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A Carpenter’s Perspective on Building Business

May 14, 2014

I have always been handy with tools. Combine that with a strong sense of curiosity to understand that I easily adopted a DIY mindset early on in life. It began by taking things apart after they had ceased ‘working properly’ to study the innards and how they were assembled. As my knowledge and skills increased; so did my projects. Through high school, college, and early years into career life; I did side jobs like installing and assembling furniture that came flat as well as restoring and refinishing old furniture. This led me to several repurposing projects and ultimately to completely designing and building some of my own pieces.

While my home is full of items that show my handiwork; it is pieces like this media shelf that I enjoy most. What started as a need to house/display my growing collection of CDs (this was back in the 1990s – before iPod and iTunes); formed a strong foundation for many of my current business processes.

Media shelf

Media shelf – built in 1995, photographed in 2014

Here are some of the immediate similarities:
1: Design. The best products in our lives are ones that perform AND look good (both are open to a vast array of personal opinions). The finish of a piece often dictates the way it is assembled and many aspects of internal structures. In carpentry terms, this gets into different types of joints and often impacts the dimensions of each individual piece of wood.

In business; this not only transfers to design of the product itself; but also to the design of the process that produces the product. Where a carpenter has a variety of specialized tools and jigs; so too must a business – perhaps it is a patented technology, proprietary software, or highly specialized training programs.

2: Raw Materials. Part of the design is specifying the materials to be used. Different materials have different strengths, characteristics, looks, and costs that all impact the final product. While engineered wood (like Medium Density Fiberboard) offers advantages of strength and cost, it lacks personality and I prefer to cover them with a veneer or several coats of paint.

In business; we can hire teams of people to merely follow an established process or an operations manual. This might offer some benefits of uniformity and predictability; but misses out on the important emotional connection to customers.

3: Passion and Personality. What originally drew me to woodworking was the individual characteristics of the wood. Different grain patterns draw your senses into a rich variety of colors, shapes, and textures. While two pieces of stock might have the same dimensions, they can act and look very differently, yet still perform the same function. Knots or features in the grain can often be accentuated or avoided with strategic cutting and fitting.

In business; we are constantly dealing with the variety of personalities from managers, peers, partners, distributors, vendors, and customers. There is no exact science to dealing with people, it merely requires patience, understanding, and a passion for bringing out the best in others.

I am compelled to share this thinking in light of pending mega-mergers where corporate giants (such as Comcast/TWC or AT&T/DirecTV) only look to grow through acquisition. It doesn’t seem like they understand how to build or create something with their own hands.

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