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New Artisans - Does it Matter?
Day 1 of Alan Moore's 13 Design Questions
Last Friday, I suggested we are all an industry of one, and that over the next fourteen posts, I would put New Artisans through Alan Moore’s thirteen questions from his book ‘Do Build” to “think out loud” in your company…
The first and obvious response is “Matter to who?” - to you, to me, to organisations, or something wider still, such as communities?
I know it matters to me because it has held my attention for the last eighteen months, ever since I made the connection to the role of Artisans in previous periods of epochal change. It provides me with a container, a crucible perhaps, in which I can reduce my ideas to their basic elements and, from them, constitute new insights into our relationship with work.
A personal experiment in the alchemy that our work can offer us.
Who else it matters to is surmise. Here are my thoughts so far:
For the last ten generations, a particular notion of work has shaped our lives in ways it never had before. Work as time for money, measured output, and as a scientific process. Work inside organisations with the legal rights of personhood and a mantra, until very recently, of maximising shareholder value without regard to social or environmental impact. Work with individuals as “resources”, interchangeable globally according to cost, and increasingly at every level with technology.
Our relationship with our work has been “salami sliced” over generations from local to global, and from employee to gig worker such that our relationships with our employers have never been more fragile.
It has not been a conspiracy but a consequence of how we have designed and built our organisations. As Churchill noted, “First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us”. Organisations are no different, and that is what they have done.
Now, however, they are failing, often spectacularly, to keep pace with changes in their environment and many, maybe most, have become not just miserable places to work but unreliable, and we are in danger of becoming a cog in a machine grinding to a halt. It provides a precarious existence financially, emotionally and spiritually.
As individuals, we need more options and a change in relationship to be, in effect, more “open source” with skills and connections that enable us to redefine what work means.
To make it more balanced; less “male”, less “industrial”, less “efficient”, and more purposeful, generative, affirming and socially cohesive.
And that means rethinking our place in it. To make our work a form of expression as well as skill, and something to which we belong. To become less dependent on corporations, more independent in our capabilities, and more interdependent with those we choose to work with.
I think that matters.
Growing rapidly in the understorey of our industrial jungles are the businesses and organisations that will replace the giant corporations as they fail and decay. The last things that these new organisations want are compliant, dependent, submissive colleagues waiting to be told what to do. They want energy, originality, creativity and more than a dash of the heretic. They want questions, observations, challenges and willingness to share risks. They are shaping their organisations to shape the people they want.
That means people for whom work is an expression of who they are, thriving alongside others who are similar. Those I think of as New Artisans.
I think that matters.
In my view, the most potent of the reasons we need New Artisans. Most established organisations were once communities of a sort, rooted in community, but over several generations, have become hollowed-out dividend machines. (There’s something of a tragedy in that some hark to their heritage and think they are still what they were.)
Good work, however we term it, is dependent on relationships first and structure second. Organisation Design psychologists have long recognised the power of informal networks to subvert structure, and technology has now given these informal networks independence from the organisation that employs them. They have become a form, in artisanal language, of “proto-guilds”; connecting skills, attitudes and values across organisations and often seeding new ones. For large organisations, Elvis leaves the building at the end of each workday, and they can only hope they show up in the morning.
I think the future lies in fuelling, enabling and connecting these “proto- guilds”. I think they are the building blocks of something better, and I want to make New Artisans part of that because…
I think it matters.
All this is, at the end of the day, guesswork - like most ideas.
I’d appreciate any comments, ideas, or observations in chat. I’d also be more than interested in your reflections on your own answers to the question “Does it matter?” in relation to the work you are doing today (accepting, of course, the need for the income it generates)
..and have a look at Alan’s other work, his newsletters, and thoughts about what business can be. It’s always worth it.