The Craftsman Chapter 1

The Troubled Craftsman

  • Craftsman – the special human condition of being engaged.
  • Aim of this book
    • How people become engaged
    • What happens when hand and head are separated
  • The emotional rewards craftsmanship holds out for attaining skill are twofold:
    • People are anchored in tangible reality, and
    • They can takepride in their work.
  • But society has stood in the way of these rewards in the past and continues to do so today.

The Modern Hephaestus: Ancient Weavers and Linus Programmers

  • [Is craftsmanship attainable for migrants? Craftsman are people who have an aspiration for quality (main mark of identity), to get better rather than get by.]
  • nearly instant relation between problem solving and problem finding
  • closed vs. open knowledge system: the former have tended toward short lifespans (in the history of handcrafts), refer anthropologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan
  • open system – impersonality
    • blunt impersonality turns people outward

Weakened Motivation

  • Karl Marx thought … (his) writings would set the modern craftsman free.
    • Grundrisse: he framed craftsmanship in the broadest possible terms as ‘formgiving activity’.
    • ‘The Gotha Program’: he returned to the view that communism would rekindle the spirit of craftsmanship
  • However: the ethical and technical center was too far removed from life on the ground. 
  • Marx dealt with ‘the worker’
  • Deming and his Japanese followers dealt with the work. 
    • ‘Collective craftsmanship’
    • Sharp mutual exchanges, speak truth to power
    • Penetrate to get across the message that something is not good enough
  • Triumphalism following the collapse of the Soviet empire: it obscures both the roles competition and cooperation actually play in getting good work done and, more largely, the virtues of the craftsmanship.
    • competition: in any organisation, individuals or teams that compete and are rewarded for doing better than others will hoard information… (which) disables good work (because you need) lateral thinking.
    • within the framework of competition: clear standards of achievement and closure are needed to measure performance and to dole out rewards.

Fractured skills: Hand and Head divided

  • Going over an action again and again… enables self-criticism… the experience of studying their own ingrained practice and modulating it from within
  • Skill development depends on how repetition is organised. As skill expands, the capacity to sustain repetition increases… Isaac Stern rule (in music)
  • When practice is organized as a means to a fixed end, then the problems of the closed system reappear;
    the person in training will meet a fixed target but won’t progress further. The open relation between problem solving and problem finding, as in Linux work, builds and expands skills, but this can’t be a oneoff event. Skill opens up in this way only because the rhythm of solving
    and opening up occurs again and again.
  • [It is not about solving a problem but about practising the skill over and over again and through that finding new problems to solve. What does the problem in your building mean?]
  • These precepts about building skill through practice encounter a great obstacle in modern society. By this I refer to a way in which machines can be misused. The ‘‘mechanical’’ equates in ordinary language with repetition of a static sort. Thanks to the revolution in micro computing, however, modern machinery is not static; through feedback loops machines can learn from their experience. Yet machinery is misused when it deprives people themselves from learning through
    repetition. The smart machine can separate human mental understanding from repetitive, instructive, hands-on learning. When this occurs, conceptual human powers suffer.
  • [Why can’t we just be thinkers? Why can’t we identify the problems in the programming and solve it through thinking instead of making? How integrated together are thinking and making?]
  • Industrial Revolution… machine threaten the work of artisan-craftsmen. The threat appeared physical… The modern machine’s threat to developing skill has a different character.
  • Blueprint vs. no blueprint
    • [But isn’t architecture also a craft? Or is architecture only in the head and there is no materiality to it?]
    • [if construction is different between a construction dependent on blueprint and a construction dependent on the repetition of skills, then can we also draw a comparison to the current heritage building construction where the former is done by architects and implemented by workers, while the latter is done by workers who are constantly innovating?]
    • [But how do craftsmen traditionally make shrine buildings? How do they plan? How do their skills get repeatedly grown through the construction of these buildings?]
    • [Does that also imply then that I should not give the potential craftsmen any blueprints? That there should be a set of formal rules which are dictated by the environment/site and allow them to innovate in whichever direction that they prefer. What are the rules then?]
  • Abuses of modern technology (e.g. CAD)
    • Simulation can be a poor substitute for tactile experience.
    • CAD is used to repress difficulty and (hide) problems.
    • CAD’s precision … (causes) overdetermination
  •  The problem, as Victor Weisskopf says, is that people may let the machines do this learning, the person serving as a passive witness to and consumer of expanding competence, not participating in it.
  • Challenge: how to think like craftsmen in making good use of technology.

Conflicting Standards: Correct versus Practical

  • Practice vs. practical: the people most skilled in (something) are usually the ones thinking about (its) ideal and endless possibilities.
  • NHS, Fordism (division of labor which focuses on parts rather than wholes… to extreme), first laid out by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations
  • By the absolute measure of quality in the thing itself, the machine is a better craftsman than a person.
  • To do good work means to be curious about, to investigate, and to learn from ambiguity
  • … liminal zone between problem solving and problem finding
  • In skills… (there are two stages:) the tacit knowledge serving as an anchor, the explicit awareness serving as critique and corrective. Craft quality emerges from this higher stage, in judgements made on tacit habits and suppositions. 
  • … experiential standard… is an excuse for mediocrity (Plato). Bedded in too comfortably, people will neglect the higher standard; it is by arousing self-consciousness that the worker is driven to do better.