The business side of woodworking February 2014
Kerry Knudsen

Let’s get real

It bothers me the phrase “conventional wisdom” has nothing to do with either convention or wisdom. In fact, it is usually the opposite of both.

Take the conventional wisdom: “perception is reality.” My recollection of Plato is that he took that one head-on and debunked it. It’s not that people should read Plato, but somebody should have informed the joker that made up the conventional wisdom item or asked him what the hell he was thinking. Plato is, at minimum, conventional and wise.

My son-in-law, Tomás, is Mexican. There is no mistaking that. He has dark hair, dark eyes, a lean build and an open, easy grin that makes everybody comfortable. In the bustle before he married Kirstin, one of our tasks was to get the license.

Since Tomás was new to Canada, I took him to the license bureau. We had a fun ride, and walked into the office laughing and talking. The lady behind the counter asked what we needed... Seriously, you can see this one coming, right? .... So I said, “We need a marriage license.”

Let’s just say not every small-town clerk is all up-to-speed on diversity and such. The look on her face was worth a million bucks, and she muttered something about having to check because she had never done “one of these.”

As soon as I saw the error I corrected it. “This is my future son-in-law,” I said. If you could bottle the relief on her face, you could make billions.

In that case, perception was not reality.

Speaking of billions, the U.S. stock market is not quite so funny. The perception there is that the market did well in 2013. The reality is that the government took $85 billion per month from people that work and funneled it into the stock exchanges. That, coincidentally, included an IPO for Twitter that went from $0 to $45 billion overnight on a stock that has no earnings. That is reality. It is fueled by perception.

It appears, then, that reality can be created by perception. This, too, is old news. I read that back in the late Middle Ages, a guy named Dr. John Dee bored a hole in a wizard’s staff, filled it with gold and sealed it in with wax. Then he went to Germany with his lackey, Edwin Kelly, and told the king he could turn lead into gold. The king said, “show me,” so Dee melted a pot of lead, did a few incantations, and stirred the lead with the staff. The wax melted, the gold poured out, and, being heavier than lead, sank.

When the lead cooled, Dee dumped out the pot, found the gold and told the king he could do more for a price. The king said, “I have a better idea. How about if you rot in the dungeon until you make some more?” Obviously not able to create gold from lead, Dee and Kelly were roommates for some months, courtesy of the king of Germany.

This led to an uncomfortable diplomatic situation with England. Dee and Kelly got released, somehow, and kept their heads. Rumor had it Dee was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth.

Anyway, Dee was an alchemist, which was the art of turning perception into riches for himself. Today they are called politicians.

I often wonder what entertainers were paid back in the Middle Ages. From the literature, it was much the same as now. For the most part, the traveling minstrels and jesters would perform for their supper. However, a few, like Shakespeare and Marlowe, seem to have made it big on patronage. Even so, it seems today entertainers are the highest-paid people of the land, and, instead of performing for the nobility, they are the nobility. We have no remaining nobility, with the exception of the queen and Justin Trudeau, and even Justin is an entertainer in his own right. I think being an entertainer is the art of making tons of money by pretending you are something you are not.

An interesting point about time is that it becomes more compressed the closer you get to today. In geological time, the Cambrian Period lasted about 500 million years. The Dark Ages, on the other hand, lasted only about 1,000 years, the Middle Ages about 300 years, the Renaissance about 200 years and so on. Since the Middle Ages merged with the Renaissance, I put John Dee in the Middle Ages for effect, although most scholars would put him in the Renaissance. Dee never knew where he was in time, he only knew when he was doing time.

So ... I was talking about perception versus reality. Canadian secondary wood-products manufacturers seem caught in a culture warp between perception and reality. That is, we have to deal with things that are real, such as accounting, customers, regulations and labour. From that reality, we need to create an occupied space that provides a perception of style or function, holds the imagination of the client and escalates that into a perception of value and a sale.

This brings up the very important question of the perception of Canadian products and business versus the reality of Canadian products and business. That is, if the perception of Canadian products and business is of moderate-to-high quality, value and service, is that also the reality? If it is not, can we get away with it indefinitely, or, like Dr. John Dee, will we get slapped in the back of the head with the cold, dead carp of reality?

As an interesting aside, what would Monsieur Trudeau’s genius plan of promoting recreational pot have on reality? We already know what it does to perception.

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