The Artisan and Connection
The joy of playing, not managing.
It’s hard to play the violin wearing boxing gloves, yet what many of us do at work is a broad equivalent. In large organisations, we are separated from our customers and clients by multiple layers of process, protocol, management and strategy to which we have little connection.
The artisan in us, and I believe we all have one, craves connection. Not just to the materials we shape, but to the response of those who it affects, in ways far beyond anything sterile numbers, annual reports and bonuses can ever achieve. We need a visceral, emotional connection in order to feel alive and part of what we do.
The things that have made companies efficient, from managerialism and technology to globalisation, have dulled that connection whilst we talk glibly (and miserably) about abstractions of “engagement”, “vision”, and ”values” whilst all the time moving from creating our own version of music to the equivalent of Spotify, listening to people we do not know, increasingly questioning whether they are real or a virtual construction.
I remember the wonder and awe as a teenager of seeing and hearing people I knew from school suddenly appearing in a local pub, singing and playing guitar, and witnessing an element of them - from playing ability to quality of voice to the courage of just doing it in front of other people I was not aware of. They never became famous and went on, like the rest of us, to the banal normality of the workplace, but that element of them remained, to be brought out at parties or weekends with friends, and their voice stays with me.
The reality of our insulation from the impact of the work we do will not change anytime soon, and will probably increase. I suspect finding satisfaction working for others in large organisations, other than in fleeting moments, will become increasingly rare, no matter how many motivational messages and “wellness gifts” we get from someone in HR we’ve never met, or being told how important we are by an executive we’ll also never meet.
I think we need somewhere to play, to exercise our voice, in the knowledge that whilst we may not become famous, we will know what it feels like to sing in front of people we know.
Something different to a hobby; something with rather more intent to nurture that part of us that might yet want to take to our own small stage, with whatever our instruments of choice might be, from pottery to poetry, and play with the gloves off, so that we can connect to ourselves and people we know. To feel our presence with them.
I wrote yesterday about the idea of a “third place”, and think that perhaps it might be that is what it could be for. Large organisations will do what they are designed to do, with us as passengers of convenience. Travelling with them needs to be a choice; which means we need alternatives.
It’s a good time to start practising and finding our voice because the changes that are happening need the artisan, not the modern equivalent of the mill worker.