I just got back from teaching my first workshop with more than four people, and it went great! At the beginning of the workshop I did what I always do in such circumstances, which was to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves and say what they hope to get out of the experience. Not surprisingly, everyone said they hoped to get a wooden spoon out of the process.
We then went and spent the first day doing everything but carving spoons.
We talked about safety, we talked about wood and where to get it and how to store it. We talked about design and sharpening, and we practiced a lot of sharpening. We carved wooden spreaders.
The day passed without carving a single spoon. The next morning, I started off by demonstrating carving a wooden spoon, start to finish. This took me forty minutes, as I explained everything single thing as I went along, all the things I did and just as important, all the things I didn't do.
By the end of it, everyone was sure they would never finish a spoon on time. They couldn't remember the opening moves. They wished that I had let them start their spoon right at the very beginning on the first day, so that they could at least try to get it done.
Here's why I didn't do that:
When someone comes to my class, I want them to leave with safe habits, an ability to sharpen any of their tools to a professional level, and an ability to read the wood and adapt what they are doing so they don't ruin what they've already done and can avoid pitfalls. So we start with those basics. If I only had half an hour with someone to teach them to carve a spoon, I'd still start with these.
So with just four hours to go in the thirteen hours of instruction, we finally started everyone's spoons. By this point, everyone had gotten some axing and sloyd knife work in carving spreaders the day before, so I could trust them to have fairly safe habits. I spent that last four hours walking around and around in a circle, doing a kind of carving I had never done before. For lack of a better term (and I don't mean to downplay the tremendous progress everyone made) I call it rescue carving. With each person, I took where they were and nudged their spoon along to the next level, demonstrating just how far they could take the axework or how to do the next step. Each spoon started out fairly similar but quickly diverged and became more and more unique as people's struggles pushed the designs in different directions. Some ended up thick and strong, other thin to the point of (almost) failure. With each person, I rescued their situation and got them headed in the right track again. Two minutes later, I moved on and did it again. And again. Seven people, so seven spoons were rescued in that last four hours. This was carving unlike any I have ever done before. I doubt I could have done this even six months ago, not with 100% success. If carving for yourself is skiing down slopes and challenging yourself, rescue carving is like being on ski patrol and rescuing someone on the mountain in terrible conditions. There is nothing else like it. Each shift to the next person was a new challenge, a new set of circumstances.
Why not let everyone just do what they could do, go home with a lumpy spoon that they could proudly say they had made entirely by themselves? Well, I figure if that is an experience they want, then nothing is stopping them. They can go and do that at home. But they are here because I am a resource. By rescuing their situation and pushing their spoon along faster than they would have themselves, I show them at every step what is possible, not on some other spoon, but on their own.
I am very upfront that this is what I am going to do. I tell everyone at the very beginning. I want people to go home with a spoon that inspires them to keep carving, to know what is possible if they stick with it, and that also is a nice spoon to use for years to come. By allocating the class time to base skills, I make sure they are capable of successfully pursuing carving on their own.
And me? I get to practice a rare form of carving that few will ever experience, one that pushes my skill right to the limit, in speed, adaptability, accuracy and finesse. After that, carving a little old spoon that I started and finished all by myself feels positively tame.
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.