Artisans and ideas
Because ideas have needs all of their own.
Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend
It’s always interesting entering a conversation around “growth”, whether it’s a start-up trying to bring an idea to life, or an established business hoping an idea will somehow resuscitate it. What I notice most often is that few people respect the idea in its own right. They think they own it.
There’s a school of thought that we don’t have ideas because we think, but rather that we have to think because we have ideas (William Bion). The idea is in charge. The better the idea, the more friction it causes, and the more we have to think - critically, creatively and constructively. The best ideas have the spirit of Schumpeter - they create through destruction. They are inconvenient and activist. They accelerate the process observed by Max Planck that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Ideas are one of the most precious and most abused entities we have. The hubris of existing organisations let them think that the idea somehow belongs to them, as though ideas fear intellectual property lawyers. The hubris of many entrepreneurs convince them that the idea is fragile and incapable of survival without their help.
I suggest neither is true. Elizabeth Gilbert channeled Bion when she suggested that idea just come and visit us, but if we don’t look after them, they go and find somebody who will.
Ideas arrive with a pulse and an idea of where they want to go. Artisans sense that pulse, and dance with the idea. Established organisations try to subdue them, and those in venture capital and private equity often treat them in the way that our education system treats our children - as somehow incomplete and in need of instruction rather than the vibrant, capable learners that they are.
Ideas come in many forms, and all are precious. We need to listen to them and try to understand what they want to be rather than exhaust them.
One of my favourite quotations covers this beautifully:
“The best way to find out things, if you come to think of it, is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun; bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun.”
― Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood
Ideas have never been more important, and the ones we need will challenge us. They will not behave or be subdued and will eventually have their way. Great ideas will not be enclosed.
Artisans respect ideas, nurture them and allow them to take shape without bullying them.
It’s another reason artisans, and the space we create for them, matters more than ever.
P.S. I came across this post by Luke Burgis after I had written this post. I love the idea. It is so resonant with the unenclosed idea.