Follow a Plan, or Go Off-Script?

Following a plan can be important at times, but do not let it destroy your ability to think creatively and adapt to reality.

In my spare time I've been working on building two white oak desks for my home office. I came to woodworking the same way I came to endurance sports- via passion and a lot of trial and error, mostly error if I'm being honest. For this particular project, I opted for pre-existing design plans, given the intricate joinery involved. While I appreciate the guidance of a well-thought-out plan, I've observed that it tends to stifle my innate "problem-solving mindset."  Instead of looking at a joint or angle and critically thinking through how to make it work, I find myself fixated on the plans, searching for prescribed answers. 


I've noticed a similar pattern in the service department at Tri Town. My team knows I'm a big advocate for documentation, and we record the step-by-step process for many of our most common jobs in documents we call "job sheets." Here are examples of our job sheets for wrapping handlebars, or for conducting a bicycle rental.


When training new employees on a specific task, we introduce them to the relevant job sheet, setting expectations and illustrating one effective approach to the task. The employee diligently follows the instructions, which is the right thing to do when new to a job. Once they have mastered the method described in the job sheet, I expect them to begin searching for a better way. In this regard, our job sheets should really be called "best known practice" sheets, with the ultimate goal of empowering our employees to improve upon the process and explore more efficient ways to complete the task.


Athletes are often like new employees faithfully following a job sheet. When new to a sport, by all means follow a book or training plan to the letter. However, once the fundamentals are grasped, it becomes imperative to begin searching for a better way. This can be intimidating for some, as they may feel unqualified to deviate from the script. The catch is that they don't need to find a better way for everyone, they simply need to find the "best known practice" for themselves. And given nobody knows oneself better than the individual, they are uniquely qualified for the job. 


- Antonio Gonzalez



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