The Fluid Artisan
Organisations, and businesses in particular, have developed a very peculiar relationship with change. We think that somehow, we can take something organic, and “manage “ it, in the same way we talk about “time management” and aspire to develop processes to somehow “manage” the weather. King Cnut may have demonstrated to his courtiers a thousand years ago that he had no influence over the tide, but in some ways it sees we have yet to catch on.
Instead, we have developed a “stop motion” relationship with change. Scale and efficiency require that we “freeze” a system at a point in time in order to analyse it and work out how to extract value from it. The underlying continuous process of change though evolves the system to a point where the models we have created no longer function and erode, and we have to create a new set of models to suit. We call it “entrepreneurship”, and the key skill of the entrepreneur is to take the money and run somewhere between the stop motion frames.
I think Artisans have a different relationship with their work. something more akin to continuous flow. I could make comparisons to surfing, or gaming, or any number of activities where “flow” is an important factor, but whilst all of those apply, there’s more than that. “Flow” activities are themselves episodic and deep, and we move in and out of them. There is something about the Artisan that is about a continuous awareness of what is going on around them, from the nature of the materials they work with to the ecosystem they are working in. Less heroic and spectacular than extreme sports, perhaps more something quietly poetic.
I find the idea of poets in a performance driven world attractive, and necessary
It strikes me that we have for several generations lived in a form of forced harmonic. The needs of industrialisation shaped our education system, which in turn shaped our businesses and society. Now though, that forced harmonic is collapsing as we find ourselves in what may feel like chaos but in reality is just a more natural order asserting itself. “Stop Motion” is no longer a viable strategy, and we find that disorienting.
Whereas once the “forced harmonic” enabled us to live our lives and career within a reasonably predictable framework - entry qualifications, training period, career progression, retirement - we no longer can. Global outsourcing, technology, and complex ownership structures that separate organisational head, heart and hand have seen to that.
We have a choice. We can choose to see what appears to be wreckage, searching for something to hold onto, or we can see something emerging we can help shape. The second choice carries uncomfortable realities - responsibility, accountability, and the real possibility of failures before success, but it beats the hell out of looking at wreckage.
One of the examples that has shaped my thinking, and is a constant inspiration for what business might be has nothing to do with business. It has to do with an early years teacher, Loris Malaguzzi.
Five days after the second world war ended, rumours began to circulate of a group of women who had decided to build a school from the rubble left after the Germans retreated from Italy. The group of women sold an abandoned German tank, nine horses, and two military trucks and began to construct a school within the countryside with the intent to ensure the next generation of children would grow up intolerant to injustice or inequality. Having heard the rumours, Malaguzzi’s interest was piqued, and he rode his bike to the town to see what the rumours were about. After seeing and speaking to the mothers involved, Malaguzzi was so impressed that he stayed in Reggio to assist. In Malaguzzi’s words, “It was the women’s first victory after the war because the decision was theirs. The men might have used the money differently.”
What he helped found is now recognised as the finest early years pedagogy in the World, and I think we can learn from his example.
Even if we could put the industrial model Humpty Dumpty back together again, I’m not sure we should. We should take the pieces we can use and build something new that puts people at the heart of business, not just money. Money as a means, not just an end. Something where we can leverage advances in technology by working with it rather than trying to retrofit it into something that was never designed with it in mind.
Artisans are at the heart of that idea. I have visited Reggio many times, and it is easy to see the hallmark of the Artisan there in the attention to detail, the philosophy of education, and in the role the teachers play in bringing out the best in children rather than filling them with dogma and measuring them on compliance. If we start with ourselves, I believe we can do the same with business.
It feels like a good place to start the next cycle of New Artisans. Starting small and local, building as we go, letting what we find shape progress and avoiding another form of “forced harmonic.”
So, no “big launch”, just another step. From the beginning of April, there will be two types of post - the free version covering areas of artisanal interest, and a paid subscribers version in which we start to look at how we start to build Artisanal Practice. Additionally, there will be a small closed group where we do the actual building, as we learn, on a “slow adventure”.
Because it’s all about relationships, communication and depth, paid subscribers will be limited to ensure we achieve that, and Slow Adventures will be limited to one, maybe two, groups of eight. The invitations to discuss how we do it will close at the end of March.
Become a paid subscriber.
Regular New Artisans Monthly Zoom
Wednesday 5th April 6:00pm. (Note - we are now on British Summer Time. There’s optimism for you…)
A Conversation with Peter Geoghegan.
Wednesday 12th April 6:00pm.