Artisans and the myth of the future fit organisation

Oast Houses, Great Dixter.

It has always interested my how certain catchy phrases ease their way into conversation unchallenged.

They tend to be warm, cuddly, optimistic and short. They get adopted and shared uncritically, making up their own shallow truth as they go along. They get nicely packaged, and like most addictive substances are superficially attractive but socially corrosive.

The 3 most harmful addictions are cocaine, carbohydrates and a monthly salary

Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan.

Over roughly the last five years or so, the idea of the “future fit” organsation has entered our lexicon, yet it takes only a moment to realise what an oxymoron it is. “Future fit” people I have no problem with, but future fit organisations?

There are a number of challenges:

Organisations have a natural life cycle like the rest of us. They are brought into being in a fit of inspiration, enthusiasm and optimism by ther creators. The ones who make it through childhood into adolesence burst into the world and attract supporters, not just amongst those who buy what they make, but those who provide the wherewithal for growth not possessed by those who started them. Investors, Bankers, and other rent seekers and before we know it the punchy adolescent is a middle aged business burdened with debts, obligations and the expectations of others to support until a younger, fitter newcomer appears on the horizon, and the rent seekers go elsewhere. The business ages, getting increasingly grumpy, and before long slips quietly away. The previous investors express regret, and drink a toast to them from somewhere warm.

The thing is, this decay is not only perfectly natural, it’s desirable.

The minute an organisation puts itself in a shape to be efficient and scale, it’s locked into a particular finite game. It is addicted to the status quo which is the basis of its success. It is there to “win”, but the time it has to do so is decreasing.

For the vast majority of UK non corporate businesses, their average lifespan over the first two decades of this century has decreased from 10.7 to 8.5 years before we look at the effect of the pandemic. Their international corporate brethren in the meantime saw their lifespan reduce from 75 years to 50, with over half of those listed in year 2000 having disappeared ten years later. In a (hopefully) post pandemic world struggling to come to terms with technology, climate change, and geopolitical adventures, I find it hard to see this direction of travel changing.

So, let’s accept that for an organisation “future fit” is a myth. If you’re in that heady period of your life where you can see the C suite, the almost certain likelhood is you will outlive the company you’re aspiring to lead. What will you do next?

Artisans. Fit for the future.

Future fitness is a game for individuals playing the game with others of the same disposition. It is a game for artisans.

The focus of an artisan is never on the ego satisfaction of the C suite. It is on the work they do. A modern day synthesis of head, heart, hand and eye. The creation of something beautiful on which they can leave their mark which people will value long after they have left the stage. They create artefacts, services and businesses that create value far more than just money, and have their eye on a much longer time frame. From big organisations like Acumen, and Grameen Bank, to increasing numbers of smaller businesses you will only have heard of if you’re in their orbit of interest. Craft businesses from fashion and furniture to renewable energy and agriculture. Organisations where investors put emotional energy not just money into them. Genuine “skin in the game” in an infinite game of creating the beautiful.

Artisans are “future fit” because they create the future with their customers, not just feed of the short term present.

Experts are afraid of technology. Artisans love it.

From brain scans to balance sheets, technology is replacing hordes of experts who rely on their knowledge and qualifications. This decade will see huge changes.

Artisans love it. They accept it’s capabilities and shape it to their needs, always leaving the space to make that human to human contact that technology can’t. No matter what else, technology can’t love what it does, and beauty depends on unique flaws, not replicable mechanical perfection.

How to spot an Artisan

It’s the little things. They answer the phone using people. They love talking about what they make. They want to know what you think via a conversation, not just an online form. They work with other artisans, from the people who answer the phone, to the people in accounts, to the people in the boardroom. They work with suppliers who work the same way, not just the cheapest. Artisans laugh more.

Perhaps most importantly, efficiency is not a huge priority. Their priority is understanding the relationship between them, their customers, their suppliers and their community. For Artisans, ecosystem is where they live, not a strapline. They are always after better in the pursuit of the important. It’s what makes them tick.

Here’s a list to inspire you from one of my favourite artisans, Hiut Denim.

Truth is, we can all do this in our own way.

How to be an Artisan

At it’s simplest, make a decision and start.

Don’t wait for the muse of purpose to visit you, go find her in what you do, whatever you do. Make yourself care. Be curious. Find something to improve. Don’t wait or depend on being praised for it, do it because you can. Talk about it to people who are interested.

Subject to the mood of fate, you will be around longer than the organisation you currently work for, but nowhere near as long as your craft, whether that is coding or cooking. Contribute to your craft, create and teach.

The future is shaped by individuals, not organisations. Be an individual, not a corporate dependent. Become an artisan

If you want to do more, or you want company on your journey, go register on the Originize site. We’ve spent the time during lock down on our own exploration into what makes us capable learners and contributors during the live experiment that is coronavirus. This year, we want to share and teach what we’ve learned, We will never use the words “future fit”. We will talk about craft, beauty, contribution and the satisfaction of a job well done.

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