spare you the lecture on how cisterns work).

Then the philosophical difficulties of what I was doing started hitting me, at about the same time as the practical difficulties of getting the task right. Why was I presuming to invade the territory of people who have spent years learning and then practising a very skilled craft? Did I have no respect for their knowledge? Their aptitude?  Their tradition? Their livelihood? Sure, I was saving money by doing it myself. But shouldn’t I really have got it done properly?

That got me thinking about the ancient principle of the Division of Labour. Even in the least developed societies, it’s highly unusual for everyone to do everything. You’ll have someone who’s good at making arrows, say, and someone else who shoes horses.  It’s an efficient system because you mostly end up with people who are good at something, doing the thing that they’re good at.

Spool forward to today, and the much-vaunted modern virtue of ‘multi-tasking’.  Women particularly enjoy talking about this as they are acknowledged to be much better at it than men, and raising the subject allows them to enjoy a quiet smirk. But is it always really such a great idea?  Should CEOs really know how to fix toilets, and if they do, is plumbing the most cost-effective use of their time?

There are two ways of looking at this. Confucius said that everyone should be “diligent in handicrafts” as well as having business skills and academic knowledge, because it makes you happier, more well-rounded and more fulfilled. So if you run a multinational but like to relax by fixing toilets or playing football, go for it.

Then there’s efficiency. It makes obvious sense for gas meter readers to read electricity meters on the same visit.  Nowadays video camera operators tend to record their own sound, so that sound recordists are becoming a rare breed. Copy typists have gone the way of blacksmiths and VHS tape manufacturers.

But you don’t always get efficiency when you ask people to do jobs they are not used to. Sometimes, they are just crap at it. So any restructuring plan that doubles up tasks to save money needs to be looked at very carefully. Are the staff capable of doing the additional task? To a good enough standard? If quality suffers, it may not be a saving.

Like me with toilets. (When I joined the Sons of Toil, I was asked to leave on the grounds of insufficient horny-handedness.)  While I was thinking these profound thoughts, I was trying to figure out a byzantine set of technical instructions. I was cutting pipe in a confined space. I was working painfully slowly, and made a ridiculous number of trips to B&Q because I didn’t know what I needed to get until I had found I didn’t have it.

So the upshot is, I have spent a day fixing the toilet cistern and it is still not fixed. I did not enjoy the experience. We have been without water for 24 hours. I thought I had fixed it but then I flooded the bathroom. I was not pleased. A proper, qualified plumber is coming round in the morning. But the day has not been entirely wasted. I’ve written this blog post.