Matthew Crawford as seen in the New York Times.
having spent the past year fully dedicated to putting humanity back into business, i believe i’m finally on track to a real answer. i don’t have the answer, per se, but i know i’m on track. how so? you have to test yourself in the early days of discovery to wonder if you’re asking the right question
. my opening question was, ‘how do we get humanity back into work?’ it was founded on a belief that i–and too many of my co-workers–lacked enthusiasm (‘light’) for the work we did… and we didn’t really know why. my context was (and is) the digital industry.
was it cubicles? was it the type of work? was it a loss of meaning in our larger lives? i searched and searched.
eventually, roughly a year ago, i had the sense to hitch my wagon to someone or something that i could experience and learn from. so i decided finding a master craftsman would be a good start. someone like this would exhibit happiness, understanding, meaning, and context… if not to the world, at least to himself, and that would be something to learn from.
then i become concerned (nearly horrified) that master craftsmen were a dying natural resource. (not a big break-through, here, jim.) but the fact is they are. and then the question become ‘why?’ on that front.
well, there was automation and manufacturing and mass-production. all these ‘evil’ things that disempowered the craftsman. i spent months looking into the cause-effect, history, and pro’s/con’s.
i found some books and worried i was too late. had someone else figure this out before me?? was i too late to get credit for my great exploration? fortunatley the answer was mixed. some wonderful, wonderful minds have trod (and are ‘trodding’) this land. richard sennett in his beautiful book on craftsmanship is exploring the sociological value and reasons for structure and tension and players in this vein. matthew crawford in his emotional spin through shop class as soulcraft has also enlightened the subject significantly. and the beauty is they reference one another, so there’s clearly some conversation happening.
but then something amazing happened a couple weeks ago. i finished the book by jonathan haidt called the reightous mind and i realized the pattern that existed among them all. in short, it’s a dialectic… the two-sided conversation most popularized by plato as a tool for finding the answers (if not the ‘truth’) in the world and minds around us. sennett and crawford and haidt all revealed in their own ways a version of a dialectic. sennett illuminated the sociology of it but was blinded by his romance of craftsmanship. crawford illuminated the personal journey and growth of it but was blinded by the same. haidt revealed who/what was really in control in the emotional exploration of it all, but was more focused on religion and politics for the moment. what we need to do is connect the common points in a celebration of a new definition of craftsmanship.
and here’s the real breakthrough (i believe). putting humanity back into business is still a high-minded goal, but not solvable at that entry point. putting craftsmanship back into our lives is honorable but confusing given all the baggage its freighted with.
the dialectic of learning between hand-and-mind, let’s say, is a model that can be followed, though. today’s definition is one of learning between mind-and-world-creation. here’s how:
business systems layer one on top of the other. we are a system, at a more granular level serving an enlightening dialectic in the craftsmanship of creating the world around us… except nobody’s paying attention to the fact that that’s what we’re now capable of. facebook, twitter, amazon, google… all the big businesses around us are re-crafting our world. and we’re not actively involved in the conversation about their impact and the next steps in their design. we’re sitting around fretting about unintended consequences. (take my once passionate stance in favor of the age of the unthinkable… and now by disgust with the hands-in-the-air unwillingness to define systems and tools to solve for it. i’m here to build those systems and tools.)
take a simple example in closing. i’m reading a short article about the disruption to the publishing industry this morning in the latest edition of wired magazine. so what, i’m thinking. mail this stupid article to eight years ago (and that phrase to the late ninties for that matter). but the leaders in the industry are quoted as realizing ten years back that disintermediation was the cannary in the coal mine. it revealed the beginning of the end of an industry as they knew it. they made all their money off an inefficient market and serving an intermediated need (prospecting, contracting, designing, producing, shipping, and selling books). a great model and lots of other marktets are built on similar factors… before the advent digital market efficiencies. but as the author of this article astutely points out, the only real players needed in an efficient market are the writer and the reader. (this of course ignores the value of curation and other added components that people would seek out and pay for.) so it looks like a massive disruption. but it’s not. it’s just rebalancing through disintermediation. not a complete removal of the middle-men, mind you. just a rebalancing. same in music, journalism, and soon in education, healthcare, and more in insurance and finance. simpler markets are making way for more complex markets to be disintermediated.
and so what? what the hell does this all have to do with craftsmanship and putting humanity back into our daily work? here’s how. craftsmanship has been over-disintermediated through manufacturing and production. we’ve taken away the conversation between hand and mind through production lines and supply chains and the like. that’s not entirely bad of course. it creates great value in a consumer economy. but we’re not at war with individual makers either. we need to rebalance ourselves in the context of layered systems. and the american differentiation in global markets can be the celebration of craftsmen once again. after all, we have the continued proof of success. zuckerberg, sergey, and the like are our new craftsmen. they’re just not thinking like one right now. they’re ‘hacking’ and ‘searching’ and ‘gooding’ their way through this unknown territory. but we have many of the answers (models) we already need.
the fact is they should be meaningfully designing at multiple layers in a complex system. and we should be actively involved in the dialectic with them.
so, get back to work, but think about what your building… what you’re doing… that you’re not a hacker, or info-worker, writer, designer, or programmer but a ‘maker.’ your a crdaftsman in your own right. the dialectic you can create between yourself and the world around you is the craft you are charged with every day. you exist in the context of a layer in this system (one that i’ll write more about shortly). now it’s simply a matter of becoming conscious to it.
we’re waking up to the creation of the world around us.