I’m going to tell a story on myself. Our kids fall about laughing when it comes up, which, inevitably, it does. I enjoy crafting things. I’m not great at it but I’ve gotten better and, as you do, over time, you add new tools and techniques. When I was building foam knight’s armor for a Hallowe’en costume, I decided to take the plunge for a heat gun. Little did I know that it would provide more than 100 opportunities for amusement. Sometimes we are so focused on the trees, we miss the forest.

Here’s the costume:

A photo of a Hallowe’en costume of a European-style knight

I have used cardboard in the past and it is malleable but not great. I knew I was coming to the end of my role as family costumer, so I thought I’d try foam. As you can see above, the shield and plate armor is all slightly curved. This was thanks to the heat gun. The chain mail is a silver spray painted sweater and the sword is wood.

Stay Below the Ceiling

A heat gun isn’t hard to find. Head to your local DIY or hardware store and they’ll probably have one. They are useful for stripping paint among other things. For foam costumes, they are great at softening the foam so that, when it cools while being shape, it hardens into the new form. I don’t normally talk about products but it’s important to know that I bought one of these Furno heat guns. It’s important because of the packaging:

A photo of the box packaging for a Wagner Furno heat gun with a highlighted circle on the right showing the words “101 uses”

A Furno heat gun has 101 uses. And when I bought it, I thought, “well, I won’t need more than 100 uses.” I mean, a suit of foam armor isn’t going to require 100 uses.

If you’re not put off by how dumb that is, please continue with the post! I promise, I learned my lesson.

But not until after I commented on it to someone in our family and they just laughed and laughed. And then I realize how I’d had my eyes right up to the bark on the tree, and hadn’t thought what else that phrase “101 uses” might mean. Obviously, it means it has lots of functions, can be used in more than 100 different ways. “Even 102,” as the family wag has it. SMH.

When I reflected, I realized I (a) didn’t really know the tool well so didn’t know that 101 was marketing speak and not an actual measure and (b) was focused on a specific use project and so was mapping resources to it. I found a tool that met the specific project need and, even if it had constraints, I could work within them.

This may be a stretch but it’s like when we license a product. Sometimes it can have 5 concurrent users or, like ebooks, can be borrowed 26 times or something. We make choices, knowing upper limits of usability and that impacts our resource allocation.

In my defense (which is very small), we live in an era of things that have ceilings or usage caps. Our devices have a limited number of hours of battery life. We can only use a certain number of gigabytes of data on our mobile devices. We can only listen to a limited number of streams of music. We buy copy cards and other transaction tools that have limited funds or uses. But that’s a pretty thin excuse.

The company has updated its packaging for people like me:

The Sky is the Limit

As I say, lesson learned. I was focused on my project and not thinking outside the very narrow confines of what I needed to do right now. The more I thought about it, I realized it had to do with when I decided to get the heat gun, which was not when I started the project.

It’s a bit like how we can look at a dollar of law library funding. Do we use it to hold on to what our law library was/is? Or do we expend it to grow and do something new, and potentially not spend it on something we have in the past?

Even if we are attempting to focus on one tree – whether to hew it down or to nurture its growth – it can be easy to forget its place in the forest. It might crash down on other trees. Its growth may increase the canopy that will stunt the growth of other trees or things growing in the forest.

I’ve thought of this – 101 uses – a number of times since it happened, when I’m starting a new project. It’s become one of the standard things I think about. Sure, I’m trying to solve this one thing (which may be small or large) and so focus the project on that solution. But the tools I select and the other choices I make may have a greater impact, a greater possibility for re-use, than I need for the project.

More importantly, I may not be able to see those additional uses or impact until after the project is started or completed. This inserts a certain amount of ambiguity into every planning process. We know there are things we don’t know, so we can look at those through a risk lens: what things do we not know that could impede the project.

But there is an upside to the ambiguity, which is: what potential are we creating unknowingly? We may not see it until it manifests itself. Think of an employee who gains a new skill set (learning SharePoint or video editing or making ebooks) for a project. It may be a one-time use, or focused on a single ongoing project or service.

I’m flawed. This story comes to mind when I’m thinking about resource allocation though and feel as though there’s a limiting factor. Is it a cap of 101 or is it an unlimited range of possibilities?