Declaration of Ignorance

I’m just a couple weeks shy of my one-year anniversary here at Popular Woodworking. I’m considering it a marker of sorts. At one year, I think I can declare myself officially aware of how much I really don’t know about our craft.

I understand that as a representative of one of America’s largest (and awesomest) woodworking magazines, I’m supposed to do more than my share of pretending to be an expert. But it’s not a game I always play to perfection, so I prefer good old reality checks whenever possible. Which is why I’m making my official declaration of ignorance.

After working on the shop floor for about a year in the production cabinet shop in Miami, the MBA-graduate finance manager took me under his wing in the business office for a few weeks. He was a good guy. He introduced me to some basic business analysis, which I applied to a study of our veneer press operations. He also introduced me to the concept of being aware, at any given point in time, of exactly what you do and do not know.

In any knowledge or skills progression, you go from the state of complete ignorance (not even knowing what it is you do not know) to the slightly higher state of known ignorance (knowing what you need to learn). If things go well, you continue to a state of actual knowledge and skill (knowing, and knowing it). If things go really well, you may reach the zen-like state of forgetting that you ever went through the whole process. Things just come naturally at that point.

1000MileJourney

So I’m saying that I’m at step 2 in that progression, perhaps verging slightly into step 3 with some of my skills.

What’s cool about this job and, I imagine, about being a member of our community, is that you get to rub shoulders with craftsmen and women who are well into step 4 of the process. Every now and then, you even see the work of someone who has clearly made about 20 laps around the whole wheel.

The other really great thing about Popular Woodworking is that we dig deeper than anyone else into the history of the craft, and in that process we discover ancient people who were on the same journey we are on today. It totally blows my mind.

The latest, greatest example of all the above is “Building a Viking Tool Chest.” The builder, Don Weber, is a multi-lap super-champion of the knowledge wheel. The guy is even forging his own hardware in this video, for crying out loud. And the subject Don has chosen is, literally, a Viking tool chest that is patterned after an archaeological find from the 11th century. (I’ll provide a link here to this new DVD as soon as it’s available.)

So, infographics and blogging aside, some things never change. Here’s to another good year ahead for “Woodworking Daily.”

Tell us about your stage of the journey in the comments below!

Dan Farnbach

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About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

3 thoughts on “Declaration of Ignorance

  1. MAJOR_WOOD

    When I was younger, I was a sales manager and sales trainer. In the role of trainer I taught that there were 4 levels of skill:
    Unconcious incompetent – you don’t know that you don’t know.
    Concious incompetent – you know that you don’t know.
    Concious competent – you know what you know.
    Unconcious competent – you don’t know what you know, you just do it.
    As you mentioned, I feel I’m just getting my toe wet in that level 3. I do it, but I still struggle often. Like you, I’m constantly in awe of the masters, those “level 4’s”, that just do without analyzing it to death.
    In the end, I keep telling myself, is that this hobby/obsession of ours is about the journey, not the destination. It’s about me getting better or smarter than I was yesterday, not that someone has gotten there first. There is always going to be someone who does something better or faster than me. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. BoredCutter

    10 years into our commercial woodworking venture, I must admit I am STILL in awe of the high-end artistic teachers (both distaff and male) I see sometimes. Nonetheless, we are far more than competent; we are professionals, comfortable taking commissions. Yet, I must admit that the elusive title of zen master is not yet applicable. We strive to learn new techniques everyday… I hope that title (someday) that may apply.

    Thanks, Dan, for taking us along on your journey.

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