Mistakes are Costly

A lot of people who study at The Windsor Institute have met our friend Jim.  He is the fellow with MS.  He is  confined to a wheel chair and lives in an assisted living facility.  Susanna takes care of Jim’s personal affairs. That is one of the obligations she has assumed and that prevents her from any longer being able to tutor people who plan to go pro. 

Susanna recently renovated Jim’s condo to prepare it for sale.  After the renovation she staged the unit  so it looks like it came right out of a decorator magazine.  She will list it this spring when things come alive again in the New Hampshire seacoast.   

Readers who have employed tradesmen have probably had similar experiences to the one I am about to describe.  Susanna put  a new kitchen in the condo.  She ordered the cabinets through a local company.  They recommended she use the tradesmen they usually work with. The cabinet company gave all these guys glowing recommendations. Susanna figured she would be taking  a minimum risk using them. 

 Besides new cabinets and appliances,  the kitchen was to have a tile floor and granite counter tops.  The cabinet guy took on the job of coordinating with the other tradesmen.  He installed the cabinets first.  Next, came the countertops. Everything looked really good. Susanna, who was separated from Martha Stewart at birth, was very happy with the way the kitchen was coming together.  The tile guys did a great job on the floors, and on the walls above the granite counter top.   The colors Susanna had selected blended perfectly with the floor and the granite.

The plumber was the last guy into the kitchen. He hooked up the faucets and drains. Finally, he installed the new dishwasher. He spent much of an afternoon fussing with it and expressing his frustration with colorful language.  The next day, as Susanna inspected the kitchen she was horrified to find that the joint where the granite tops butted together had opened.  The grout in the tiles above the joint had pulled away, as well. 

Susanna called the granite counter installers to have them come back and fix their work.  She also made another call to the tile guy.  When the granite guys returned, they discovered that the plumber had jacked the dishwasher so high it had actually lifted the slab of granite above it.  This had broken the joint.  They also pointed out that this movement had disturbed the tile grout.  

After the granite guys  had repaired the joint, Susanna ran the dish washer to try it out.  She was concerned that the interior remained wet, even after the dry cycle, and that the drain well remained full of water.  No longer trusting the plumber, her next phone call was to the factory. They gave her the name of an authorized service company in Massachusetts. 

The service representative was very familiar with the brand dish washer and eventually  solved the problem.  The dishwasher was not level.  Furthermore, it could not be leveled because of a real bone headed mistake.  When the cabinet guy put in the counters, he rested them directly on the sub floor, even though he knew the kitchen was going to be tiled.  Once the tile guy laid down the floor, there was no longer sufficient height for the dishwasher between the upper surface of the tile and the bottom of the granite counter tops.  Although the appliance could be pushed into the space, there was not enough clearance for it to be leveled.  When the plumber tried, he actually lifted up the granite.  

The appliance guy spent about an hour. He removed some parts from the top of the new appliance and was able to reduce its height so he could level it.  

The cabinet guy’s mistake  set off a cascade of problems.  Had he laid down a layer of ¼ inch plywood before installing the counters, he would raised them up to the level of the tile.  Then, there would have been sufficient height for the dish washer, and to level it.  

Susanna bore  the burden of his mistake.  She made all the phone calls trying to find the problem and a solution.  She rearranged her schedule so she could meet the tradesmen at the condo. She had to pay for them to return, and pay the appliance guy to solve the problem.

For her, that mistake was costly.  It was also costly for the cabinet guy, although he doesn’t yet (and may never) know it.  Lots of people around Hampton know and respect Susanna.  She is regularly contacted by people looking for tradesmen, etc.     She will never recommend either the cabinet guy, or the plumber. In fact, she will  most likely tell people to avoid them like the plague.

There is no doubt, mistakes are part of life.  We all make them. Mistakes are also costly.  They cost us time, money, productivity, and self esteem.  In 27 years of teaching Windsor chairmaking,  I have seen just about every mistake that can be made in a chair, and  long ago we worked out a fix for just about all of them.  I tell classes that we, The Institute’s teaching staff, are Windsor EMTs. 

While we have seen and can fix most possible mistakes, we don’t see as many of them as we used to.  There is a reason.  Around here, we focus on mistake avoidance, rather than mistake fixing.  Why?  If we can avoid a mistake we avoid all the negatives that come with it; loss of time, money, productivity, and self esteem.  While the first three problems accrue to us, the guy  who made the mistake suffers the hit to his self esteem. As a result, the self satisfaction he should obtain from his chairmaking experience is diminished.  He is less likely to stick with the craft.

That is why The Windsor Institute developed a culture of mistake avoidance, and why how not to make mistakes is part of our teaching.  Just as work places that stress injury prevention tend to have less injuries, so a school that stresses mistake avoidance gets less mistakes.  When our students go home, they take those techniques with them and apply them not just to their chairmaking, but the rest of their woodworking, as well. 

Last year I published in Popular Woodworking one of the most important and helpful articles I have ever written.  In it, I outlined our mistake avoidance techniques.  A fellow named Joe Jordan, who is Director of Business Development at Action Management Associates, Inc. in  Dallas, TX,  read the article. Joe was impressed with how much our mistake avoidance techniques overlap with what his company teaches its corporate clients.  Joe emailed me and asked if we could talk.  His goal was to do an interview and post an account of our conversation on his company’s web site.

He called and we spoke together for about an hour.  It was a very pleasant conversation and I hope, as informative for him as it was for me.  I got a kick out of the thought that what we do here might be useful elsewhere.  If you want to read Joe’s interview with me use this link. http://www.actionm.com/anticipating_success_by_planning_for_problems.aspx

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I have done two other interesting interviews lately.  The first was for a high school text book.  It was a sidebar about someone (me) who had found success working with his hands.  I am particularly pleased to have been asked, as I am acutely aware that keeping woodworking alive into the mid-21st century   will require new blood. Otherwise, those of us who started the revival in  the early 1970s will take it to the grave with us.  If we don’t want (in the bard’s words) to have the good we did buried with us, we have to get young people working wood.  I hope this interview will help, and will encourage high schoolers to follow us.

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The second interview was for a book on immersion vacations. Apparently this is a current trend.  More and more, people are looking for vacations that give them an enrichment experience.  The Windsor Institute fits that description perfectly.  People who take a class with us not only go home with a chair that they have made, they go home able to make that chair over and over again.  You don’t get that on a beach in Aruba.  Also, featured in the section on The Institute is student Sir Don Pitts, who makes chairs in Washington state. 

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Brian Offut is here this week taking the Philadelphia high back class with his friend Mark Scanzello. Brian and his wife Anna Stacer are the proud parents of identical twin baby girls.  Marisa Kay and Meagan Joy were born last March one minute apart.  Proud papa brought us pictures of the girls sitting together in a sack back he had made.

Brian is a teacher and gave us a copy of a poster his school had produced to promote reading. The poster shows a smiling Mr. Offut with his sack back, reading a copy of my first book  Windsor Chairmaking. We wanted everyone who comes here to see the poster and appreciate Brian’s new-found fame.  We hung it over the toilet, so it could not be missed.  As a result, you men who have studied here recently all recognize Brian. He was the guy smiling at you every time you were in there.  One wag prompted a lot of laughter when he placed a strip  of blue painters tape over Brian’s eyes.

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