Lessons from a Retaining Wall.

build-retaining-wall-heroI recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my “regular job” to travel to Idaho, visiting my wife’s aunt and uncle.  They live on a very scenic lake north of Boise, surrounded by pine trees, mountain ranges and lots of clean air.

While there I set out to help them in any way that I could.  They are aging, and so there were some pretty obvious projects that needed to be moved along or completed.  One such project was a small retaining wall near their circular driveway.  It had been started nearly five years earlier, but had stopped when my wife’s uncle became ill.  I noticed the four pallets of blocks still parked, with what appeared to be the start of a base that lined the driveway curve.

Thinking it was an obvious choice, I awoke early one morning to surprise everyone by building out the wall.  For me, the visual of seeing the blocks moved off their pallets and into a newly formed retaining wall would be truly welcomed.  Alas, “not so much”.

About half way through the building process, my wife’s aunt stepped outside to the front porch, and noticing what I had done, quickly asked me to hold up.  Apparently Uncle Tommy had envisioned a different way to build the wall.  I found my wife’s uncle, asked him about it, and after hearing of the plan, determined I would need to undo all the work I had done.  What a bummer.

Lots of sweat, and a sore back later….I had some thoughts.  Here they are, in no particular order…maybe something useful for you in your life, in managing your business operations, or maybe even with your role as a parent:

1.  Good intentions are….good intentions.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that good intentions alone make for a successful business operation.  They don’t.  They aren’t a bad way to get started, but in the end, really, they don’t amount to much at all.  They are only intentions.  Same truth applies to work, to parenting, to just about everything in life.  Intentions are a great starting point, but not enough to be successful at anything really.

2.  There is wisdom in seeking the counsel of others.  My wife told me not to pursue this particular dream, but I didn’t listen to her.  She was right…I was wrong.  Sometimes we really think we know best, that we have a great idea, that we’ll show everyone around us once it’s done, etc…but it’s a wise person who bounces their ideas off of those around themselves, if only as a sanity check.  This is a great practice.  And of course, it works well if you take others advice into consideration when making your decision (honey, you were right, again).

3.  Sometimes our differences aren’t really that different.  Uncle Tommy had a vision in his mind of how the wall would be built, the steps involved in it, etc.  So did I, and really, we were on the same page (sort of).  We both wanted the wall built but our approach was different.  Same is often true in business operations–stay focused on the goal, even if the approach isn’t exactly the same way for each team member.  A great manager understands this truth.  Work with the end result in mind, and ultimately you should end up there.  Most issues within a team stem from not having the same goal, a clear vision, etc.  This is where leadership comes into play, too.  Good leaders communicate clear goals to their teams.

4.  Retaining wall blocks get heavier when you have to move them twice.  Okay, I had to say it.  It was hot, I was sweaty, and they were heavy to start with, and mysteriously became heavier when I had to undo my progress.  Doing the job over to correct your mistakes (which does happen at times) is never fun, so taking the time to plan out our intentions, to engage those around us, to really understand the goal….these are great steps that can help us avoid having to do things twice.  Efficiency balanced with accuracy is what’s needed in most cases, both in Operations, in parenting, in life.  Now get outside and build something!


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