9 min read

Where do we belong?

Where do we belong?

At the end of last week's post, I posed a question;

Where do Artisans belong in the community in a rapidly changing world when we can work anywhere?

It has proven to be a question that holds within it a host of other questions when we hold it up to the light. I've summarised here the thoughts that have arisen as a result, which I'll expand on over the coming weeks.

Communities are more than networks.

Communitatem  ... meaning 'fellowship, community of relations or feelings'.
Communitas... The very spirit of community; an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness.

We use the term communities today in the rather shallower sense of  "a society or association of persons having common interests or occupations". Technology has transformed our ability to gather with others with common interests. However, it has diluted that sense of relationship or shared feelings that communitas evokes, and I think it matters.

We can network with hundreds or thousands of people we do not know; we can connect as followers or as "friends", but we do so for the vast part from an emotional distance. The connections are transactional rather than generative as we put on display our ideas and credentials, under the gaze of recruiters and potential clients in a vast, soulless digital marketplace. We presume common interests but largely avoid the commitment of relationships or feelings, as we hope to get lucky.

Communities are different in the sense I am writing about them here. They require commitment, turning up not just for our own benefit but for that of the others. Not just a willingness but an intent to share what we have and know as we invest our time in the community's development.

Responsibility contains a constraint; how many communities can I be part of and properly fulfil my responsibilities?

That's something I'm coming to terms with. More on this further down.

Communities are Fractal.

Communities are fractal living entities. Each is part of something bigger whilst also containing the smaller elements that make it up, meaning they constantly evolve. Great communities are regenerative, taking the nutrients from the decaying elements to feed what is emerging.

First, some thoughts on the "moving parts". In no particular order because, like good teams, different parts will lead at different times as context dictates:

Purpose. Every community is a kaleidoscope of purpose. Here are the ones that I've been thinking about:

  • Natural. Communities we are born into, where we are part of a continuum. Family, Tribe, and until recently, industries - although that element, together with behemoths that defined them, and now part of the decaying fabric from which the new is emerging.
  • Cultural.  United by beliefs and worldviews, with rituals and ceremonies of different varieties that provide the glue that keeps them together.
  • Political. Expediency, the creation and leveraging of power.
  • Financial. The dominant culture (unfortunately, in my view) of most businesses, and taken as a proxy for performance by many public organisations.
  • Social. One of the most powerful, particularly in times of stress. From Football Clubs to Freemasons, a place of refuge from day-to-day reality.
  • Built. From Garden Cities to Business Hubs, spaces where communities arise out of forced co-location.
  • Special Purpose. From Activists to Projects, a place for people to come together temporarily to achieve a common goal before disbanding.

Skills.  Among some of the oldest and most influential communities. People who come together out of shared interest in what they do:

  • Craft. Going back thousands of years, and the very stuff of Artisans - Guilds comprising Masters, Journeymen and Apprentices. The foundations of Socialism and Trade Unions.
  • Professions. The evolution of physical craft to intellectual craft. Defining standards, setting exams, and conferring status.
  • Academic. As with professions, setting standards, determining acceptable truth and orthodoxy.

And some thoughts on the framework that holds and links the "moving parts."

Location. Technology and the Pandemic have radically altered our understanding of community. Restrictions on travel in the short term and the realisation that less travel will be required as we address climate change have emphasised our local communities - or lack of them. The vibrancy of virtual communities that sprang up during the lockdown has been a revelation. Here at New Artisans and elsewhere, I find myself in wonderful, trusting communities with people I meet only infrequently and, in many cases, have not, and may not, meet in person. The potential to weave the physical and the virtual offers huge possibilities.

Trust. The foundation of any sustainable community and the element that most distinguishes communities from networks.  

Structure. As we move through evolutionary and economic cycles, communities move between hierarchies when things are stable and heterarchies, a relationship of networks, when things are altogether more fluid. Hierarchies govern through rank and heterarchies through influence. Interesting thought right now.

Approaches. Sometimes, our community is curious, trying to create a yet unclear whole from the parts it can see. At other times, it can be convinced it is a whole and is working towards understanding the parts in order to keep them in line, and sometimes will be a mixture of the two as it finds its way from one state to another.

How many Communities?

Given the huge complexity that even this simple analysis suggests and that each component varies quickly over time, I have been wondering about how many communities I can be part of and how to choose them.

