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Building a Treehouse

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Back around May, my 12-year old boy, Sam, started reading this book, Dangerous Boys. If you’ve read it, you get it; if you haven’t, don’t ask. One of the chapters is about building a tree house, and he sat down next to me one evening just sort of telling me a few things about that chapter. The “subtle” sell job was on.

It didn’t take a whole lot for me to sign on and like any such project.  If I had known how many hours it was really gonna take, I probably wouldn’t have (sounds like most non-profit Boards I’ve ever joined).

Just a few boards, nails, maybe a few screws and voila, right? NOT.  Even when I said yes, I know my son and me well enough to know that we’d butt heads more than once … and then keep going, after we either both cooled down or one of us came to his senses. I guess that’s sorta like life. It was also clear, very quickly, that there was no way one of us could pull this off on our own, especially since you start 6 feet above the ground and go from there. Sorta like life.

We kept building up and out, and between the “scrapes” and occasional … OK, frequent … missteps, it came together, part by part. When I’m working on projects like this, sometimes SVP slips into my head. (Is that admirable or pathetic?? That’s for another blog another day.)  And during this project I was struck by one part of the process in particular.

The coolest thing about building the whole tree house was that moment when one more piece, like the last of 8 joists or the final two corner pieces being bolted together, suddenly made a fairly wobbly structure darn near solid as a rock.

The walls felt flimsy and then the last corner piece goes in and we bolt up to it and you couldn’t push the walls over if you had to. That last connecting part made all the other parts way stronger together … you know where I’m going with this.

That’s how Collective Action works, that’s how teams work, heck that’s how SVP works … that last piece, often not the biggest piece, definitely not the “sexiest” piece, is what gives the whole structure its strength. That last 1% makes the whole thing 200% stronger, literally.

It still amazes me because I could never have been an engineer. A C (barely) in Physics 101 at Iowa State was all I needed to know. But I guess that just continues to make my amazement at how that last piece, that seemingly insignificant part, that last 1% can make all the difference, all the greater.



  1. Sharon Chen

    There’s a corollary to this that I think a lot about with regards to biodiversity. Something seems strong and you can start removing or destroying parts… but all of a sudden, one more thing fails and then the whole thing falls apart.

  2. Sarah Stachowiak

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to convey (and evaluate) the whole–thinking about how to make sure in my work I’m getting at how the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts and recognizing where taking a piece away makes a whole theory wobbly. Now I have a new analogy! Thanks!

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