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New Artisans - the tools we use...
Leaving our mark.
Our work is defined by the tools we use and our relationship with them. It is a fine balance between efficiency and originality.
When we were doing work on our house last year, we needed a heritage joiner to replace complex art deco roof features. At his workshop, Richard, the joiner, gave me a long lecture on the importance of knowing your tools and how to sharpen them properly because every craft joiner uses their tools differently, from the angle they are held at to the pressure applied to whether they are right or left-handed.
They do not borrow other people’s tools nor lend their own because they are extensions of themselves. The ones he was using he had had since being an apprentice half a century ago. One of his complaints was that power tools do not give the same feel or communication as hand tools do. They are OK for routine work - drilling holes etc. - but not for complex work where different pieces of wood have to be married with precision and empathy with each other so that they will last decades or longer.
It got me thinking about the tools I use. I write about our relationship with work and read extensively about the subject, and it is far too easy to succumb to reading the equivalent of power tools. Books by well-known, highly marketed authors who offer to help us get past the hard work of learning our craft by presenting us with their own answers. Golden Circles, Seven Habits, Finite and Infinite Games, The Leadership Tricks of Special Forces and so forth.
Reading too much of that is like eating too much highly processed food. It does little for our creative constitution.
The bookshops and consultancies are full of them, mostly eyeball bait to lead to a course, service, or other form of monetisation. Very few of them are original. They repurpose and represent the work either of ancient wisdom or insights by little-known but original writers which then, in turn, are developed into courses and offerings by others and marketed via LinkedIn.
Authors like Dan Pink and Simon Sinek produce well-written, easy-to-read books, but their origins lie in the work of people like Alfie Kohn and James Carse, whose work sold a fraction of their reincarnations but provided a diet rich in unasked questions.
It is not plagiarism, and the originals are cited, but the work has been done for us; distancing us from insight just as a power tool distances us from the materials we are using and as an app distances us from the effort (and joy) of learning how to do something for ourselves, in our own way, to leave our own signature.
So I have just rewritten my reading list to go back to originators of ideas, rather than popularisers of ideas, and to curators of the original works. To do the work of interpretation for myself, to try and understand why the work of Kurt Vonnegut resonates so much, rather than be told why, and read the original anthropology of the Golden Age of Piracy and find my own insights rather than just accept others - good though they undoubtedly are. To understand why and then use them to make my own conclusions and generate my own insights relative to the work I am doing.
It means that my learning will be slower (and more expensive) but that I will have the satisfaction of knowing just how my thoughts were constructed and how they get onto this blog with as much of my signature as I can manage.
When we removed the old roof features, they were secured with hand-made nails, indicating them to be about one hundred and fifty years old, and the previous joiner’s marks were clear when we took them apart. I liked that. The new features will last, all things being equal, just as long and have been signed by the current joiner—a connection to work well done.
I didn’t ask Richard the Joiner Alan Moore’s 13 questions, but I know that if I had, he would have had no problem answering any of them.
If I want to do work like that, no matter that I’m starting late, I need to work with the thirteen questions in mind. It matters little that anybody sees it or reads it.
I will know, and that matters.
Diary Date: TOMORROW, 6:00 pm UK
Alan Moore, the originator of the questions I have been pondering these last couple of weeks, will join us on Zoom to consider our reactions, questions and thoughts on how we apply them to our own practices and businesses.
Open to Subscribers only. Limited to 18 participants. Not to be missed.