Catalyst Strategic Consultants

How does your business need to grow?

Make Something! Yourself!

Most of us spend our lives manipulating information and concepts that don’t take physical form – unless it’s way down the value chain somewhere else far away.  Like the “field”.

So to arrive at the workshop Saturday and find that we were going to make 20 display art easels jarred my expectations. Here’s something different.  We’re going to make these with our hands?  Well, our hands and lots of power tools.
The easels are to display the work of 8 artists, including me, who make up the Free Play collective. Our exhibit is Saturday September 23, 2017 at the Calgary Canoe Club in West Glenmore Park from 10 – 4. Hope you can drop by.

But I fell to with the other 6. We followed Burke.  He is our only experienced woodworker.  He organized us into tasks to create a simple wood easel – at work stations.  Executing the steps in turn, we make the finished products.

I’m not adept at handy stuff – I don’t have the “farm kid” background Burke has, or the experience with [or ownership of] tools.  Most of the time at home if I attempt fixes, I frustrate myself and have to call in someone who’s good at stuff. They inevitably know exactly how and have the perfect tools..  Just about every male I can think of is highly allergic to looking stupid and being incompetent.  But lately, I’ve been affected by a podcast / book entitled “Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try!” I need to loosen up and take a run at activities I’d ruled out.

So…Dive in – volunteer – for the chop saw first.

We live in overwhelmingly cautionary times. “Sign this waiver”. “Danger!” “Careful!” “Warning, do not use without …”.  Kids are kept so safe these days they never experience anything!  Experts only can handle tools.  I guess we’re covering off liability and possible regret if an injury occurs.  Not here!  Not now!  Women running drills, a novice with a router in hand – a scene of engaged amateurs with licence to === produce!  Not just talk about, or organize or debate or manage.  No time for that!

  1. Just do it – you can think about how or why or what comes next but moving into the present with a piece of wood and tackling the job as best you can is instructive in itself.  With a little setup from Burke, I was off, chop-sawing the shorter and longer spacers between the two main upright struts.  We were building 6′ tall “A” forms.  Leaning against each other via hinges and a chain.  Wood pegs inserted into holes up and down the struts provide the support for the paintings to be displayed.
  2. By the time you’ve finished your task, you know how to do it.  As you work, and only as you work, you find out how the job could or should be done. I discovered that making angled ends on 1X4 could best be sequenced by flipping the timber over with each cut.  Then it went really fast, and I was finished my 40 pieces of each size in no time.  Now, whether they would fit and work as intended…
  3. Be prepared to move on.  There’s a strange proprietorship in work. Once I do some of it, I own it.  But when you’re done, you’re done.  You may be more helpful elsewhere.
  4. Working closely with others requires ego control.  Next stop for me was interesting, drilling angled holes near the end of each connecting piece I’d sawed so that screws could attach through them.  Karen and I had a clamp holding the upright pieces against a fancy metal guide allowing us to powerdrill the holes at a 20 degree angle.  We soon worked out a sequence for lining up, then clamping, then drilling, then flipping end for end to create 2 holes on each end.  It got slicker but not without incident. I nearly clamped Karen’s artist’s fingers.   We amended our process.  No boss, just talk.  Meanwhile, Paule was patiently and uncomplainingly drilling holes at a vertical drill press every 8 inches in the uprights.  Let’s see, that’s, say, 8 holes per strut X 80 struts = what? 640 holes.  Give me patience – but she had it!
  5. Discover your strengths!  Some people have an implicit understanding of how to work a particular machine and others are perplexed.  I came upon Richard at the trimming station trying to figure out how to turn on the router.  I tried it, and got it going first try!  I find that so interesting with machines, computers, cameras – so often I’m flummoxed by how to turn the damn thing ON.  He was trying to figure out how to trim using two people. Then I found clamps that worked better than a hand hold and was off.  Richard eventually drifted over to assembly where he attached the hinges to join the A’s together at the top, which he did easily, quickly and well.  I had the router trimming down to a one man job.
  6. Muscle fatigue is real.  That router weighs about 6 pounds – a rotating bit extending down from an 8″ round steel platform powered by an electrical rotary motor on top.  I got so I could run it down the 6′ exterior edge in one swipe one handed, tip it up and range over to another portion.  It’s intended [and safer!] to be held flat using two hands.  Rounding edges was pretty snazzy and snappy to do one-handed but soon the wrist began to complain. I had to think – let’s see.  40 of these A forms X 2 sides, – maybe 15 minutes to trim each A off – hmmm.  I’d better be smarter to go slower longer than faster shorter, or I’ll never complete without injury.  And as time went on, my arms and back got achy.
  7. Momentary lapses of feed cause interference. There were times when someone caught up due to lack of supply of components from “upstream” in the process.  This was sure trouble.  Soon the idle soul was looking around at what others were doing – distracting them – or worse – commenting on how they were proceeding.  Or the “boss” tried changing my area to another task.  Disruption and friction.  And soon I was way behind, having made no material contribution.
  8. Everyone wants to contribute and be valuable.  In this case, treating that as the founding assumption is helpful. These are volunteers. Hell, every worker these days is a volunteer.  And none of the stations were inherently more indispensable than others.  It was the flow that made it work – and people deployed themselves as needed.  No shirkers.  All players have an eagle eye for that, and no one came even close.  I once spied someone sitting in a chair off to the side and indulged for a moment in negative fantasy until I saw she was laboriously cutting the chains to connect the two A frame halves.  And that contributing culture made for lots of levity and easy work.  I think lots of “management” is directed at foreclosing off slacking or maximizing flow and actually [with the best of intentions] just gets in the way.  Most people left to themselves will be relentless in figuring ways to waste less time.  What management can productively do is exercise a different perspective by literally “overseeing” – looking at the whole process to see gaps or quality issues that will impact downline.  Or they can watch someone work and perhaps suggest an alteration the person immersed in their aspect can’t see.
  9. A culture of fun, appreciation and collaboration makes light work.  We didn’t work long enough together to rub each other’s fur the wrong way.  That would happen if we’d stayed at longer than just one day.  It’s inevitable.  Then management’s core task would be to restore good will to the scene and to keep it that way.  Once that is in place, cooperation becomes the possible norm.
  10. Theory about how to do it better is no good unless you have both the accepted role and the skill to enroll the others in the revised system.  It didn’t take long – once I’d “mastered” my own task – before I was thinking about how this could be better organized.  I thought about the Goldratt process flow theories that are so potent – but kept them to myself.
  11. People downstream are the best observers of what’s being done wrong upstream – but by that time it’s too late.  Ill formed A’s began appearing, screws protruding, necessitating repairs and fixes that were interminable and blocked flow.  Maybe we should have built one end to end so we could have calibrated and reduced errors at the outset.  But that goes against the urge to just get going and doing.  Hard to know which would be better.
  12. You sure learn about people by working with them.  We have made art separately and in parallel in studios before – and collaborated on this show previously.  But you really find out who people are when you work in close proximity and depend on each other’s efforts. All the surprises were pleasant in this case – participants showed more dedication and fine aspects of themselves than anything else.
  13. At the end, there were a few that had to leave.  That’s understandable, it was a much greater job and a longer day than anyone estimated.  And though all had given full devotion, it was those who were left at the end who were the true stick-to-its – the stalwarts.  And to them went the spoils.
  14. The “spoils” was arrival and full completion.  It was done.  20 easels were built, ready for the show.  And then there was a last hour, in the sunset on Paule’s west facing balcony overlooking the courtyard.  All had been put away, restored.  And the last 3 were at a patio table with cheese, fruit and bottles of wine to savour, reflect.  Let the joy of the work sink in is how the poem following puts it.  Males don’t tend to do the completion, celebration and satisfaction aspect of the cycle of engagement well.  They cheat themselves of a big part of the “why” we would spend a day building easels.  Women are better.  And bravo to Paule for providing a fully equipped workshop – without that we would have been crawling.  And primarily to Burke, for scoping this product out, acquiring the materials, pre-setting the table for us to work the day before and marshalling us through.
  15. 20 easels are ready.  This will be a very different show for all of us.  We will take a different pride in each other and in our show time together because of what we put into it.  You invest in what you care about and fulfillment follows.

