Artisans and Independence

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance

As we leave the industrial era behind, perhaps rather more rapidly than we thought a few months ago thanks to Coronavirus, I think we might take note of one of the key attributes of artisans; their independence.

Back before the industrial era, those who had their own businesses, the “Masters” were fiercely independent, and their work original. Artisans do not copy or plagiarise. use preconceived business models or templates. They do the work they felt born to do. They had apprentices who learned from them until such time as they became their own masters and set off on their own path, and journeymen who worked for them. Not all of them of course made it, but the principle was clear.

As I read and study, and share the conversation that yield the insights I am able to share with those with whom I work, the ideas they often feel like old friends. I am familiar with them, but had not recognised them for what they really are. Ghosts of a previous opportunity.

It’s a feeling I’m sure we all share. We all have shades of genius in us, and mostly they get submerged as we tread the road of compliance or convention or company policy and they never see the light of day. We miss out and so do those we work with. Genius doesn’t have to be huge, but like truffle oil a little of it goes a very long way in the right circumstances.

Whatever our work environment looks like in 2021 as we hopefully mitigate Covid-19, I’m fairly sure that more independence will be a necessity for all of us. There are more similar shocks awaiting us; they just won’t announce themselves and if we’ve learned anything from this episode it is that being masters of our own destiny is vital. It is at the heart of resilience and opportunity. Anti fragile may be a buzz word, but it is important.

Independence doesn’t mean not working with others. It’s an attitude.

Whether we work as Masters with our own business, or as skilled journeywomen and men we can develop a sense of independence and develop the capability for interdependence that gives us freedom. Working with others because we want to, not because we have to.

I think that has two major inplications:

  1. Take charge of our own development. HR works for the business not for us, it’s their job. As artisans we serve our work. There has never been more comprehensive, accessible, low cost options to extend our skills. We need to use them. Become a part time apprentice in something new.
  2. Pay attention to our “community of practice”. We become the average of the people we most associate with, and our originality is a function of the conversations we have. It is true diversity and inclusion is both socially and developmentally important and it’s our job to do that, not the company’s. It has never been easier to meet people outside our own comfortable clique and develop those conversation where ideas are born.

As we go through a heavily moderated Christmas, we have six to nine months before the impact of vaccines really kick in. That’s a lot of winter months, and a good time to increase our independence. Whenever whatever normal kicks in, it will be much more difficult.

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