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The Artisan, Improvisation, and Compromise.
It's about growth
For the artisan in us, how we do what we do, where we do it, how we do it, when we do it, who we do it with and most of all, why we do it are all important.
We are not algorithms and cannot perform to order. The idea of the Muse is more than a romantic notion. When all are aligned, even for a moment, it’s a joy. Most of the time, of course, it’s not.
I think dealing with that conflict is important. In his book “Collaborating with the Enemy” Adam Kahane has a simple model - if you have the power to do what you want, do it. If you don’t, there’s a choice - either accept the situation or leave the setting. If you don’t have the power, can’t accept the situation, and can’t leave, you have to negotiate. It’s a very simple framework designed for high-conflict situations, but I also find it powerful when it comes to the work I do.
For many people, at all levels, in all manner of jobs, we have to negotiate with ourselves. Even CEOs rarely have the power to do what they want - there are too many complications from shareholders to legislation. The result is that we have a workplace where many just accept the situation and accept what’s on offer, or if they have the means, or the exit package, leave.
For those of us whose artisan accompanies us to work every day, we have to negotiate - with ourselves. To do the work we’re paid for whilst keeping the artisan in us calm.
This negotiation can take two routes. The first, easiest, and most draining is compromise. A passive response doing work that is less than we know we can do and telling ourselves we have no choice. After a while, it becomes routine, and the artisan goes off into the corner, curls up and goes to sleep. Before we know it, we have reached the end of our career, or more likely, hit a bump in the road and find ourselves starting anew.
Keeping the artisan in us awake and engaged is important for many reasons, not least because we don’t know when we might have an opportunity for it to take the lead.
This takes us to the second form of negotiation, improvisation. An active, insurgent response that treats the constraints we face as a challenge. In their book. “A Beautiful Constraint”, Mark Bardenand Adam Morgan point out many examples of those who took forced limitations as energy and found ways to use that energy to create something new, from prosthetic limbs to instant cameras.
We can do the same. We may be producing bland work to very tight specifications, measured to within a millimetre of its life, but that doesn’t mean we cannot imagine what it might be if it was free. Every piece of work we do has a secret wish of what it wants to be, and engaging with that is what can keep our artisan not just awake and engaged but exercised, fit and ready. Inside everything we do, there’s something powerful looking to grow that only we can free.
Because, I suspect, sooner rather than later, we will be calling on them for real as the anodyne gets automated.
Improvisation has an energy to it. Compromise does not.