5 Lessons I Learned From Building And Tearing Apart Decks

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I think that things are connected in ways that many of us don’t even think about. For example, ask most film and literature critics and they’ll tell you that there are really only a few original stories and everything else is a reimagined, retelling. I spend a great deal of my time connecting the things that happen in my “real” life to the things that happen in my “work” life. And the other day I noticed something. You can learn a hell of a lot about business doing construction and demolition. As I did, tearing apart one deck and building another.

Lesson One: If It’s Broke, Fix It

When you know in your heart of hearts, way down in your gut, or wherever you feel feelings that something is broken, just fix it. We had a deck at our house that was broken. We waited and waited and waited. We finally fixed the deck and everything seemed like it was fine. A couple weeks later we headed to our cottage where we knew that some of the boards on our deck were a little weak. But like our deck at home, we thought, “that’s ok, we’ll get to it.” And we probably would have…if my wife hadn’t have gone through our deck, carrying our toddler daughter on her back. (It’s fine. Everyone survived).

When something is broken and you know it’s broken, what are you waiting for? The fact is, you’re waiting for something to go wrong. Whether your website is busted or your email isn’t working or your blog is down or your computer is on the fritz, you’re always thinking, “it’s cool…I’ll get this.” And you probably will. But in mot cases, you’ll get it when things break so catastrophically that it becomes necessary. Don’t wait for necessary.

Lesson Two: Pretty Good Isn’t ALWAYS Good Enough

There’s a concept in the startup world called MVP. It stands for minimum viable product. It states that when you have something that is viable, you ship. It doesn’t matter if it’s as pretty as you want it to be or if it doesn’t have some of the advanced features that you want down the road, if it works, ship it. I’ve always liked that idea. To a point. I think that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, you get to a point where you just want to ship it because you want it to be done rather than because it’s actually ready. Enter the third post.

We needed to dig and erect four new posts as part of my deck repairs. We dug the appropriate depth, got everything ready, installed the posts, poured concrete and leveled the posts so that they were perfect…well…most of them. The third post sits at about 86 degrees from the ground. All the other posts are 90 degrees. Bang on. Now, 96% is pretty good. But when you line up three posts that are 100% and one that is 96%, the difference is pretty obvious. One of our friends came out of it with the nickname “Third Post” Smith. Don’t get a nickname like “Third Post” Smith.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use MVP methodology, but I am suggesting that you want to be very sure that everything is straight when you ship.

Lesson Three: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

So, now that I’ve helped (mostly the menial, manual labour portions) build a deck, I’m considered, amongst those with even less experience, to be a bit of an expert (which is not actually a great position to be in, but more on that in another post). Hence, when my father-in-law needed to tear down his deck to make way for a new one that’s being built for him, I was recruited as part of the demolition team…basically the whole demolition team. But there was a caveat; your dad has a plan.

My father-in-law always has a plan. He’s a thoughtful man who has degrees in more topics than I have courses. I act. He plans. And so it was that I arrived at his house for some demolition work. And he had a plan. His plan was to use a very small saw with a very ordinary blade, to cut the beams and joists (all the stuff under what you walk on) into small, manageable pieces and then pile them. The problem with this plan was in the schedule. It would have taken us hours and hours to follow the plan. Plans are great. But sometimes you have to hit things and see what happens.

When I realized, much to my FIL’s chagrin, that this was taking to long, I started to hit things, I started to twist things and I started to break things. And it worked. What would have been a seven to nine-hour job ended up completed in three and a half. Plans, especially in the early stages, are very rough guides. When the horse dies, dismount and find another horse. Or walk. But don’t just sit on a dead horse. You will go nowhere.

Lesson Four: There’s a Tool For Every Job…Use It

There is no value in doing something the hard way. None. People will argue this point. I’ll argue back. In the early stages, it’s important to understand the basics of how things work. However, when it comes time to get the job done and a tool is available, you need to use it.

When’s the last time someone said, “What’s 3,456 multiplied by 4,863” and you thought, ‘to hell with calculators, I’m going to do this the hard way?’

Life is one big open book test. It’s about whether you can use everything at your disposal to get the job done. So why are we digging nine holes with a pickaxe, shovel, and empty coffee can when there’s a drill that does this job quickly and easily?

My FIL got some bad advice. Someone told him that an auger (big drill) might hurt his bad shoulder so he probably shouldn’t use it. He should just dig nine holes, four feet deep each, with normal tools. I’ve sent him videos and links about why we should use a drill but here we are, digging nine foot holes, four feet deep each, with a pickaxe a shovel and an empty coffee can. There’s no honour in hard work when there’s an easy way to get the job done. None.

Lesson Five: Follow The Leader…For A While

If this were not my FIL, whom I love and who does so much for us, so often, I would have told him he was nuts and to either use the tools ad his disposal or I was out. And that’s my “work” life. I cannot abide people who won’t move forward, who aren’t reflective, aren’t open to change and won’t listen to advice. I can’t work with people like that. Never have. Never will.

But sometimes the boss is your father in law. So I guess break time is over and I have to go pick up my empty coffee can and start digging.

What do YOU do when plans go south? When your leader isn’t leading? When you can’t find the right tools? Let us know how you cope.

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