A little thought can make all the difference

What’s Your Compromise?

Tools. They make work easier. The right tool, applied in the right way, with the right level of skill, can make even the most difficult jobs simpler.

Each tool brings us an advantage. In physical terms, it is usually a mechanical advantage. But never a thinking advantage. Tools sometimes make us think less. We don’t always anticipate what could go wrong if we use the wrong tool or use a tool in the wrong way. A screwdriver is not a lever or a chisel. A wrench is not a hammer.

Sharpest tool in the drawer

One of the most frequently used tools in any house is a knife. A sharp edge. Table knives. Steak knives. Knives to cutĀ vegetablesĀ or remove the skin from fruit. A knife for spreading putty. A knife used in scrapbooking. A pocket knife. A hunting knife. A utility knife, which is usually a handle with replaceable razor blades.

All these knives were designed for specific purposes. Each one should be used as designed, and the user should make sure they are always cutting in a way that does not endanger them or those around them. Use the knife that is sharp enough for the job, has the right length, and that you can apply sufficient pressure to cut with. Sounds easy enough, right?

In my experience, the utility knife is the most mis-judged knife of all those above. In using a utility knife, people frequently use too much pressure so they can get the cut done. High amounts of force, applied to a fine edge, can often lead to a slip that could result in injury. In industries where these knives are used routinely, employees are taught proper cutting techniques, given cut-proof or cut-resistant gloves to wear on their non-cutting hand, and even given careful instruction on how to change the blade when it is too dull to properly cut.

If I buy that same knife at Home Depot, I won’t get that instruction. I might read the warnings, but they won’t all come to mind each time I pick the knife up. And a cut-proof glove? They’re a little pricey for the amount of time the average home owner might ever use the knife, so they don’t get purchased and kept with the knife.

Last week, I had to replace the thermostat in my home. A simple job, but it required a couple of short jumper wires. Three inches long with about three-quarters of an inch bare wire on each end. I couldn’t find my wire strippers – the tool that is designed to do exactly this task. And it does the task well with minimal risk. I did find my utility knife, and with careful consideration and deliberate action, used that tool to strip the wires. To do it safely took some effort. I didn’t just hold the knife to the insulation and cut toward the end. Too much possibility of nicking the wire or slipping and cutting something else. Work was done without injury. It just took longer and involved more risk.

Risk, ultimately, it the thing we are willing to trade for expediency. Does that make sense to you?

The next time you are faced with compromising on tool use, ask yourself what the true compromise is. As what you are giving up or willing to risk in order to get the job done. And if you have employees that you are accountable for, ask yourself if you would be willing to allow them the same risk.

Thanks, and let’s be careful out there.

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