|(Photo credit: Mike's Woodworking)|
I’ve been working with my hands my entire life. As a young boy, I learned how to tinker with cars, shape wood, weld and bend metal in my grandfather's workshop. I began to design and build furniture in my early teens and would eventually work through college and into early adulthood working for or owning my own cabinet and furniture shop.
I found building something with my hands by beginning with a thought in my head and ending with a functional or artistic purpose was very gratifying. It was and still is amazing to watch a piece of wood or block of metal transform into something beautiful and useful. Early I considered my skills more a necessity than anything as it paid many bills and enabled me to fight fire seasonally. Later I would humbly realize it as a gift.
I have built and designed just about everything you can imagine: cars, motorcycles, tables, chairs, sculptures and homes. Many times after I’ve completed a project, I would wake up in the middle of the night and walk out to the shop and just stare in wonder as I proudly admired the finished work. Even after the many hours of designing, molding, shaping, repairing and sanding, I still found it unbelievable that I had built this with my own hands. I think of all the furniture, sculptures and many other project and wonder if the client still has it or if it’s in one piece. I would tell a customer this is something for you now but will be a memory for your children later.
Of course there were many bad designs and mistakes. Many started projects that ended crushed with a hammer or placed on a shelf in the corner. I was either not happy with where it was headed or unsure how to finish it. I’ve never designed and built from blueprints; and when I had to, it was painful. I found the exact numbers and formulas only created restrictions and limitations. I believe more in creative freedom and artistic vision.
No matter the project, there was always an opportunity to make a template. My grandfather and many other great artists I’ve worked for and with would always say the template is the hardest to make. A template in this world is oftentimes referred to as a “jig.” The jig was always the most time consuming and difficult to make. It required and artist's eye and an engineer's calculations. As much as I hated blueprints, I cherished the time making a template. It was a way for me to take all of my lessons learned, tricks and ideas and make something sturdy that would be used time after time for a more efficient, safe and effective piece of the project. The jig was the key to one locked door; and as you worked through a design making jig after jig, you would eventually end up with a finished piece of art. Jigs were as simple as a piece of wood and two clamps or complicated as a engineered machine. In any case, the jig, once completed, allowed for precision and efficiency. It was a way to ensure every table had the same tapered legs or each door had the exact hinge location.
As I am now many lifetimes away from those long days in the workshop, I realize more than ever the connection between creating art and leadership. As a artist, you find it difficult to be creative with the constraints of blueprints and exact numbers. A good leader also struggles with the constraints of the textbook world of checklists and formulas for success. Leaders and artist are more successful with creative freedom. Judging each cut, chisel and stroke by the material we are dealing with. Just like wood requires different methods and tools than metal, we must look at each of our followers as different materials. We can shape and mold them; but recognizing the differences, will make the effort much easier and more lasting when done.
As artists and leaders, we make mistakes. There are many designs best left unfinished and many followers who will never make it as far as we hope. It’s the great leader who recognizes the follower's limitations and leads them towards a successful future. An artist and a leader understand both the value in creativity and also consistency. Just as the artist knows the value in a good jig,a great leader spends time building templates to make the effort easier as we develop followers of differing skills and abilities. They both understand that there is never just one way to make something; having a consistent template ensures the basics will not be missed and more time can be spent on the challenges.
This week step outside your blueprint. Begin to work with your children, spouse and followers with a artistic touch. Understand each is a different material; and although our “go-to” tools and templates will work sometimes, a creative vision will result in a completed project that you will be proud to look at as they move towards success.
Jay C Stalnacker