Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 140, April 2017 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This Month's Column:

• Woodworking Geniuses • The Scrap Heap Of History (News From The Tool World) Screw Evolution

Woodworking Geniuses

It sounds a little geeky, but I read a lot of business books. Most business books explore and seek to explain, and even seek to alter, the human condition… the psyche of people working in companies. As an amateur psychologist and self-proclaimed keen observer of human nature, I enjoy these books. It is a fact that great business successes and the most creative products and services come from motivated people working unfettered from bureaucracy, and many, if not most, business books are aimed straight at fostering an atmosphere where people are energized and unencumbered, free to unleash their creativity. Most of these books, however, fail to bring business success to the people who read them and implement their recommendations. The reason is simple.

Figure 1 - Excellent, well-written book, highly
recommended... even if you don't normally
like "business" books
If there was just one book that could help business leaders turn everyday people into Steve Jobs-like geniuses there would be no need for any more books. Alas, it simply cannot happen. No matter how hard we try to make work places energetic, inspiring, creative havens, most of the people that occupy the offices and cubicles and factory floors are simply not geniuses… or sometimes even very smart. And to make matters worse, the entrenched bureaucracy in every business fights change with a zealotry nearing fanaticism.

Our primary problem in building a great business is not in creating a conducive atmosphere, but instead in picking the right people. Since a bureaucratic human resources department is anathema to creativity, the first order of business might be to head up personnel with a maverick genius. Unfortunately, there is only about one true genius for every hundred-thousand-or-so people, and finding those geniuses is like finding one diamond in a desert of sand. Or, as an old friend of mine used to say, "finding the fly poop in the pepper" (I cleaned that up just a bit for a family newsletter). From years of experience in the business world I can attest that college degrees tell you nothing about a person's intellect and even less can be gleaned from their resumes.

In a book I have been reading (and re-reading) lately there is, however, some new research that provides what would seem accurate "predictors" of a person's intellect. It turns out employers would do well to ask a lot of questions about a person's pastimes, hobbies, and artistic pursuits instead of asking about work experience and school studies… if, of course, you are interested in obtaining high-intellect people.

According to Mr. Adam Grant in his newest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World , recent research by a fifteen-person team at Michigan University discovered a high correlation of very specific pastimes and hobbies with Nobel Prize winners of the past.

Figure 2 - The gold medallion given to Nobel Prize
winners... you could be next!
Except for one glaring error in 1926 (when a Nobel Prize was awarded for a "discovery" that later turned out to be patently false), prizes in the fields of science and medicine are carefully chosen from a very competitive field. From a list of perhaps 3,000 nominees each year, the field is winnowed down to about 300, then the committee makes a final selection from that group. In other words, there is a lot of competition.

The study examined contemporaries and peers for each year's Nobel Prize winners, and found that as a predictive mechanism, if a person is an avid lover of music and either plays an instrument or composes music, he or she is about twice as likely to become the Nobel Prize winner. A person who writes creatively (poetry, stories, books) is an amazing 12 times more likely to become a Nobel Prize winner. And a person who engages in crafts (woodworking was mentioned first among the examples given), is 7.5 times more likely than his or her peers to become a Nobel prize winner.

Woodworking… predictive of genius and greatness… like creative writing and musical prowess. Who would have thought? Well, I would, for one. I've been making the case for some time that woodworkers are "special." Let's examine some of the factors that make woodworking an accurate predictor of genius level intelligence.

First, woodworkers are solitary people who, for the most part, work alone, free from the hustle and bustle of large groups, free to think and ponder. Woodworkers are, or become, excellent problem-solvers. Woodworkers think outside the box, experiment, and try new techniques all the time. Small errors and mistakes distract woodworkers but overall, woodworkers are generally more interested in the gestalt of a piece than the perfection of a single detail. And while we woodworkers are often tasked with hard thinking and high concentration, we also spend inordinate amounts of time in mundane repetitious tasks (think sanding) that frees our minds further to explore our inner creative thoughts. Additionally, woodworkers often think in the abstract to a much higher degree than "everybody else." Who else in the real world adds and subtracts mixed denominator fractions in their heads? We woodworkers also do what I call "forward thinking." Ask yourself this simple question… When you are doing something in the workshop does your mind wander to the "next step," the "next thing" or the "next project?" The answer, I strongly suspect, is "yes."

Are you at times very patient, and at other times "antsy" and impatient? That is your "forward thinking" on exhibit, and it is a common trait among geniuses. Are you comfortable being alone? Isaac Newton never married and Nikola Tesla's only real friend was a pigeon. Are you sometimes awkward in public? Come on, admit it, you are. Geniuses can, and often do, mix well at public gatherings, perhaps even being the "life of the party," but inside they feel somehow detached from the group, and as anti-social as it may sound, feel somehow "above" (a more socially acceptable term might be "apart from") the rest of the crowd.

Geniuses have a sense of humor, but it is often wry, sarcastic, or dark. Surely you know artists with this trait. Artists…uh… woodworkers, are self-critical to the extreme, but take criticism from others very poorly, often descending into anger, depression, or worse. Sorry if this is hitting too close to home, but please remember, I am describing a nascent genius, so you should be, instead, proud to possess any or all of these traits.

Here is the bottom line… if you are a woodworker, you are probably some order of magnitude higher on the intellectual scale than almost everyone else. You are also 7-1/2 times more likely to wind up being a Nobel Prize winner, so get to work. And remember, your little personality quirks, as infuriating as they might be to mere mortals, are what make you a woodworker… a step not far removed from genius.

And, by the way, if you own or run a business, consider hiring at least partly based on hobbies and pastimes. Musicians, writers, woodworkers and a host of other creative people are more likely to fill your ranks with high-achieving intellectuals that won't settle and will help your company achieve greatness. Just give them the room and freedom they need and turn them loose. You will likely be astounded at their success.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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