I recently watched a re-run of that old Tim Allen TV sitcom, "Home Improvement," and it brought back some memories I thought I had permanently repressed. But now that they have resurfaced, I would like to share them with you because they have relevance for the workplace.
One Sunday afternoon many years ago when I was a brand new, first-time homeowner, I decided to cut floor vents in the living room of the house in order to provide a channel for the heat from a new wood stove I planned to install in the basement, immediately below the room.
The house was a fixer-upper, and this little bit of handiwork was to be the beginning of several improvements I vowed to make. After devising a template for the grate and marking off the area, I started to saw through the floor to make my opening.
Now, if you're into home repair you may have noticed that I left something out in my description of the sequence of work. Got it yet? Here's a hint: Every job, from the simplest bit of carpentry to the most complex design of a manufactured product, is a lot easier if you plan it and use the right tools. I had blown it on both counts.
First, the tools: I used a crosscut saw instead of a keyhole or compass saw. With that mistake alone I made my job harder and the hole uglier. But, it was my other mistake that was soon to cause me waves of grief.
I skimped on the planning.
If I had checked, I would have known that suspended below the cellar ceiling near the hole I was cutting was a copper water pipe. I just couldn't see it from my perch above in the living room.
You may find this hard to believe, but it is possible to saw right through a copper pipe with a crosscut saw and not even know you're doing it. I didn't know until I heard a whooshing sound. "Uh-oh," I thought, "that's probably not good." I ran downstairs to find that the sawed-off pipe was now a shower head and my cellar was fast becoming a tub. I shut off the gate valve and sulked while I soaked.
If you have ever made such mistakes doing home projects (I know, you've never done something so stupid, right?), you can imagine how foolish I felt. One friend whom I admitted this mistake to tried to make me feel better (I think) by saying if there were an Olympic sawing event I would probably win the gold medal. But my spirits weren't really buoyed until later that month when I went to help a friend, also a new homeowner, do some wallpapering. Where I had not done enough planning, he had planned too much.
His directions said "sizing" the walls was critical before papering. So, he measured each wall in the room. I'm not kidding. Though he had at least two academic degrees and a very responsible job, he didn't know that sizing in this case meant preparing the walls to accept the wallpaper paste. To make matters worse, since he now knew the measurement of each wall, he cut the wallpaper in the right-size strips before he started. So much for the patterns.
Well, I decided long ago that mistakes aren't important, it's what you learn from them that counts. So, from these experiences, I have taken this one lesson that applies to the workplace:
When you get a new project and you don't know if you can cut it, just pipe down, size up the task, go (w)all out, and stick to it.
I think that's what Tim Allen would say.
Reach Teague at email@example.com.