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Hands-on experience

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Things seem easier when someone else is doing them.

I buried that line in last week’s column when I was talking about how important it is for managers to have hands on experience with the various types of work they are managing.

The point being it is very difficult to appreciate everything that is required and all the possible things that could go wrong when you just have a theoretical understanding of something.

I decided to promote the sentence to the lead today and expand on it because that situation doesn’t just affect managing other people; it affects the learning process as well.

Anyone who has studied a subject at school and then taken on a job in that field should know what I’m talking about.

The thing is I don’t think many of us really do.

I know I usually expect myself to understand what I’m doing far better than I actually do when I first try to develop a new skill.

That’s what happened recently when I decided to try to make a bowl on a wood turning lathe.

I’d spent months getting used to the machine and how the chisels respond when used to shape a spinning piece of wood that is supported at both ends.

That’s the kind of turning you do when you want to make rolling pins, chair legs and other cylindrical pieces.

It was interesting and fun for a while but I can only use so many chair legs and they don’t really work as gifts so I decided to move on to working on wood that is only attached to the lathe at one point.

Bowls, dishes, goblets and breadboards will come in handy around the house and if I manage to make some decent ones, I’ll be happy to give them away.

Anyway, before I secured my first chunk of wood to the lathe with a single attachment, I read the faceplate turning section of my woodworking manual over and over until I was sure I understood the process.

When I started trying to shape the outside of a bowl, however, I couldn’t remember which tool I was supposed to use, how to hold it or which part of the edge was supposed to be making the cut.

Those are all very important points but somehow they hadn’t sunk in during my studies so I had to refer back to the book several times.

When I turned the bowl around and tried to hollow it out, the same thing happened.

The point I’m hoping to make is that a lot of information – especially information about how to do a physical task – doesn’t make an impression on our memories until we perform the action.

In my case I often have to do it several times and I don’t think that is unusual.

Fortunately, I’ve found that wood turning is a very rewarding activity and that the gradual process of shaping a bowl is more enjoyable than sitting around afterwards looking at it… or going out and buying one.

It often works that way. So while it may be true things look easier when others are doing them, it is still worth the effort to learn new skills.