Over the last few weekends - all right, over the last few months! - I have been busy building some nursery furniture for my grand-daughter. Finally I arrived at the finishing stage and dutifully applied a serviceable gloss polyurethane as I have often done before. Whilst very serviceable, the gloss really did not do the Jarrah justice. It looked as if it was covered by a layer of plastic - which indeed it was! Having read about furniture finishing, I knew that I had to attack it with sandpaper to get rid of the gloss, while leaving the polyurethane layers there. I would then have to polish it with successively finer abrasives, right down to powdered rotten limestone, until the scratches left behind where so fine as to be less than the wavelength of light, the degree of gloss being dictated by the proportion of light reflected back at the viewer. A matt or satin polyurethane has particles embedded in it that break up the reflected light to varying degrees rather than depending on scratch patterns. A rubbed out finish controls the gloss by varying the size of the scratches left on the surface.
Taking that first bit of sandpaper to my nice shiny furniture was not easy but the subsequent polishing gave me lots of time to think about the challenges of trying out new approaches and of finding the confidence to head off in what initially seems to be the wrong direction.
There are two, often conflicting, elements involved in learning any new skill - including learning how to do lung function tests. The first is learning a protocol; the second developing the confidence to make decisions on the run. It is easy to teach someone which buttons to press and what the test guidelines tell us. It is an entirely different exercise giving someone the confidence to actively coach the patient; to know when to push and when to back off; to know whether or not the data is answering the posed question, even if not acceptable "by the book". Confidence comes with experience but even more importantly, I think, it comes through understanding how things work. Guidelines give us the protocols, but they don't give us the confidence and understanding we need to produce quality work.
It is important we all deconstruct the paradigms by which we operate from time to time. Stepping back and testing our ideas is very healthy indeed. One of the positives of having new staff is that we are forced to step back and think from the ground up. Only by doing this regularly can we effectively raise the bar whether we are dealing with tests, administration or research?
The other key component in developing confidence is providing a safe environment where it is OK for people to get it wrong. We all get it wrong from time to time - at least I do. Getting it wrong is one of the most powerful tools for advancing knowledge and experience. If you get it right all the time, then you really have nothing left to learn and, in my book at least, it is time to move on.
Having taken the plunge with my sandpaper, I can report an increase in forearm muscle bulk and a piece of jarrah furniture that begs to be touched. All trace of plastic has gone and the colour and figuration in the wood glow. Only by going in what initially seemed like the wrong direction, did I in fact end up where I wanted to be.
'til next month,