Discover more from New Artisans
When the familiar breaks.
Artisans are there to create something better.
How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.” “What brought it on?” “Friends,” said Mike. “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too. Probably had more creditors than anybody in England.” Mike Campbell in the 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”. Ernest Hemingway.
Change, like bankruptcy, happens gradually and then suddenly. Most approaches to change management make incremental differences during the gradual phase in the hope that somehow, the inevitability of “suddenly” can be delayed. Much “change management” is a false friend, offering expensive hope from mercenary, temporary friends.
The change that matters, phase change, whether in careers, businesses, organisations or countries, always involves breakage. I find Schumpeter and his ideas of destruction and creation far more compelling than any change management theory, even if it is a rather less compelling sales pitch.
“Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” ― Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
During the “gradual” phase, artisans repair organisations in a similar manner to the way Japanese Kintsugi artists repair ceramics. The cracks and breakages are emphasised in a way that respects the original, the forces that brought about its breakage, and create an additional beauty in the way it is repaired. No PowerPoint decks, blame games, or other avoidance strategies.
The art is in seeing the whole amongst the pieces and extending its life.
When it comes to the “suddenly” phase, it is artisans who create the vehicles for the new to emerge. In this phase, they often keep company with heretics, as they move beyond repair to creation. New concepts such as Impressionism, and new understanding, like John Wycliffe translating the Bible into English, planting the seeds of the reformation. Florence Nightingale and the Role of Nursing. Today, they are all around us, in what Gal Beckerman calls ‘The Quiet Before”. They are in areas like Regeneration, Climate Change, Healthcare and Education because they know that in these areas that matter to humanity, we have run out of “gradually”. They are not to be found in the noise of the celebrants of destruction, but in the spaces, from AI to Biology, where the tools and capabilities for creating the new are happening.
I think each of us has to find our inner artisan because many of the careers we have today, from the Law and other professions to Banking, and others that rely on industrial-era thinking and practice in the singular pursuit of money, are breaking. No amount of Kintsugi will recover them. Our industrial Humpty Dumpties have had their day.
The careers of tomorrow seem far more likely to be those that harness the uniqueness of our humanity. Explicit knowledge and anything we can describe as a process is now a commodity. Jobs requiring humanity are on the rise, and those involving wonder, curiosity, courage and creation are at a premium.
We all have an artisan in us. Most sit idly by, bored out of their skin by the work we do every day in the tedious, soulless pursuit of ‘economic growth”.
They see a bigger picture, have ambitions of an altogether different order, and we need them.
We should get to know them.