When does the Artisan leave the Building?
It's a relationship
There is a time where, as a business founder, a point is reached when relationships change.
The likelihood is that we will have started as an initiator or co-initiator of making an idea concrete. We will have an emotional, as well as logical relationship with the idea, and those who share our enthusiasm and commitment. We will experiment, fail, improvise and then, not to plan, and in a different way than we expected, things start to come together. Long days, short nights, and a glorious period where we make a living doing the work we want.
Then, the seductive idea of scale finds its way into the picture. Often introduced by others who want to make a living helping us - banks, consultants, and often government agencies. Those for whom our part in a “productive economy” is a greater priority than our fledgeling business.
At around this point, quietly and without fanfare, the artisan leaves the building to be replaced by “leadership and management”. Process, plans, canvasses, investment finance, measurement and other tools of scale. In a short space of time, the business is only notionally ours, as we find ourselves tenants in a business we thought we owned.
Relationships change as we recruit those with the skills we need, but for whom the founder’s story is an abstraction of the joy and pain of the business they are now part of. We tell the story of “family”, “joint effort” and all the other elements of engagement and enrollment, yet find the more of it we do, the less convincing it is. The story of the business becomes secondary to need, and the burden of any deviation from plan is measured in people leaving the business, not investors or financiers disappointed.
It doesn’t mean that there is no room for craft, or the exercise of skills we value; it just is not a right, and it is foolish to let ourselves think that it is.
Perhaps we need to have the courage to recognise it.
There is a point where an expedition - which is what a new venture often is - finds somewhere it likes, decides to settle, and the rules change. Expedition behaviours are very different to citizen behaviours; expeditions are light on formal structure and written rules and reliant on initiative and mutually supportive behaviours. Settlements are the other way around; rules, structure and defined behaviours.
The thing is that both are fine. The trouble comes when we try and somehow blend them and end up with a form of organisation “Stockholm Syndrome,” where those who have (willingly) signed up to rules, structure and defined behaviour form a distorted relationship with those designing and enforcing them and look for more than is ever going to be available.
Some radical honesty is called for. Auftragstaktic - a “work contract” defining what is expected of us, what is being provided to us in order to achieve it, and a clear recognition of terms. Avoidance of the fluff of “engagement”, “family”, “values”, and the rest. If we find ourselves working for a bank, a media company, or a utility, we know what the game is, and where priorities lie. We are not victims or hard done by. It is, as another large organisation has expressed it, “business, not personal”
Artisinal work does not scale because it is grounded in strong relationships and priorities defined by far more than money.
Artisans and contract workers inhabit different buildings. We should not confuse the two.