Friday, November 21, 2008

The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get If You Do

Sharon November 20th, 2008

Ok, there was a lot of enthusiasm for my first post on my new project - people seemed to think I was starting a challenge. That hadn’t occurred to me, but heck, I’m for it - a new challenge it is. I challenge each of you to pick some area of your skill set that’s kind of weak and strengthen it. And when you feel like you’ve gotten competent, well, pick a new skill.

In the other thread, Dewey had the best idea (thanks Dewey!) - I’m going hand out official “Competence Project Merit Badges” (and hope various scouting organizations won’t sue me ;-)) to people who meet their goals. So post your first project, and I’ll have periodic threads in which people can be awarded their merit badges for whatever skill set you are trying to gain. Merit badges are completely virtual, of course, but if someone wants to make up a spiffy visual that people can add to their blog, I’m all for it.

Several people asked how they should go about learning their skill set, and I have a few suggestions for resources. I’m sure the rest of you have some good ideas as well.

1. Apprentice yourself to someone - this is by far the very best way to learn a skill, and it can save you an awful lot of trial and error. Got a neighbor who is going hunting, fixing his roof or crocheting a sweater? Why not ask if you can help out/get some lessons from them. Barter is a great tool here.

2. Take a class. Local adult education courses often cover things like this - check out their offerings. And stores that sell craft or specialty items often have classes as well - for example, Home Depot offers regular courses, knitting and quilting shops have knitting and quilting classes, etc… Just make sure that the class you are getting works with the skill set you are trying to gain - for example, if you want to learn woodworking with hand tools, make sure that you are getting a class that teaches this.

2. Use internet video - this isn’t an option for me or the rest of the world afflicted with dial up, but it is awfully nice for those who can take advantage. That way, you can actually see how to take your radio apart, or how the purl stitch works.

3. Visit your local library and take out books designed for children. Kids books have to cut the extraneous stuff out, and offer extremely clear language and direct instructions. I finally learned how to knit by using Melanie Falick’s excellent children’s book on the subject, _Kids Knitting_ and I’ve often found books for kids and teens clearer than those for adults.

4. Find comprehensive book sources - besides the ubiquitous “Dummies” series (which varies a lot in quality), Reader’s Digest has an excellent series of how-to books that cover a wide range of skills including _The Complete Do-It Yourself Manual_ (which a builder friend noted would allow you to pretty much build a house from scratch with), _Practical Encyclopedia of Crafts_ and _Skills and Tools_. I’m also partial to Gene Logsdon’s _Practical Skills_ book.

5. Specialize, specialize. I’m a big fan of the personal library if you have space. I find it really useful to have books (or material printed from the internet - never know when the service will go down, computer will be fried or the power will be out) that give detailed information and allow you to get more advanced. Honestly, we’re not all going to get really good at a lot of these things - most of us will have pretty basic skills. Still, I think if you have the money (and these are the sorts of books that often show up quite cheaply on the internet, and frequently at yard sales) it is good to have specialized books for skills you might want or need to invest some energy in. So, for example, I think that while a general crafts book will probably teach you to knit or purl, you might want a sock knitting book, or a mitten book if you knit a lot of them. Basic woodworking stuff in the above books will get you fairly far, but if you dream of building outdoor structures, picking a book that focuses on building tools for farm and garden would be good. I find it is easiest to push myself to pick up a skill if I’m doing something I really want to do - so if you can’t bear the thought of sewing the traditional pair of pajama pants as a first project, it might be worth investing in a book that will teach you to make something you really do want to make.

Ok, everyone sign up for their first merit badge project, and in a week or two, we’ll all update each other on how it is going. My first project? I’ve got a toilet that needs replacing. Let’s just say that the replacement toilet has been sitting next to the defective toilet for a very, very long time.


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