Artisans. Making work Manifest.

Designed by Martin Knox

I find artisans everywhere in the people I talk with. Whilst often they are independent, they are equally to be found in organisations, in many roles at all levels. People who take pride in their work as it is part of who they are. Accountants, Service Managers, Call Centre workers, Volunteers. Coaches.

With over 80% of our economy in services, their work can be difficult to see. A balance sheet is a balance sheet. We see the numbers, but not the care, questioning and insight that has been generated in creating them. We see bland metrics of the number of calls processed in call centres, time spent processing and complaints, but not the laughter and smiles of satisfied customers who have found themselves talking, unexpectedly, to a real human.

People who we think of as “traditional” artisans – the potters, carpenters, weavers, bakers – have a real advantage. They produce tangible items that are their own work. They see it, feel it and relate to it. It gives them feedback. “I made this”. They see flaws others don’t, and it goes into an improvement feedback loop.

So what about those whose work is only part of what is produced, and is invisible to the customer?The accountant who spends time talking with the client about things that are nothing to do with the accounts to help them better understand what the accounts reveal, or whose reading and reflecting improves her insight and work. A set of accounts has a pretty fixed format. The designer of the annual report may get some room for creativity, but not the people who generate the contents (with some notable exceptions whose malign creativity is notorious). The service manager who makes his call centre operators feel important. The added humanity in any role.

The factor common to all these people is their attitude and disposition. Their values, and what thet believe in. The people inside the defining delivery process. The soul of the business hidden inside its ego. How do they get feedback and understand their unique value for themselves rather than the sterile annual performance review?

Nearly a year ago now, in March last year as Lockdown 1 signalled the start of the pandemic a group of us started to meet weekly to talk about what we were noticing. No discussion of our businesses, no advice, no problems to solve through “peer support”. We started to explore the bigger picture in which our own businesses were just a pixel or two. It became a place to meet and share in a setting of trust and openness. What started as a short experiment in understanding is still going on. What some have done as a result has been a revelation, without any hint of external “advice”.

In November, another experiment. We decided to write down what we had noticed and what we had learned in our time together. No editing, no designing, just ten different views on what had happened in a tine of uncertainty expressed in styles from prose to poetry and pictures.

We produced it as a short book, not for anybody else but ourselves. to act as a mirror. Something we could hold. It is little piece of remarkableness (if that’s a word) with insight, inspiration, creativity and joy. The work of artisans made manifest in ways our normal finished work really cannot. We understand ourselves and each other better. There is something about being able to hold in our hands an expression of our individual art joined together just makes me smile.

If your work, and the care you put into it in not visible in the end result, finding a way to make it manifest, even if just for you, makes a huge difference.

Pride in the work done separates the artists and artisans from the buskers, and this decade belongs to Artisans.

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