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Artisans and Heretics
When challenges don’t respect dogma
We live in a world of processes, labels, and best practices. A place for everything, and everything in its place, as my Grandmother liked to tell me. This is fine if we live at the centre, in the world measured in short-term increments of growth measured in money, but not so much if we live at the edge, where things are fraying and dissolving into the new, and will not be measured, only sensed.
I reflected a couple of weeks ago on those who rebelled against enclosure during the eighteenth century, about John Wycliffe and the “Lollards” who refused to be enclosed - either physically or spiritually. Those for whom the enclosers had to find a new label that encompassed heretics, vagrants, travellers and all manner of other inconvenient folks so that they could be gathered together and dealt with efficiently (and brutally) so that the enclosers could proceed without interruption.
It strikes me, though, that heretics and their associates do not just exist in the world of management. They are equally and increasingly present in the challenges we face. They roam around somewhere beyond two sigma variation, hunted down by Lean Six Sigma practitioners to be isolated and dealt with. We create problems with names we use - like artificial intelligence, and then anthropomorphising it (I wonder if we might treat it differently if we called it auxiliary intelligence - something that complements rather than competes?)
In his great book, “Why we make things and why it matters”, Peter Korn writes about his relationship with a piece of wood on his lathe that he is turning to be a spindle on a chair, until he senses that that is not what that piece of wood wants to be. It “feels wrong”, so rather than force it, he finds another piece of wood. The wood that doesn’t want to be a spindle wants to be something else, and he’ll come back to that. It is the difference between an operator and an artisan.
I often wonder how we might improve things if we paid more attention to our work in a similar way.
Trying to make heretics, whether they are people, materials, or ideas, comply never ends well. They have a point to make, which we would do well to listen to because they are creating a path away from the dogma that will damage us to ideas that will grow us.
Heretics matter. Artisans respect them.
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