11 Oct 2016

Owner Maker Spender Spy: Maker/Owners Part 1 – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Owner/makers have a lot of different things to improve on. Problem is we sprint from seemingly necessary shiny thing to shiny thing, meanwhile digging holes that we sprint back to later to fill in. And since many of us are self employed there’s no one around to tell us what we don’t know or when to do things. We make bad decisions. We miss things. We get stressed out. The holes get bigger.  Your daily cup is only so full. If things suck at work, you have less cup to spend on the rest of your life.  If things go smooth at work – problems are resolved, processes improved, progress is made- you have more of that cup to spend on the rest of your non-work day. Now THAT is worklife balance for work/life balance. That’s part of the system.  Here’s part one on how to develop a system to lower stress and provide  consistent improvement in different areas of being an owner/maker.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Our brains do this thing called sensory gating. Our brains filter out things it deems unnecessary in order to stay focused on things that are.  How? There are neurons in your brain that act like filters. It’s not a metaphysical part of humanity, there are physical things in your brain that do this for you.  These neurons let you watch the game, use a bandsaw safely, and drive in traffic without having to filter this all out yourself. It’s pretty awesome. This allows us to focus on the task at hand or so it should.

Just like with anything it’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s not filtering enough and you can’t focus. “I have to pay bills” “I have to get that jig welded up” “I have to update the website” ahhhhhhhhh.  And sometimes necessary information gets filtered. That mailbox you backed into? You knew it was there, maybe even looked at it but your filter neurons discarded that info because they were freaked out about the kids playing next to the van and the dog running around the vehicle.

Those are two important analogies for us maker/owners.   They tell us why we screw up, and it gives us a clue on how to fix it:

1. It’s not you. Neurons in your brain filter things out, and screw up sometimes. They get overloaded and as a survival mechanism start tossing things.

2. You don’t know what you don’t know. Some of that important information disappears and you never knew it was there.

Some of the worst advice given to the self-employed is “Just chill out.”  Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? All those spinning plates, why didn’t I just think of sitting down for a while. They can crash band break and I’ll just catch up tomorrow.  Or asking for help- “Excuse me, can you spin some of these plates for me? Oh you don’t know how to spin plates? Ok, I’ll keep spinning then.” That advice doesn’t work because “just chill out” is matched against things that we have determined are necessary for our survival. And there is no one to do it but us.  So we have to win.  And why don’t we? Because we don’t have a system.

If your days go like mine you go in early with your Wunderlist you filled out the night before or morning of. You even trimmed it down because experience has shown you that you suck at estimating. Then, like I did this morning, you ran out of rubber gloves for the soldering station. So you rode your bike home to get the truck to go to Home Depot because you might as well pick up the plywood and groceries you needed as well.  The plywood was there but the rubber gloves were not so you stopped at Harbor Freight.  This trip took an hour and a half.  One of your employees were having an issue with a guitar so you fixed that so they could keep going and then you had to write a blog post before you left to coach football practice.  OH MAN WHERE DID THE DAY GO? Thing is we tell ourselves this was just a “one of those days” but really this is three or four days out of the week. It’s not an exception because your (and my)  system sucks.  I used to have one day a week I dedicated to “business-type things”. I once went a stretch of not having that business day in over six months.   It’s not “being self employed” it is  missing important information because of an overloaded brain filtering out necessary thoughts and information. You couldn’t make better decisions because the information wasn’t there.

The way to combat this information overload is to make a system, and that’s what this series is about. How can we take these pieces of being a maker and a business owner and plug them into a system so they are being taken care of, in the amount necessary, on a daily basis? The system gives us direction and information so we can continually improve the system- not running around like crazy people making bad decisions.   There are main aspects of being an owner/maker and we will go over those and how to improve them individually, and then we will put them all together into a system.  “If it’s important, do it everyday”, and if you chip away at it it’s taken care of, stress free.

