As 2018 is just barely poking its head out on a cold January morning, there is no doubt that we are living in a technological revolution the likes of which humanity has never experienced before.
Chances are that some form of technology was included as a gift in recent celebrations and if you are a kid of two or 92, you are no doubt drawn into the irresistible magnetism of some new device or app as you read these lines.
There is no denying that technology is everywhere, and it seems to be distracting us from our natural pursuits a little more every day. Everywhere around us, people are looking down at their phones or glued to their screens from dawn to dusk. Are we being infected by technology to the point of losing our humanity? From an outside observer, this would be the logical conclusion.
We tell our kids to get off their tablets and play outside; we tell drivers to get off their phone while driving and we tell our employees to get off their favourite social media platforms during work hours. There is a general sentiment that technology is making us dumb and that it’s bad for us.
Could it be true that our creative impulses are being spoiled by the constant distraction of technology? This is a debate that was all the rage during the holidays and also on the internet and I’d like to bring this conversation to the wood manufacturing community.
Are you a better woodworker because of technology, or is it eroding your creativity? I would like to propose a different conclusion; that technology can be our friend. Let’s show the world that the Canadian wood manufacturing community can use technology to reach new levels of creativity and transform our sector of the economy into a true reflection of what it means to work with wood in the 21st century.
Invent or copy?
At first glance it might seem like there is no longer a need to invent anything because you can probably find it online and copy it. For some people, copyright infringement is the modus operandi and that is lamentable.
It is certainly despicable to steal someone else’s creative output and I will always condemn the practice. However, there is nothing wrong with using other people’s creative content as inspiration to inform your own experiments.
In the old days of the wood industry, in any given region, there was one way of making a specific product. A chair was a chair and as an apprentice you learned how to make it from your master and you taught your own students the same methods years down the road. Today, you can learn chair making techniques from different masters and you can view hundreds of designs, if not thousands, in an instant.
All this information is food for your own creative process and will only serve to develop your own product offerings. All you have to do is resist the temptation to copy and take pleasure in exploring your own creative juices.
Components of technology
You can break down any technology into three essential components: the tool, the technique, and the data. The tool can be a physical tool such as a chainsaw, a chisel or even a hinge. A tool can also be software or even a service, CAD/CAM, your website, a spreadsheet or other devices.
A tool on its own is not going to be doing much good to anyone. Tools are extensions of our own abilities; they help us to perform tasks that we couldn’t do on our own. In order to shape ideas into innovative objects using tools, we require a user and his or her skill.
The technique is the skill of the user. This is where the art resides; the more skillful the user becomes, the better he or she can express himself or herself in a meaningful way. Words are the tools of a poet; without a vocabulary he or she will likely not create memorable rhymes whereas a master lyricist can move us to tears. The same thing applies to people in the wood industry; if they have better tools and they master them they’ll have a better vocabulary with which to express themselves. Only one thing remains lacking, the data.
The data is the information that the users have at their disposal to be able to express themselves using their tools. Data comes in various forms. The style of our aforementioned chair is a piece of data that is important to the chair maker. So is the height of the seat, the connection between the rail and the back or the hardware used to make it foldable, for example. The more information or data that is available to our woodworkers, the more elaborate their technology, the more creative the entire process can become.
In the last 20 years of my own career, I have seen, as you have I’m sure, an exponential growth in creativity and every day, I discover innovative designs and new techniques of woodworking that I could never have imagined just a few years before.
Boost creativity using technology
As a gift for 2018, I’d like to give you a simple methodology for boosting creativity within your woodworking business. It starts with embracing technology.
• Explore and experiment with new tools for creating with wood. Look for tools that will help you automate your existing tasks and try using tools that perform tasks that are new to you. There are apps that can simplify and automate your tasks and software that can propel you to levels of efficiency never before seen.
• Learn new skills and hone your existing skills using technology. Asking Google or exploring YouTube is a great place to find out how other woodworking masters have solved some of the same challenges you are facing every day.
• Absorb all the information that you can get your hands on. Putting information together with your skills is what constitutes innovation. Connect to your customers using social media and remote networking tools to get instant feedback on the marketplace and their needs and you’ll enjoy a more intimate collaborative relationship with them as well.
In the coming years, technology is likely to create a separate class of super-creative people who will dominate the marketplace in every field. We’ve already seen this in other sectors of the economy and it’s only a matter of time before the wood industry catches up. My goal for 2018 is to bring you insights on some of these technologies and to explore together how to integrate them into the Canadian wood manufacturing industry so that we can be the global woodworking powerhouse that we were always meant to be.
Send me your comments below. Your ideas, questions or criticism will feed this column and only serve to make it better. Moreover, I truly enjoy the conversations I’ve had with some of you over the years.
Enjoy a very creative 2018.