The New Artisan Archipelago...
The power of craft in process driven markets.
I like the idea of the Daimon, from Plato’s Myth of Er at the conclusion of his “Republic”, which triggered last Friday’s post. The part of us that knows what it is we are here to do, that was determined before we were born, and which we have forgotten. Something that we do not have to “find” because it is already with us, something we have to create space for in order to let it emerge.
Perhaps our Daimon is something of an introvert, sitting quietly in the corner of the room whilst our ego holds court. I suspect, we all have experienced situations where once all the egos have finished holding court, the insight we need comes from that quiet, thoughtful person who has been listening and thinking in that corner.
I’ve had a week full of conversations where, unless I give them my full attention, that quiet presence may just get bored and slip quietly out of the room. I’m very aware of the noise in my world at the moment, all those egos out there in the world of politics, business, and social media putting their lack of awareness on full display.
The challenge with noise is that it is difficult to put to one side without a combination of determination and deliberate practice, and because much of the noise is carefully and skilfully designed to capture our attention, finding quietude is becoming an important skill.
I’ve reflected before (link below) on the nature of our capacity and the need to husband it in order to create the space we need for resilience and creativity. Whilst I find is that it is one thing to understand it at an intellectual level; it is another thing altogether to embody it - to husband physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity and connect it to that “always on” central processing unit of the mind. Although mindfulness disciplines help, I need to carry the awareness of approaching capacity overload with me moment-by-moment, probably because my curiosity resembles a Springer Spaniel in a field full of rabbits and needs discipline.
I find a real reward to discipline in that the more closely I look at fewer things, the more I see, and the more I find connections to ideas and people that lead to insight. Re-reading what I have just written sounds all very Zen, and “World in a grain of sand”, for which I make no apology and would add that I find the space between doing and being as productive as it is challenging to stay in for any length of time (and is, I think, where my own Daimon tends to hang out).
The more I practice the discipline of doing “more of less”, the more I find myself at the edge of what I understand, peering over the edge with other people doing the same but who have arrived there from different places to me. It is a form of diversity, mixing with people from different disciplines and traditions and sometimes exchanging ideas and viewpoints in something that can feel like the sign language and gestures we use when in a country and culture where we do not speak the language. It can be hard work and requires a combination of courage, persistence, and vulnerability, and sometimes, we have to circle around or backtrack and be aware of the quiet signals that defensive barriers are being raised. It puts the art of conversation under a spotlight, often revealing how much I still have to learn about it.
One of the benefits of the discipline has been discovering, and in some cases, rediscovering, sources of inspiration and connection. This week it has been another Substack, John Durrant’s “Ordinary Mastery” posts that have provided food for thought, and reconnecting for the first time this year with those in Johann Botha’s work, to find how much had taken root there in just a couple of months. Both feel like the islands I refer to below.
These experiences reinforce the idea that technology is giving us a new form of the traditional Guild, one defined by the nature of practice as much as the nature of a specific craft. Before we had the ability to connect that we do now, it was natural that communities of practice would grow vertically and hierarchically defined by a recognisable product or profession. Now though, in a world where products and services are global, differentiation is no longer what but how, and connection is as powerful horizontally by approach as vertically by skill.
I think it offers a glimpse of exciting possibilities. What if, instead of the monocultures of corporates circumscribed by the dogma of profit and efficiency, we could create polycultures that synthesise new ideas by combining and innovating based on practice as much as performance, connection more than control, and community more than Corporation? My conversation with Johann revealed a course, now started, which interested me with the thoughts of communities as islands of ideas inhabited by New Artisans, coming together to form archipelagoes of practise, which feels instinctively more appealing and vibrant than the lumpencorporate (nod to Karl Marx and his lumpenproletariat).
I think of New Artisans as signal in an increasingly noisy world. People who do work that matters to them and deliver it to people they know in a distinctive way that is a part of their “signature” - something altogether more distinct and personal than a brand. Where brands identify “personas”, artisans connect with people. (I’m still finding my way around here at Substack, but I’m impressed by how many people who I’m subscribing to and who have subscribed to me take an active interest in the connection and make contact - it gives the connection a certain vibrancy and refreshingly different to other platforms I have tried)
I believe it matters in markets where efficiency driven organisations are creating hybrids of human and artificial processes to produce cheap, but emotionally sterile products and services. They will do mass market well, but leave significant chunks of the market where people are looking for more - connection, provenance, and relationships. This is the domain of New Artisans.
I am starting to see “islands” of conversations that reflect artisanal values emerging in many different places, and am involved with a number of them. They are as different and individually distinctive as the places and subjects they cover, but share a DNA, and are starting to connect. It recalls Chellie Spillers work on “calling the island to you”; the idea that rather than navigate to somewhere, creating the conditions for what we are looking for to find us. It’s not an organised or logical process, it is something altogether more organic, and reminds me of archipelagoes. Small, autonomous islands loosely connected, with people travelling between them to trade.
It’s early days yet. What it has focused my attention on is the importance of having something that is ours in what we do, and being sufficiently connected to others to be able to create suites of distinctive products and services that connect with clients at every level - intellectual, emotional, intuitive and physical - something we all value, and that evokes notions of beauty and simplicity. The power not to disappear into the organisations we work for, and to be recognised for who we are.
It is not I think an easy option, and in many cases has a whiff of the heretic about it. On the other hand, when I consider where the easy options and quiet compliance are taking us, it makes me uneasy.
A Small Change in Terminology.
I’ve been basing my thinking around New Artisans on a “platform” formed by Craft, Community and Confidence. For those of you who follow my Reflections posts, the idea of “Coherence” has become important, and feels like a better focus than just confidence, so I’m moving confidence out, and bringing what I think is it’s foundation, “Coherence”, in. A small but important change. More on that in future posts.
On Tuesday 21st February, 6:00 pm UK, James Gairdner of Heresy Consulting will be with us to talk about psychodynamics of organisations. I find it an exciting and provocative way to look at the relationships we have with organisations, and something altogether more generative than the normal HR dialogues. It promises to be a session not to be missed.
Enough for now. Have a great weekend.
Myth of ER. Wikipedia.
Reflections On Capacity. Richard Merrick.
“World in a grain of sand” Auguries on Innocence. William Blake.
Ordinary Mastery. John Durrant.
Reflections. Post on 2023 and Coherence.
Calling the Island to You. Chellie Spiller.
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