As many readers of Michael Marcon Tweets already know, I fancy myself an amateur Norm Abram, the world-renowned host of The New Yankee Workshop and the world’s most recognized woodworker. In fact, I once built a dining table that was valued at $2,500. It only cost me $4,000 in time and materials to build it!
As I was “piddling” (a technical woodworking term) in my workshop over the weekend, it struck me how many similarities there are between woodworking and business, and that doesn’t even include the laundry list of curse words shared by woodworkers and executives when something goes wrong.
Measure twice. Cut once.
This is the fundamental rule of woodworking and business. Unless you have an unlimited supply of wood (or, in my case, an oversized fire pit where I can burn any evidence of my mistakes), you cannot afford to be sloppy in your measurements. The pieces will not fit together if you just “eyeball” the measurements. Similarly, unless you are selling iPhones or Netflix subscriptions right before the new season of House of Cards drops, you cannot afford to be sloppy with your business planning. The pieces of the business will not fit together if you just “eyeball” the planning.
Go with the grain.
One of the first things you learn about working with wood is to “go with the grain.” It makes cutting easier. It makes joining boards easier. It makes sanding easier. It makes finishing easier. Notice a trend? Whenever possible, go with the grain when building your business.
There is a tool for every job.
The New Yankee Workshop is to woodworkers what Santa’s Workshop is to elves – heaven. Norm has a tool for every job. He uses the right tool for the job. Business leaders need to recognize that there is a tool for every job. Yes, you have to improvise when you are just starting out and cannot afford the state of the art table saw. But, the objective is to recognize that efficiency and simplicity are keys to a successful enterprise. Both come from having the right tools.
Sandpaper and hammers solve many problems.
Being a human being – instead of super-human like Norm – means that woodworking projects will not always work out the way you expected. When that happens, a little sanding here and a little hammering there and, viola, it all fits together. Since most businesses are made of humans – not super-humans like Jack Welch or Jamie Dimon – the business plans sometimes do not quite fit together. A gentle “sanding” here and a little “hammering” there and, voila, it all fits together.
It started out as a table…
In woodworking, as in business, it is important to be flexible and see opportunity in the face of disaster. I once spent weeks building a dining room table. I picked out the logs. I shaped them into fine lumber. I cut all the pieces. I built a strong, flat, beautiful top. I assembled it and… two legs were shorter than the others. So, I shortened the longer two legs to the length of the shorter two legs and… you guessed it. Even though I measured twice, the newly cut legs were now shorter! Disaster? No. My dining table became the coffee table I had “planned to build all along.” Jack Welch talks about running the plastics division of GE when the revolutionary product they were working on did not develop as expected. Monumental failure and huge stock price decline? Nope. They turned the failed product into a new product – Kevlar! It became one of the best inventions of the 20th century.
“And, remember this. There is no more important rule than to wear these – safety glasses.”
Anyone who has ever watched Norm on NYW knows that is how he ends every pre-job safety commentary. While you can never be protected from everything that can go wrong while working with power tools, you can identify those pieces of your body you want to protect. Your eyes are critical. Likewise, you cannot protect your business from every calamity. Know what parts of your business are critical and put on their safety glasses.
“And, next time, this is what we will build, right here, on The New Yankee Workshop.”
Norm would end every episode by showing the viewer the finished project of what he was going to build on the next show. I couldn’t wait to watch. As business leaders, our “viewers” are always watching us. What kind of lumber do we use for our projects — mighty oak, glorious cherry, or smooth maple? How do we care for our tools? How do we handle mistakes? What does our workspace look like? And, most importantly, what will we build next? Your “viewers” want to know. Keep them excited with new projects and new challenges.
As for me, what will I build next? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.