I think about tools, probably more than I should, but they’ve been integral to almost everything I have done in my life.
My first career as a photojournalist required me to have a set of tools – cameras, lenses, lights – that would allow me to document what was happening in my community. Those tools helped tell stories, they helped readers understand what was happening so they could make important decisions. I relied on those tools, they had to let me cover everything from courtrooms to basketball courts. Working at small newspapers, I supplied my own gear so it had to be dependable and durable. Never the newest but always cared for, I tried to buy quality pieces that would last.
My automotive work, some by necessity and some by curiosity, also had me reaching for tools on a regular basis. Even today, every car I drive has a tool bag in it, just in case. My garage has a pretty well stocked chest, too – screw drivers, pliers, box wrenches, hammers, mallets, clamps. The usual fare for someone who has a house to maintain.
But a tool is nothing without knowledge, it’s just an item to own. If you don’t know how to disassemble a mower deck or install a storm window, you’re going to be calling others for help. No one can know how to do everything so the process of repairing and building becomes more important – where do you start, how do you assess the state of something, what’s your workflow for tackling a problem?
My students hear that word – workflow – quite a bit. It’s everything from how do you research a story to how do you take notes to how do you decide what to photograph and then how do you process all of that information so it can help a community understand what’s happening. Instilling in them the importance of process, the ideas of developing a workflow, is the one thing I am positive they can take into any situation they’ll come across in their lives, professional or personal. Look, ask, listen, analyze, prioritize, execute. Maybe they don’t hear those words, but that’s the idea.
There’s a drawer full of ratchets, sockets and extensions in my chest. Probably the most used tools as a lot of what I work on is mechanical in nature. Every time my fingers pick up that chromed 3/8 inch ratchet, it’s a little reminder that someone taught me workflow, too. He never had that phrasing, but it was there in my youth, working on projects around the house with my dad.
Look, ask, listen, analyze, prioritize, execute. Figure it out, solve the problem.
I’ve bought a lot of tools, from cameras manufacturers, software companies and retail stores. But there, in my box, sits a ratchet almost as old as me. I don’t know if he bought it or if it was a gift from his dad, but the coding on it indicates it was made in the early 1970s.
The physical tool has persisted, a testament to buying quality, which he always preached. More importantly, 35 years after his passing, the workflow to put it to use is with me, too.