Built to Last

I can’t begin to tell you when I became a Craftsman.

I can tell you that it’s been a long road. I think it started when we bought our first house, built in 1922. In no time, you find yourself presented with things that need fixing, and in no time you learn that most current-day repair people are all about expediency. Get it done FAST, bill for it to make the target profit, and move on to the next gig.

The more you kick around, eventually you learn that the correct way is often not the quick way, particularly if you want it to last.

This year I’ve been slowly and systematically redoing my home’s 1938 windows — scraping, sanding, priming, insulating, and painting. One of the most amazing things has been sanding down the original wood and getting a whiff of cedar sap! From my time in the Pacific Northwest I learned that when the old-growth forests were made into planks pre-WWII, most of those trees were already over 100 years old. These are the trees that survived forest fires, insect infestation or being eaten as seedlings. It’s humbling to smell those original aromas, and know that you’re a caretaker of such a thing; perhaps seeded before the Civil War, or even before the founding of our country.

For better or worse, even the consumer goods I buy are treated as something not just to be discarded, but put back into service if possible: repair as opposed to adding to the waste stream. When we moved back into our house, we discovered that our renters had broken our front-loader washing machine in the basement. When faced with (a) buying a new unit for a minimum of $800 — and not being as good a unit, (b) having the new one delivered/hauled downstairs/installed, and (c) hauling away the dead unit, I chose putting almost $400 into replacing all the burned-out parts. It’s almost a 100% new unit now. All the while dealing with that, I was reminded of a story Steve Jobs used to tell about his families’ deliberations about buying a new washing machine.

Much like that excerpt, we deliberately chose our front-loader earlier as a unit that would clean well, be gentle with our clothes, and use tons less water over its’ lifetime. I wasn’t going to just throw that away…it was still doing its’ job well for us, and such devices are not terribly complicated. During our own time renting in South Tulsa, the washing machine there was a conventional top-loader. It positively DESTROYED some of our clothes. It reminded me all over again why we had made our earlier choice.

In some ways, this viewpoint has permeated my work life as well. My IT clients and former companies have benefited from what I call “the appropriate acquisition and use of technology” — a careful evaluation of what is needed by whom both now, and into the future. Purchase decisions are weighed against this, with an eye toward assets that will amortize very well.

One of my favorite product offerings for small to medium businesses performs excellently against this set of metrics — in a world where your average PC has a lifespan of approximately 5 years, the systems I design and install have been in operation for 5+ years so far, and show no sign of slowing down! The virtual desktop appliances perform the same from Day One to the Present — the virtual machines they point to will have been refreshed, so the user will have experienced continual improvement with no hardware refresh. And no new expense hit to their bottom line.

In a world where resources are becoming more dear as we calculate the true cost of moving things around the globe, perhaps being a Craftsman is the way to go.

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