In a general sense, I’m not opposed to shortcuts. In fact, I’ll sometimes go miles out of my way just to find one. I don’t believe that there is always virtue in taking the long way home, though I am often tempted to take the long way in to work. When it comes to shortcuts, I am reminded of my woodworking instructor at Murray State University.
G. T. Lily taught furniture construction and equipment maintenance there for a few decades. Both fiery and witty, he was often provocative but never boring. His classes were always a challenge both technically and emotionally and were frequently entertaining as well. At the conclusion of the advanced woodworking course, I found his grading note in the drawer of my Early American maple desk. “Dovetails cut with a broadaxe? You ever heard of sharpening turning chisels?” That was the fiery and witty sides coming out at the same time. Then, there was the other part. “On the whole, considering the number of times I’ve been absent and the conditions the class has worked under this semester, a nice piece of work. A-.”
In one of Mr. Lily’s more moderate moments, he shared with us his definition of efficiency. “The least amount of effort that produces the desired results.” Putting in more work than it took to obtain the level of quality and degree of finish wanted was a waste of time, according to Mr. Lily. Putting in less was a waste of material and possibly, it seemed, a waste of the air that person breathed. He had absolutely no use for anyone who lacked the desire to produce quality work. In the lab or in the classroom.
There are still a great many people in my world who care about quality work. People like my brother-in-law, Kevin, who will not quit on a thing until it’s done well. People like my friend, Mark, who will not say “close enough” until it’s past the point of acceptable and meets the standard of excellence. People like my wife, Randa, who believes you don’t quit until a thing is done as well as you can do it.
I’m in favor of cutting every corner that conserves energy while producing excellence. I’m in favor of every shortcut that truly gets us there quicker without sacrificing the quality of the trip. I’m opposed to all the others, even the ones that were my idea.