Hope to see you at the show. You can admire the easels or some pretty fine art work..

And here’s the poem:

Prince Wen Hui’s cook was cutting up an ox.
Out went a hand, down went a shoulder,
he planted a foot, he pressed with a knee, the ox fell apart.
With a whisper, the bright cleaver murmured like a gentle wind.
Rhythm! Timing! Like a sacred dance, like ‘the mulberry grove,’ like ancient harmonies!
‘Good work!’ the prince exclaimed, ‘your method is faultless!’
‘Method?’ said the cook laying aside his cleaver, ‘what I follow is Tao beyond all methods!”
“When I first began to cut oxen I would see before me the whole ox all in one mass. After three years I no longer saw the distinctions.
“But now, I see nothing with the eye. My whole being apprehends. My senses are idle.
The spirit free to work without plan follows its own instinct guided by natural line, by the secret opening, the hidden space, my cleaver finds its own way. I cut through no joint, chop no bone.
“A good cook needs a new chopper once a year – he cuts. A poor cook needs a new one every month – he hacks!
“I have used this same cleaver nineteen years. It has cut up a thousand oxen. Its edge is as keen as if newly sharpened.
“There are spaces in the joints; the blade is thin and keen: when this thinness finds that space there is all the room you need!
It goes like a breeze! Hence I have this cleaver nineteen years as if newly sharpened!
“True, there are sometimes tough joints. I feel them coming, I slow down, I watch closely, hold back, barely move the blade, and whump! the part falls away landing like a clod of earth.
“Then I withdraw the blade, I stand still and let the joy of the work sink in. I clean the blade and put it away.”
Prince Wen Hui said, ‘This is it! My cook has shown me how I ought to live my own life!”
(translated by Thomas Merton & collected in Stephen Mitchell’s The Enlightened Heart)

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What’s Our Business?

Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


Past Posts