Teaching people new skills has always been exciting to me. I’ve taught woodworking classes for adults and children. I’m a certified 4H archery instructor. And I’ve shared primitive skills like blacksmithing and timber framing in informal workshops. Of course, every day through the Woodworking Network I try to promulgate good business practices to an audience running small businesses largely without the benefit of formal business training.
At its essence, teaching is fundamentally sharing of knowledge. But teaching is also an accelerant. No one learns anything as quickly or as well as they learn it working with a teacher. You can spend an awful lot of time doing something the wrong way while hoping to get better at it. When I was in college, an Olympic archery coach told me, “Practice makes perfect only if practice is perfect.” She was right.
Learning is something that is best done not alone. But so many woodworkers starting out in business struggle alone trying to learn the business. Are they embarrassed to ask for help? Do they fear competitors will take advantage of them? Or think they will be ridiculed on an internet forum?
Ironically, a lot of them tell me they are just too busy to stop and learn. Too busy to attend a workshop or travel to a trade show. Too busy to take the time to get better. Too busy to learn how to be more efficient. Too busy to learn how to stop losing money. Too busy to learn better ways of doing things. Too busy to succeed.
See how silly that sounds?
But some of it comes from the other direction, too. Too many of the people with skills to share are not willing to do so. Perhaps they fear competition, like the shop that doesn’t want to invest in training people for fear they will leave and join the competition. The Woodworking Career Alliance has a spin on that. It goes something like, “What if you don’t train them, and they stay?”
After more than 25 years of trying to help industry associations like the Cabinet Makers Association grow, I’m pleased to see that more newly minted shop owners are taking the time to learn. It’s still not as accepted as in some other industries, but the willingness to ask questions and share answers is on the upswing. Some informal groups sprouting up on Facebook and regionally have grown faster than more formal organizations. In some respects, it’s a mirror of how Wikipedia supplanted encyclopedias. The collective wisdom is coming to the forefront.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we will all agree to do things the same way. Independence is a natural trait of most entrepreneurs. But the sharing, the collaboration, and the cooperation all combine to raise the industry to a higher level. What do you have to learn? What can you share?
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