Before the industrial revolution, everything out there had a maker. A person, not a brand. The brand was the makers signature. “I made this”. Man as Maker. Artist and Artisan.
Automation and technology has turned many of us into Buskers. Humans as Labourers. A servant of others.
It’s around two hundred and fifty years since the start of the industrial revolution. That also happens to be the average length of time of a civilisation. We are at the end of an era and Buskers are being replaced by technology. I have two grandchildren in Primary School who accept 3D printing at home as just the way things are, and access product programmes for what they want to make like water from a tap. When it comes to the manufacture of goods at scale, we humans are becoming increasingly redundant.
When it comes to what to make however, it’s different. What is to be made has to be imagined and conceptualised first. It is the product of a relationship between humans, materials, and needs whether it is a piece of software, a pair of handmade jeans, or a piece of writing.
The education system of the disappearing era was designed to produce many Buskers to service the businesses of the many fewer Owners. The next era, rapidly emerging, looks to be different.
We all have an artist and artisan inside us. It’s the person who appears when the systems, processes and policies run out of road. There’s a parallel from the Industrial Revolution. When the machine looms were first invented, skilled weavers were made redundant and their jobs taken by children. As the machines became more sophisticated however, skilled weavers were needed again to oversee and manage them. It made skilled weavers far more productive. The downside is that transition took fifty years. We don’t want this one to take our lifetime, so we need to learn the lesson they taught us.
It’s not too big a leap of imagination to see parallels today. AI and machine learning are the new children and will make easy meat of Buskers – but they will have their limits. They will need people who think creatively to solve the problems when, as they will, they run out of road.
The current layoffs as a result of Covid-19 show us the way. Decisions made on (understandable) short term pressures will weaken the fabric of many organisations. Amongst the many people displaced are unrecognised artisans, and their absence will be noticed. The fact that their abilities as artisans – people who knew the idiosyncracies of the organisation and how to deal with them – were neither recognised nor paid will not stop them being missed. The ones that are left will become even more indispensable.
Whatever our job, whether we work for ourselves or work for others, we can find and recognise the artist and artisan inside us. It is a route to personal security.
The organisational artisan in us:
- Understands the liminal space in organisations – the gaps that exists between people and processes which if not spotted and dealt with turn round and bite us. It’s the check call to the client who sounded a bit uncertain, or the colleague who might be struggling a little. The spaces between the actions of the algorithm.
- Senses unspoken needs and opportunities present as what was true yesterday ceases to be true today. Things analysis will pick up only later.
- Navigates the complexity and idiosyncracies of the organisation with ease, and is connected to those needed in order to make things happen when the system is sluggish.
- Has different ways of knowing – intellectually, intuitively, emotionally and physically.
- Demonstratres quiet, calm, almost invisible leadership. They understand the big picture of what is both meant to happen within their area, as well as the current reality, and align the two quietly.
Whilst the artistic artisan in us:
- Becomes master of their domain, whether that is excel, or coding, or writing, or facilitating. The artisan in them is always learning, and probing the corners of the possible within their area.
- Notices shapes and patterns in what is happening around them, and the possibility of better ways of doing things to create smoother, more effective ways of doing things. They are not unthinking slaves to blind efficiency.
- Is curious, looking not just for ways to do things better, but for things to stop doing and start doing. They read and talk outside their immediate domain to learn from other areas.
- Synthesises the different ways of knowing into new ways of doing.
Artisans accept where they are and start from there. Whilst they may wish they were somewhere else, they don’t let that distract them from their focus on doing better what they are doing today.
Being an artisan is a mindset and a way of seeing that brings mobility, and breaks the chains holding then to any single organisation. They know that all the things that bring efficiency will be automated and that their future is dependent on understanding the vagaries of complexity.
They know that competing with algorithms is a fools game, when the weaknesses in the algorithms is what will secure their future.