The first time I encountered this in my life was in 2005. At the time I was working as a framer. I didn't have a lot of experience and was still considered green. My foreman at the time was a great teacher and would often pull me aside from my tasks to show me parts of the house that he never understood. For instance, how to get the exact angles on fascia board on the corners of a hip roof where the rafter ends are cut at 90 degrees.
The main reason I consider him to be a great teacher: he openly shared with me gaps in his knowledge in the hopes that I would fill them in. Fill them in I did to the best I could. I would spend my evenings with geometry books, construction paper, sometimes I would even go to Home Depot, purchase lumber and figure out the problems he'd shown me on job sites earlier that day in my back yard at night. I did build a small roof once or twice to accomplish this :)
To get back to the issue at hand, there was one experience involving conical roofs. My foreman and lead man had been working together for 14 years building custom homes. Many custom homes have conical shaped roofs. They always assumed the best way to cut the plywood was to use triangular pieces. After thinking about the problem for weeks, I finally read in the dictionary the definition of a cone, and it had a picture that basically showed me the answer: measure from the peak of your conical roof down to it's bottom and you'll have the radius to cut your plywood!
The answer was so simple. So simple it caused an argument during our lunch break. "Joe," said my foreman, " there is no way that is going to work. How can that be?" Years of doing something a certain way had forged in the minds of these men that there was only one way to do it. I cut a circle out of some construction paper and brought it with me that day. I slit the circle along it's radius, and used it to show them. As I slid one side of the circle over the other, a cone formed. The house we were working on had 2 conical sections on the roof. I begged my foreman to let me give the one in the back a go. He let me! My lead man took the one up front.
Not only was my hypothesis correct, but the result was an even stronger more structurally sound roof than the one built by my lead man! I also knocked it out in half the time.
Before my lead man started on his portion of the roof, I overheard my foreman say to him "Why don't you try doing it the way Joe did? Did you see how little waste there was and how quickly he completed it?" I'll never forget the response "I'm good. I've got this the way I've been doing it."
Why do we allow the way we've done things in the past to determine our outlook on the way they should be done in the future? I speak of a time when others were guilty of this, but I know I've been equally so. I believe some of the contributing factors are these:
- We naturally want to be successful. If we've been successful in the past doing something a certain way, reason states that we'll continue being successful at doing it the same way we have in the past.
- I believe sometimes we become content and would rather not bother with something new when our current results satisfy us, even though the potential satisfaction from doing something a different way could be far greater than what we currently experience.
- Fear. It's natural for us to fear failure or wasting our time.
All of this is of course my current way of thinking about the matter. In 20 years I'm surely going to have different thoughts about it. Perhaps I'll use my time to write another blog about it then :P