The Artisan's Daimon
Finding it, Befriending it, Accompanying it.
I ended last week’s post with three questions that I’ve been carrying with me since then:
What is unique in what we do?
Where is it unique?
To whom is it unique enough to pay a premium?
Important questions, perhaps, but ones that defy logical analysis. Genetic mathematics tells us that we are each unique. There has never been one the same as us in history, nor will there be one in the future. To complicate it further, we respond to our environment in unique ways. Faced with the same set of circumstances, in the same place, at the same time, we will each respond differently, and the difference is enough to be the equivalent of that flap of a butterfly’s wing; we do not know what will happen as a result.
Whilst it doesn’t make nonsense of all those leadership courses and self-development books, it reveals their limitations, like talking in primary colours in a world of infinite combinations.
I don’t develop. I am.
What’s been on my mind, then, is how we might escape the temptation to analyse, model, and categorise artisans and their markets in the reductive way we have become used to and find another way of looking at artisans and their potential.
As a result, I have spent this week considering the power of myth as a potential route for imagining our way into a different relationship with our work as a vehicle for enriching all aspects of our lives, not just the “economy” element.
The classic mythical template is James Campbell’s “The Heroes Journey”. It is a powerful and compelling work that we can all relate to, but also one that has been done half to death, over-simplified, and over-marketed by consultants.
To take a different angle. I have been re-reading James Hillman’s ‘The Soul’s Code: In search of Character and Calling”. Hillman, a contemporary of Jung, Freud and Adler, is often referred to as “The Renegade Psychologist”, and I love his work.
One of the beauties of myth is that, like children’s fairy stories, they bypass logic and make complete intuitive sense. We can immerse ourselves in the idea and let our imaginations loose without having to provide evidence or data. We can play.
At the heart of this work is the ancient Greek idea that each of us arrives in the world with a “daimon”, a “genius”, that is unique to us and understands the work we are to do whilst we are here, our “calling”, and the way in which we are to deliver it. Allocated to us by the Fates. the Moira,
Moira? the finished shape of our fate, the line drawn around it. It is the task the gods allot us, and the shape of our glory they allow; the limits we must not pass, and our appointed end. Moira is all of these.
Mary Renault. The King Must Die.
Hillman talks of “Acorn Theory” - the idea of the acorn inside us wanting to be an oak, which needs the nutrients of the work we must do to grow. In the battle between what we are taught, our “tuition”, and our intuition, the daimon is responsible for that sense that lets us know when we’re straying from the path of our calling, when we are uncomfortable with what we are doing, but are not quite sure why.
I think of it as the space between the scientist in us, laden with techniques, skills, knowledge and data, qualifications, networks and reputation, and the unquantifiable; our fears and dreams, self-doubt, and sense of responsibility to others. It is those things that others see in us that we do not see or maybe deny in ourselves. Those aspects rail against organisational dogma, and want to nail their own version of Martin Luther’s 95 theses to the boardroom door.
The Greeks talked of “genius loci”, the place that brings out the daimon in us. Most of us have experienced places like that, what the Irish term “thin places”, where we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world. I suggest it happens in our work, too, if we’re lucky - when we're “in flow” - though nowhere near as often as we would like.
I think those of us who meet regularly each week recognise each other’s daimons; they come out to play in the space created by trust, support and continuity, in what William James called the idea of “eachness.”
In reading Hillman two phrases rang true for me:
“Hope enters history, and psychology, as trust in continuity fades”
“Mentoring begins when your imagination can fall in love with the fantasy of another”
The Soul’s Code. Page 121
Whilst hope is important, intention and motivation are more powerful. That is what conversations engender. If we are to find our own answers to the questions at the start of this post, it will not, I think, be through more analysis, it will be through entertaining the idea of the daimon in each of us, and giving it the space to emerge and be seen. We can take heart from the Greek word “Eudaimonia” - literally, that which nurtures our daimon:
(Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯moníaː]; sometimes anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia, /juːdɪˈmoʊniə/) is a Greek word literally translating to the state or condition of 'good spirit', and which is commonly translated as 'happiness' or 'welfare'.
I will continue to pursue this thought next week, but in the meantime want to plant another thought that, for me, travels alongside that of the idea of the daimon; that of patience.
“In your patience lies your soul”
A saying from the Greek Alchemists (taken from Hillman)
We have become used to “solutions” provided on demand, with evidence as proof. What we are doing here doesn’t work like that. Our daimon will not be rushed (mine, I think, got the wrong bus at some point) but does want to be acknowledged as it accompanies us. Our daimon wants to be unhurried, and those who have worked with Johnnie Moore and Sue Heatherington recognise unhurried’s quiet power.
Daimons don’t do episodic; they do continuity. I think we will do well to recognise that.
Enough for this week. have a great weekend.
Searching for Genius. Wellcome collection. A series of short essays on the nature of genius.
The Soul’s Code. In Search of Character and Calling. James Hillman.
Thin Places. A New York Times article.
On TUESDAY, 21st February, at 6:00 pm UK, James Gairdner of Heresy Consulting will be joining us to talk about creating organisations around people rather than shoehorning people into organisations.
James is a long-standing friend, and this promises to be an excellent session. (He is also a fan of James Hillman)
A thought re Campbell (whom I love) and the hero myth. We need more stories of collectives. The ones that are fresh in my mind, Octavia Butler's prescient Parable of the Talents (1998), Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (2014), Richard Powers' The Overstory (2018) and Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry for the Future (2020). Confronting complexity, even at the level of myth, needs to overcome the fiction of the valiant hero.