Dec 082009

As many of you know, I am training for IronMan triathlons in 2010.  If I am fortunate to remain injury free, I will find myself at the starting line of a couple of them.  Some of them are quite long, so hopefully I will even make it to the finish line.

One of the disciplines that I have to master is the bike ride.  Last week,  I was in an evening bike maintenance class (1 of 6) that I am scheduled to attend.  I have gotten to know the bike technicians in this bike shop as much as the owner and quite frankly, I rely on the techs for the  nitty gritty details of riding, clothing, safety lights, staying warm on winter rides, etc.  Will is the bike tech that leads the class.  Since I missed the first class, I had a make up class one-on-one with Will.

In the makeup class, I had to remove the front wheel, because as a part of the training, he wants to show me the inner workings of hubs and ball bearings.   Will showed me that my hub is fine since there is no wiggle when I moved the hub housing.   He then said, “Let me show you the ball bearings just in case you need to replace them or your front wheel starts performing poorly.”  He sort of tilted the wheel to the side and said look in there and you will see the ball bearings.  I thought to myself this is cool.  I have owned bikes for years and never really saw how the wheel spins.   Bike wheels have been built this way for decades.  All of a sudden, these very tiny ball bearings start dropping all over the workbench and on the floor.   Will said, “I wasn’t planning on doing a full hub overhaul, but let’s just put this together the right way.”  I watched as he lubed grease into the hub and used a needle nosed pliers to, in a very delicate way, lift these impossibly small ball bearings and gingerly place them into the correct slot.   I noticed that the grease was acting as an adhesive to keep these 15 ball bearings in place; some of which were upside down in the ball bearing track.  He mentioned that when I purchase my Triathlon bike, this ball bearing exercise goes away because ball bearings are now manufactured and sold as a self contained casing unit. If I ever need to replace them or have work done on them in the future, only the bike shop has the required tools.  I thought to myself,  and probably the  patience to work on them.  We got all the ball bearings into the hub unit and then closed up the hub’s housing. 

Will then handed me the wheel to feel an almost imperceptible shimmy in the hub housing as I moved it.  It was the smallest of small movements, but he said that this would cause the break pads to wear down and put stress on the wheel that would compromise performance and safety.   He literally worked on this shimmy for 20 minutes going back and forth tightening and re-tightening the hub housing trying to find the magic point of no ‘shimmy’.   He even mounted the wheel when he though he was close and there was the wobble as he spun the wheel.  I thought that he is probably missing a ball bearing, but I kept silent and just observed him work to get it done right. 

He popped off the hub housing and looked into the ball bearings again and right there in front of us was the problem: 1 ball bearing was missing.  He placed a new ball bearing in the slot, replaced the housing and mounted the wheel.  The wheel spun perfectly!

This whole exercise reminds me of the lost art of ‘craftsmanship.’  We all show up to work with skills and we perform tasks all day long.  How many of us actually view our work and livelihood from the viewpoint of an Artisan or a Craftsman?  When we work, does it come alive because there is a higher purpose that we individually are working towards?   Will taught me a lesson in Craftsmanship.  I can’t think of more unglamorous work than meeting a bloke like me for a late make up class and stumbling around for ½ of an hour messing with ball bearings.  

How many times  in our own jobs do we have to deal with ‘ballbearings’ metaphorically in our work: with customers, our tasks, etc.  One of my sales bosses who I learned so much from in the late 90s, only had a high school education, but when he did a quote for a customer the world stopped.   The quote was art work for him.  Spelling had to be correct. Numbers had to be double and triple checked.  The person’s name had to be spelled correctly, etc.   The quote represented his personal caring and commitment.  It was a piece of him.

I guess there is work with a small ‘w’ and there is work with a big ‘W’.  We all need to pay attention to corporate objectives, customer satisfaction, profitability, efficiency, billable hours, etc., which make us busy. But at the end of the day, what is our Work?   What is your Work?   Can you bring a higher sense of being to your work so that when you are doing ‘ball bearing’ work,  it doesn’t get in the way of your “W” Work?   We have all had the experience where we walk into a shop or experience working with a person and the energy and experience of working with that person is uplifting.  The person may be quite mellow, but the energy they exude is, “ I am a man or woman about my Work.  I care. I am here because I am an Artisan, Craftsman and my work reflects who I am.

I hope you all enjoyed my story. If you have had similar experiences,  please share them with the CIOES group.

All the best,