It will be different for each of us. There are no rules, no best practices, and no singular truth.

Here are the three communities that keep me grounded as things change around us:


I wandered up to the top of the garden a moment ago and took this. The chimney on the left is Peckwash Mill, one of the first industrial paper mills in England, built on the site of a thirteenth-century corn mill. The river at the bottom of the valley is the Derwent, the spine of the Industrial Revolution, Derby to the south, and Manchester to the north. The house is three hundred or so years old, and the Oak I'm standing under rather older than that. Both have seen the complete arc of the Industrial Age. Our family has been brought up here, and I can trace back fifteen generations of my own family within a radius of 75 miles. It anchors me, and my family to our shared past and gives a context for an unfolding future.


The work I do, walking alongside people as they explore their surroundings, reflecting on purpose and considering options, make me part of a small but widely spread community of practise.

The nature of the community is that it is geographically widely spread around the world, and the nature of the work makes it intellectually, culturally and socially diverse. It is almost the polar opposite of place, and yet, catalysed by the necessities of the pandemic, is close, vibrant and dynamic. Relationships formed with people I have not, and may never, meet formed around shared values, purpose and curiosity. Together they combine to anchor me in practise, exploring with others the edges of the work we do.


Our lives are spent at the edge of the possible. Whether and how we step over the edge of what we know to what might be is largely determined by the company we keep and the practices we adopt.

Circumstance and serendipity are wild cards, but as Louis Pasteur observed, chance favours the prepared mind. Our nature, and that of our organisations, is to prefer certainty and predictability even though both are illusory. The challenge is that it leaves us vulnerable as our environment changes faster than our organisations do, leaving us exposed when a tipping point is reached.

My third community is one of possibility. Conversations with people I have come to trust and respect, with no specific outcome in mind. Those with whom I can explore different views on what I am noticing and ideas that arise, relying on straight feedback as we allow ideas to emerge rather than chase them.

It is captured well in one of my favourite quotations

“The best way to find out things, if you come to think of it, is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun; bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun.”      – Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood

Time to be Unreasonable?

These three communities intersect and overlap well in the same way a joiner might create. It grounds me in place and practises amongst others, in different areas, doing much the same. Between us, we see things that, individually, we might not.

It allows me to develop new tools and techniques for what I do - not least, in committing to developing my writing to share these sorts of ideas - in the company of others, but as a unique individual. This is what works for me. You will be different, as we each are.

What works for you?

The industrial workplace demanded that we shape ourselves to fit its requirements if we are to make a living. That period is, I believe, coming to an end.

In organisational terms, perhaps we find ourselves having to become unreasonable if we are to adapt and find opportunities to live our lives as we wish.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  - George Bernard Shaw

I think New Artisans are, in the best way, inherently unreasonable. That can make life uncomfortable at times. I have found discomfort to be a good investment.

This is enough for now if this post is not to become unreasonably long. It is, though, a subject I will return to later.

In the meantime, for the next week, I am reflecting on the nature of modern craft.

Coming Up

On 16th November, 6:00pm UK time, we have the opportunity to converse with Dr Ed Brenegar.

Ed believes that all our lives are in transition. Our families, organizations, communities, and world is in transition. These transitions present to us problems and opportunities for creating change that makes a difference that matters. We can’t create solutions without clarifying the real problems that we face. He aims to help people break down the barriers holding them back; to empower them to become leaders in their personal and professional lives. For over 30 years, he has worked with senior executives, entrepreneurs and organizational clients to solve the real problems thconfronting leaders.

This short article gives you a good insight into Ed's work, and you can find out more about him and his book here:

Ed Brenegar Is A Founder, Keynote Speaker, Author & Leadership Coach
Dr. Ed Brenegar works with organizational leaders to expand their leadership impact and the productivity of their organization through the creation of cultures of trust and leadership initiative.

The call will be on our usual Zoom link, and providing all those on the call are in agreement, will be recorded for those that can't make it. I hope you can make it.

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My "Reflections" Blog has moved...

I have moved my home blog, "Reflections" over to Substack to provide more options and keep company with writers I have come to value in developing my own work. You can find me at:

Reflections on the opportunities arising from our changing relationship with the world of work. Click to read Reflections, by Richard Merrick, a Substack publication. Launched 10 days ago.

Have a great weekend...