The short of it:

1. It’s not you. Neurons in your brain filter out some information to try and stayed focused. Your brain is overloaded.

2. You don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes important stuff gets filtered out with the garbage, never to be seen again.

3. Make a system. “If it’s important do it everyday.” You need to know the different aspects of what you do, how much attention each deserves, and have a system in place so that it gets the necessary attention. Every day.  This frees up your brain so it gets better at filtering and keeping you focused, and opening open to new ways of doing things.



10 Oct 2016

Work Life Balance for Work/Life Balance

I’m going to start a series of posts of maintaining a work life balance directed at fellow maker/owners.  A lot of been written about work/life balance which is basically ‘work less and do not work things more’.  There’s some good practical advice out there, and some warm fuzzy crap with a stock photo of someone standing on a mountain.

What I havn’t seen is anything close to a system geared towards those of us who own businesses and also make things.  There’s a lot going on right? Not just finances and employees  but also skills, marketing that is related to a very specific population of people. Everyone needs shoes but $2300 guitars? Hand planes? Hats?  You have to perfect the necessary skills over a lifetime and also acquire new skills along the way and then balance them.  And the thing that makes it all so much harder: you have to be entirely self-directed.  It’s a lot to keep track of.

But what if instead of keeping track of it all you had a system. It’s been one of my go to quotes for a while now “Make a system” whenever I get to some problem that I can’t know the answer to I figure out a system. When implemented it will work or not work and I will learn something towards knowing the answer. It provides proof.  So what if instead of running around from shiny thing to shiny thing, from fire to fire, we as maker-owners had a system in place that over the years we chipped away at becoming better craftspeople, business people, students?  It may feel almost effortless. No 100 hour week bullshit.  Just relentless forward progress.  “If it’s important, do it everyday.” Maybe this series will help me, and maybe you, figure out a system towards that goal. If your work day feels effortless, your non work life will benefit as well.

The topics of this series:

“If it’s important do it everyday.” – Wrestling Coach Dan Gable

Production – “What you do for a living is not ‘be creative’. What you do for a living is ‘ship’.” – Seth Godin
Process improvement – Doing what you do for a living only better and faster. “Quantity is just as important as quality.” – Bob Taylor
Business promotion – ” Nobody gives a crap about you…yet.”  – Me
Finances – “Gross Intangible Assets” is a thing
New skill development – “You don’t know what you don’t know until you try to know it.” -Every wise person ever.
Steering the ship – Sit in a hammock and think about the big picture. SWOT type questions.
07 Oct 2016

The biggest question in Luthiery

Answer the big questions first.  The main problem I encountered as a beginning luthier, and the mistake I see being made over and over again by beginning luthiers, is they forget to answer the big questions first.

The excitement that comes with knowing you can make things is overwhelming. So you want to make everything.  You throw down lines on paper, call the guitar shape your own and start making them.  Problem is, it’s not a great design and nobody wants it but you don’t care its YOURS.


It really isn’t. There’s many means that you make it about you . Pricing, design, language used in descriptions, entitlement. I know it’s true because I’ve done all those things.  But you are not the point. There is a bigger question.

The big question is, “What’s my job as a guitar maker?” My answer, for what that’s worth, is “to be inspiring, part of the story, and transparent.”  The guitar being made is just the beginning. Then it goes into the world as part of someone else’s story, inspires them, and hopefully your guitar isn’t in their way.   People expect  guitars to look a certain way by now – Martins, Fenders, Gibsons- they are no longer brand names, they are ‘guitars’.  Violin makers dont put horns or flat spots or curvy spots where they shouldn’t be.  They work in the context of a traditionally accepted design.  They lengthen, shorten, arch…. that is their transparent signature.  Their creativity and signature is almost – almost- behind the scenes. It isn’t there unless you’re looking for it, and if you are, you’re pleased when you find it. Then it disappears and the tool does it’s job.

Be transparent.

05 Oct 2016