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2021. An Artisinal Avalanche?

image. Huffington

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been exploring on this blog the idea of the artisan in the changing world of business. Who are they? Where are they? What makes them tick? Can we choose to be one?

I have come to think of it as a spectrum. Artists at one end, people with a drive to create something unique that materialises their view of the world for others, and whose art takes priority over everything else, even money. Those whose careers are determined by their art.

At the other end are Buskers – skilled individuals with real capabilities who develop careers using their skills and go to the highest bidder they can find. Their careers are their art.

In the middle are the artisans, those whose work is to turn art into goods and services. They put art to work. I have also begun to understand that thare are far more artisans, and “latent” artisans out there than I realised. Our work cultures rarely recognise them because they don’t fit a standard job specification, but they are vital. They are organisational glue.

We won’t really get an insight into the effect the pandemic has had on our work and social ecosystems for a while – late next year probably, when the vaccines have taken effect and people have to make conscious decisions as to how much of “old normal” they will welcome, tolerate or reject. I have a suspicion though from my conversations that the pandemic has hatched a lot of artisans. Those skilled and motivated individuals who have come to a different perspective on the importance of the office, and office culture on their jobs.

Yes, there is the absence of “water cooler” conversations, but there is also the absence of the commute and the overbearing manager in the corner. People have discovered flexibility, families and more independence. Their sense of self reliance has increased markedly.

Some, those with good cultures and managers will welcome the return, whilst others will be subjected to force of circumstance and mortgage. Many however, will feel more empowered and independent. They will be the ones with in demand skills. Those who are nearer to the artist end of the spectrum than the busker end. People who not just put art to work, but can create it as well.

Avalanches don’t just happen. They are complex, triggered by combination of snowfall, layering, vibration, noise and myriad other variables. Work cultures are no different.

I am wondering what it will take for us to see an avalanche of newly aware artisans to change direction. To not just put art to work, but to put their own art to work in the company of others like them.

As those businesses whose survival depends on an old normal to return find it isn’t appearing, and others whose lifespans were ending anyway disappear and new businesses based on emerging needs and technologies, and with cultures more attuned to the circumstances we have emerge. Then the avalanche will have somewhere to go. It is not too big a stretch of the imagination to envisage those artisans in fragile or unhealthy businesses transferring their energy to new businesses creating meaningful art, and take the opportunity to change the shape of their lives and careers for the better.

Avalanches aren’t gradual. They happen suddenly, when the right combination of variables dictate.

Artisans, and those for whom the idea is attractive, as well as complacent organisations need to be ready for the rumble.

The next 12 months will be interesting.

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Artisans – Unconscious Leaders

How often, in an appraisal or interview, have you had people who say they are leaders?

If you ask them what the basis for their leadership is, it often goes a little quiet.

We have created cultures where leadership is seen as a promotion beyond management. Something better on the job title. Something we progress to that happens magically with a pay rise and attendance on an expensive one week course.

I find that often people who have to call themselves leaders, aren’t. It’s like Gurus. If you have to tell people you’re one, you’re not. Leadership, like Guru status is something other people assign to you without telling you.

Artisans, and artists are often powerful leaders, although suffer from the disadvantage that their leadership often manifests after they’re dead. Their power to trigger insight, or enthuse us with their vision and example has real longevity, and applicability in many different scenarios. Their dedication to their particular craft throughout their lives inspires us.

Calling ourselves leaders or gurus requires a double dose of hubris before breakfast. Managers, on the other hand is something we can all aspire to, train for, and is something we are generally short of in organisations today.

Not those who have it on their job title, but those who actually have the skills to do it. To shepherd groups of wayward ideas and difficult people to work in particular ways that means we can measure, track and adjust based on evidence. That’s management. We don’t take it seriously enough, demand enough of it, or recognise it well enough.

Buskers can be excellent managers. Transient people dealing effectively with short term challenges, but to effect changes in people’s hearts and minds, we need Artists and Artisans.

People committed to an idea and values who are not bothered if you don’t follow them. If you don’t want to follow, you’re not the person they need – and that’s fine.

If you’re going to regard what others say as some sort of gospel or dogma, stop. Take it out and burn it. Now. Instead, gather interesting thoughts from a variety of sources and disciplines, then BE YOUR OWN GURU!

John Boyd, Essence of Winning and Losing.

Artists and artisans do not set out to be leaders, and do not aspire to it. They have ideas, and express those ideas in ways that resonate, from sculpture to music, and they just do work that matters for those who choose to follow. If you have work like that, then your status as a leader will follow (at some point).

Until then, work at being a brilliant manager. Management matters.

Leadership emerges from the soul.

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The Power of Language

We are shaped, and shape others through our language. In this morning’s news, UN chief Antonio Guterres tells us “the planet is broken”. I think the sentiment is admirable, but the metaphor misleading.

If we found an abused child, abandoned and wounded, we wouldn’t say “this child is broken”. We would take it into care, find out what has happened, pursue those who brought it about, and do our utmost to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If our home was a broken machine, we’d go out and buy a new machine. To the best of my knowledge, ebay doesn’t do habitable, beautiful planets.

The sentiment is right, we are however dominated by mechanistic, technical language and an obsession with hard data and hard evidence. Whilst we are getting more and more of that regarding the planet, it’s the soft data that is compelling, from weather to biodiversity. Our senses and intuition are screaming at us.

Businesses are not machines, they are organic constructs full of messy complicated people operating in a messy comlex ecosystem. Debenhams and Arcadia haven’t gone to the wall because they are broken but rather through years of abuse by people who didn’t care for them.

We are the most creative beings around, and creativity is not a numbers exercise. Measuring is great, but not enough. We need to respect our instincts and harness our humanity.

We have (barely) enough time, and we have the ability.

It’s down to each of us.

Time to stop busking, and leverage the artists we are.