We make progress by pushing boundaries. Without boundaries, we don’t learn, we just do more of the same.
When we look out there, we can see people for whom “enough” is not a concept. They have a process that they follow, and the more they work, the more money comes in and they end up with more money than they can reasonably use, and in the end they are owned by the money. In my experience, when I used to work with people like that and was at one point in danger of joining them, I learned that it’s not a good place to be. Money is a great servant but an unforgiving master.
Artisans are different. They need boundaries to push against, They need to find new ways of thinking and doing that lets them discover new ways of creating, new areas to conquer, and new contributions to make. For artists, it might be an idea, for makers it might be a technique, or a new raw material. In business, it might be a new way to solve an old problem, or understanding a new one. Whatever it is, it runs a risk of failure.
Failure is an opponent. The roots of “opponent” are the latin “ob” meaning “to face” and “for the purpose of”; and “pono” meaning “to set up” or “to pitch camp”. In our case, we are often competing against our resistance, those voices in our head, and often of those we work with, who don’t want us to rock the boat. “Just do more of what you know”; “stick to the knitting”. Most often, we are competing against ourselves. The opponent is our friend, if we take the time to understand that. Our opponents make us better.
As we look round us, we can see the danger of “sticking to the knitting” in the age of the the “digital machine loom” – the AI that, if what you do is a skilled process, is faster, cheaper, and more reliable. It’s happening now.
As humans, we have evolved to now by taking risks and pushing against boundaries. Sometimes we fail; sometimes we die (but as the Stoics say “Memento Vivere, Memento More” – “remember you will die, but until then, you won’t”. The question for us is what we do in between). Evolution is risky, but not evolving leads to temporarily comfortable extinction.
Being a passenger on somebody else’s bus is a conscious choice we make. For a while, it often makes sense as we find our feet and develop our skills but there comes a time when we need to get off the their bus and use what we’ve learned to drive our own bus, find our own way, and offer others a chance to ride with us if they want.
For many of us, now is such a time. We need to pick our opponent with care. Just what are we going to change?