Artisans, Administrators and Attitudes to Risk.

Image: Wired

Risk is always about probabilities and appetite. In part it’s determined by personal attitude, but in an industrial society probably more often by the role we fill.

Administrators and bureaucrats are paid to be risk averse, and for them the appearance of risk is a black mark. They may have a hands off relationship with risk – it is unlikely to affect them physically – but it’s occurrence on their watch is likely to lead being appointed to the equivalent of paper clip administrator in some far flung outpost of the organisation that few have heard of. We do not want administrators to take risks, we want them to extract every last ounce of efficiency from what we understand and believe we can control. An administrator with an appetite for risk will have a very short career and most likely a spectacular finale to it.

For an artisan however, risk is lifeblood. They are not interested in doing more of the same. whatever they do they are always pushing at the edges of what they understand – whether that is what they create, how they market it, how they price it, or who they work with (or for). Every aspect of what they do is governed by wanting to do it a little better, all the time. They are not interested in “Unicorns”, but they do know that if they can improve by 1% a day, in a year they will be thirty seven times better than they are today. The price they pay is risk. It might not work, and in fact it might blow up in their face. Artisans understand that.

And there lies the difference. The administrator is better served in the short term by efficiently managing something that declines by one percent a day, even though the converse applies – in a year, there will be nothing left, and that is someone else’s responsibility. It’s “not their fault”

The artisan accepts the risk in pursuit of what is important to them.

Right now, we are too often led by those who want to administrate the way out of the pandemic. The signs are often clear, and often expressed in money. The defence I heard this morning on the school meals fiasco is that “we’ve allocated £15m to the programme” – as though the money, somehow, knows what to do.

If we glance behind the populist rhetoric of our politicans, and listen to those who understand the physics of pandemics, it’s clear that restrictions will be with us until at least the end of this year, and very likely next. Certainly on a reducing basis (not allowing for spikes and mutations), but with us none the less. For us, as individuals it is not a case of adapting, it is a case of rethinking how we work and who we work for.

It is difficult to conceive of a large artisianal organisation. Once a business has more than a hundred employees, the administrators emerge as a vital element. The end result though in times of volatility is that the organisation will move more slowly than its environment, and that will only go one way. Speed is the only variable.

Whether we like it or not, the future will remain uncertain. it represents risk and opportunity. How we engage with that is a choice.

Administrator, or Artisan?

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