My Day Job and Guitars – Measure Twice, Cut Once

While guitars are a rewarding hobby for me I do have a day job that pays the bills. I work as a consultant on HR related issues and Human Performance. I also write a blog that supports that business and I recently published the following blog that draws some parallels between guitars and my day job. You can find my business blog at

My biggest hobby outside of work is building musical instruments. I don’t have a woodworking or lutherie background. In fact, I’ve never taken a single class on either, and my dad is more shade tree mechanic than wood worker. So my instruments are generally pretty primitive.

I started building instruments out of cigar boxes. The practice of building instruments out of found objects is nothing new, in fact there is a long history of improvising to create something that you couldn’t afford for less than the cost to acquire that item. If you don’t have anything good to work from, then use what you have and improvise.

While this is a rewarding hobby for me, and it keeps me sharp in a lot of areas in my business life, my HR clients are not dealing with “found objects”. They don’t need to, and can’t afford to improvise on their talent to meet the needs of their companies. They are more mature at the practice of HR than a proverbial cigar box guitar.

The thing about learning slowly through experience alone is that while it takes a while, the journey is fairly rewarding. But the costs to get the experience are astronomical. Part of that cost is time, some of it is materials, tools have been a major expense, and some of it is lost to mistakes made.
As my skills have improved, the instruments I build take more time,
and the cost of materials I used have escalated rapidly.

maple guitarMeasure twice, cut once is an over-used cliché, especially when we are talking about ruining a 99 cent 2×4 that is part of the unseen interior hidden by drywall. But when I’m using a $100 set of spalted curly maple (as seen in the picture to the right), that over-used cliché suddenly means something. I measure multiple times from multiple directions because there are real consequences if I make a mistake. But it’s more than the cost of wood. That piece of wood directly determines how the instrument sounds, how it plays, and how attractive the end result is. It also determines, if I choose to sell it, how much I can sell that finished instrument for.

Companies spend more on their people than any other expense on the balance sheet, yet too many of them treat people like a 99 cent 2×4 and not like a beautiful set of unique one-of-a-kind wood that directly affects their profitability. That’s not to say that they treat those employees poorly, it’s that they fail to measure, let alone twice, what the real value of that person to the organization really is.

This is also more than a “cut” metaphor; this isn’t about “staff reduction” as much as it’s about being smart about how people are applied to the end result.

I want to build better guitars. If you want a better HR function, measurement that means something
needs to be part of your approach. You will never improve without it.