When I look back at what I carve and why I carve it, one thing really stands out:
I am usually wrong.
For instance. I used to refuse to carve scoops, because I don't really use scoops myself (I have a rack full of lovely wooden spoons, waiting to be used for things like measuring out coffee), so I scorned the very need for such a thing. I felt sure they would be a pain in the neck to make, and that they were a frivolous kitchen thing.
I finally agreed to make some for one of my best customers. And boy, was I wrong. It turns out I LOVE carving scoops. They are fun to carve and fun to photograph and a well-made, well-designed scoop is a pleasure to use. I now carve a lot of them.
Same story with miniscoops, and long-handled scoops and spreaders. Every time, someone has come to me and asked if I could make them this thing that I hadn't made before. And it has always been an epiphany to say yes.
What I have come to realize is that I have a lot to learn from my customers.
I have a lot to learn in how to be a better craftsman, how to better serve their needs, how to design even the tiniest details of my spoons (want to know if something works or not? Ask a customer what they would change!). I have gotten feedback from a professional chef on what a serious cook looks for in a cooking spoon. I have asked every one of my students who come for a spooncarving lesson what I could do better in the future. I have said yes to orders that have pushed me outside my comfort zone in terms of scale or what I'm trying to make (70 spreaders?.... sure. A super long handled scoop?.... sure. Eight identical spoons but each from a different species of wood?... sure). I have switched the finish I use on my spoons based on customer feedback. I have started selling blanks and giving lessons via Skype, not because I thought of these things on my own, but because someone asked me if I would and I said yes.
As spooncarvers, we often find ourselves in the position of educating people about why we do what we do, the way we do it. We talk about the value of knife-finish, about crank, about how a well-designed spoon is actually better than the cheap one you can buy at the grocery. But all this teaching can obscure the fact that we should be listening to our customers at least as much as we are doing the talking. What do they want in a spoon? What do they want in their kitchen? How can we help them achieve what THEY want to achieve? Asking these questions will make each of us a better craftsperson, teacher or designer, and we will probably be surprised by where we end up when we start listening.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.