One of the benefits of being part of a very large network is that you can see lots of opportunities and get lots of data. One of the disadvantages is that without huge communication budgets, we’re invisible to 99% of it. It’s easy to get frustrated and even depressed – all those people we could serve, and we’re lost in plain sight. Swamped by all those others apparently offering much the same as us on the surface, even though we know we have something special.
One of the benefits of being part of a very large supply chain is that we can be part of large volumes of transactions. One of the disadvantages is that we are very disposable and replaceable.
The common factor here is the way we present ourselves. We have over time come to present ourselves and our services in neat, definable, terms rather like machine parts in an online catalogue. Waiting to be chosen. Hoping that the person we’re talking to doesn’t scroll down the page to “people who liked this also liked this” to find a slightly slicker, slightly cheaper offer.
Artisans don’t play by those rules, whether they are businesses or individuals. Because they work for their work, they don’t compromise and don’t get seduced by scale. It’s easy to scale up, but very difficult and painful to scale down. Scale requires efficiency, infrastructure and constant demand. Scale makes slipping into compromise – of standards, of integrity – much more “just for now” tempting – till things improve. Scale is a one way journey that requires serious consideration (unless we’re just after hype, a quick sale to somebody bigger and slower, and exit to the beach)
In some areas – vaccines for instance – we need scale. In others, for instance fast fashion, we don’t. Nobody is going to die for lack of a cheap pair of sweatshop jeans made by someone we don’t know somehere we don’t know. ( I appreciate the other end of the telescope – the person in the sweatshop. That’s a vital and parallel conversation)
One of the greatest human pleasures is to have good work recognised by people we respect. Making money from scale, either as owner, or part of the machine provides a living but far less often meaning and a deep sense of internal satisfaction.
Satisfaction and pride comes from the Goldilocks strategy. Not too much, not too little. Not too frantic, not too quiet. Just right. Not filthy rich, not poor. “Enough” at all levels – financial, fulfilment, respect, learning. A sense of balance.
That means community and connection. An intimacy between skills, materials, partners and purpose. An end result everybody recognises and values. Accountability and responsibility. Pride. Craft. Recognition.
Scale without a craft mindset produces temporary stuff. Craft without a degree of scale lacks impact.
Somehere in the middle is a sweet spot. Good work. Things worth making for people who appreciate it by people who enjoy it all of whom recognise each other.
2021 may well prove to be the beginning of a decade where new artisans appear.