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What is the Role of New Artisans?
As we identify, release and empower the "Inner Fool" that powers our artisanal nature, what role might we play in changing times?
Artisans are always searching for mastery of their work and face a paradox that whilst others may regard them as Masters, they rarely do themselves.
Their motivation is in its pursuit. That pursuit inevitably places them right at the edge of their chosen domain as they look for those small increments of skill and insight that will move them forward. Not for them the comfort of "good enough" or the satisfaction of following "best practice". Whilst these measures are essential for the day-to-day delivery of their profession, trade or industry, they belong to those whose relationship with their work is more transactional rather than pursuing that evasive ideal.
This essential, often unconscious hunger sets them apart so that their mindsets and behaviours, as well as the quality of their work, is their hallmark. It determines how they relate not only to their work but to each other and their communities.
What follows now is a personal thought exercise. I have no hard data, just observation, the soft data of conversation and reading, and my own intuition. I offer it as food for thought and conversation, no more.
When times are relatively stable, Artisans can be found focusing on their work, finding ways to develop it, improve it, and extend it. Because they are not driven by scale, their relationships with their clients, materials, colleagues and communities are closely held. While they are working at the edge of their capabilities, those edges are pretty solid, and changes are made slowly and considerately. They make a reasonable living by charging premiums for work that is difficult for others to replicate.
When things begin to change, they are aware of those changes faster than those around them. The changes may be in their materials, communities, or clients. Because they have well-developed awareness - what John Boyd termed "fingerspitzengefühl" - they sense those changes and explore them, and because what they create carries the signature of who they are, they do not compromise on quality but instead look for different ways to deliver it through adapting and innovating. They are likely to reach quietly out to others doing similar work and even beyond to others who share their approach, if not the same skills, as they explore ways to make sense of what is happening to turn changes to their advantage.
When things break, they are not passive acceptors of what has changed. Because they are so closely interwoven into their craft, materials and communities, they become natural (even if not willing) activists. As we have discussed before, not the noisy activists who appear at the last minute when change is upon us, but quiet activists who take what they have been learning from their awareness of the background and nature of the changes to apply the lessons that have learned. They are more interested in longer-term direction than short-term goals, and find others turning to them for guidance.
Because they are natural, if not necessarily trained systems thinkers, Artisans are ahead of the game. In technology, we can see their DNA in those who have been moving out of memory chip production into logic chips so that even as the market for silicon drops, they are focusing on areas that are least affected. In the familiar area of craft beers, we can see those doubling down on quality rather than quantity in the craft beer sector. In the dusty corridors of academia, the notion of craft as a way of organising work is becoming a topic of interest, and partnerships to integrate craft into contemporary approaches are being explored.
All this begs a further question. If the qualities of the Artisan are becoming more important in the changes we are witnessing, where are they most appropriate?
The thing about being at the edge - of a business, a sector, or a discipline is that at the edge is where we bump into other edges that those at the centre are unaware of. As an idea, this one is as old as the hills and documented in myth and legend as the archetype of the Trickster.
Tricksters are the Lords of the in-between; boundary-crossers. Tricksters are those who, when a person or an organisation is in a place where their tradition, or dogma, or attachment to best practice is under pressure, will suggest an amoral action, something that sits on the border between right and wrong, often paradoxical, that generates the energy that gets things moving.
In times of flux, such as now, I think Artisans are unintentional leaders. They have mastery of their own domain, are connected or can easily find others in related domains, share a deep sense of curiosity and commitment, and have the ability to create the new from the pieces of the old.
So if we have those abilities, how and where do we harness them to best effect?
That's what I'll be pondering this next week for next weeks post.
We had an excellent session on Zoom with Wendy Appel discussing the Enneagram - its history, it's attractions and capabilities, and its role in helping us consider our own roles as Artisans. We recorded the meeting, and I'll post the video and some comments from the session over the weekend.