Craftsmanship - The Meaning of Life
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
When I got into the work force back in the mid-1970's it seemed everyone dressed
in a suit and tie, drank black coffee, smoked their brains out, and worked their
butts off. Today, golf shirts have replaced suits, herbal tea and bottled water
have replaced coffee, nobody is allowed to smoke, and rarely does anyone work
beyond 5:00pm. More importantly, we used to care about the work we produced;
there was a sense of craftsmanship, regardless of the job.
My Brother-in-law in Cincinnati conducted me on a tour of his company's
machine-tool shop years ago and showed me how he could take a block of aluminium
and convert it into a high-precision machine tool. It was a pleasure to watch
him work, as it is to watch anyone who knows what they are doing, be it a
waitress, a programmer, a labour or a clerk.
Quality and service used to be considered paramount in this country. If it
wasn't just right, you were expected to do it over again until you got it right.
We cared about what we produced because it was a reflection of our personal
character and integrity. But somewhere along the line we lost our way and
craftsmanship has fallen by the wayside. Why? Probably because we no longer
In today's litigious society, employees are acutely aware that it is difficult
to be fired due to poor performance. They know they will still get paid and
receive benefits, regardless of the amount of effort they put forth.
Consequently, there is little to encourage people to perform better. Money isn't
a motivating factor anymore. People now expect bonuses, raises and other perks
to be paid out regardless of how well they perform during the year.
We've also become a nation content with doing small things. America used to be
known as a powerhouse that could tackle large projects, such as building
skyscrapers, designing innovative bridges and tunnels spanning substantial
bodies of water, engineering transcontinental railroads and highway systems,
conquering air and space travel, and defending freedom not just once but in two
world wars. If you really wanted something done, you talked to the Americans and
no one else. Now we get excited over iPods, cell phones, and other electronic
Many believe Craftsmanship is in decline due to the general apathy found in
today's society. Maybe. I tend to believe it is due to an erosion of our moral
values. Let me give you an example. Having a child in college, my interest was
piqued recently by an article describing the pervasiveness of cheating and
plagiarism in our schools. It is not my intent to make a political statement
here but many of the students mentioned in the article rationalized their
cheating on the fact that one of our past Presidents cheated and lied under
oath, and got away with it. They figured if it is okay for the
Commander-in-Chief to act this way, it was an acceptable form of behaviour.
Arnold Toynbee, the famed English historian, observed, "Civilizations die from
suicide, not by murder." If the moral fabric of our society dies, our story is
told as evidenced by other great civilizations that long preceded us. Our
perspective needs to be realigned: Our personal and professional lives must be
viewed as one. As Toynbee remarked, "The supreme accomplishment is to blur the
line between work and play." By doing so, we identify more closely with our work
and assume a greater pride in workmanship. We do not need to hear this from our
boss, but rather from within. As strange as it may sound, I see Craftsmanship as
being patriotic in nature; doing a good quality job is part of leading a good
and honorable life and builds on the individual's esteem, the company he works
for, and the country he lives in.
The biggest problem though is that we have forgotten how to manage people. The
manager's primary goal is to create the proper work environment for employees to
produce the desired work products. This is different than a supervisory capacity
that directs how each person performs the various tasks of a job. In fact, I
encourage managers to manage more and supervise less. I cringe when I see a
manager try to "micromanage" either a Fortune 500 company or a non-profit
organization. Yes, people need to be trained in order to properly perform their
work but following this, employees should be mature enough to supervise
themselves. In the old days, management stressed discipline, accountability, and
structure; three ugly words in today's workplace.
Some might say craftsmanship is a simple concept that we should intuitively
know. Not true; most people today have no comprehension as to what makes up a
good craftsman; they have either forgotten or it has simply passed them by.
Craftsmanship can be found in any field of endeavor imaginable, be it in the
product sector or service industry. Craftsmanship, therefore, is universally
applicable to any line of work.
Craftsmanship is not "workmanship", nor is it synonymous with quality, although
the three concepts are closely related. Let's begin by giving "Craftsmanship" a
definition: "The production and delivery of quality goods or services from
highly skilled workmen."
Quality relates to the absence of errors or defects in the finished product or
service. In other words, finished goods operate according to their
specifications (customers get precisely what they ordered). Such products are
normally durable and require minimal maintenance. Craftsmanship produces quality
products. In the absence of craftsmen, a rigorous methodology or assembly line
process is required to produce quality goods using workers without the expertise
of craftsmen. Such processes detail "Who" is to perform "What" work, "When",
"Where", "Why" and "How" (5W+H), thereby assuring a quality product or service
is produced. Such is the underlying rationale of the ISO 9000 certification as
used by many companies today. The point is, quality is not the exclusive domain
of the craftsman.
Craftsmanship is also a human trait. Some might argue a computer or industrial
robot can produce quality products and are, therefore, craftsmen. However, we
must remember these devices are programmed by human beings in accordance with
the rules of the craftsman. As such, they are an extension or tool of the
Craftsmanship can be found in either the overall work process or a section of
it. For example, there are craftsmen who are intimate with all facets of
building furniture, such as a table, a chair or desk, and can implement the
product from start to finish. However, as products grow in complexity, it
becomes difficult to find people suitably qualified to build them from the womb
to the tomb. Consider military weapons alone, such as the complicated ships,
tanks, and airplanes we now use, with thousands or millions of parts to
assemble. Such complexity makes it impossible for a single person to have the
expertise to build the whole product. The same is true in the service sector
where different types of expertise and capabilities may be required. In other
words, craftsmen have a specific scope of work. The scope of work may relate to
other types of craftsmen through a chain of work dependencies, e.g., Craftsmen
A, B and C concentrate on separate sub-assemblies which are eventually joined
into a single product.
So, what are the attributes of a craftsman? What makes a craftsman a craftsman?
There are three basic attributes described herein:
1. Possesses the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the work.
The craftsman is an expert in his field of endeavor; so much so that he could
easily serve as an instructor in the subject matter. But the craftsman is also
smart enough to know that education is not a one time thing, that his world and
field evolve as new tools and techniques are introduced. As such, the craftsman
is a student of his profession and is constantly looking to improve himself.
This is exercised through such things as continued education, routine
certification, studying books and trade publications, and industrial groups. The
craftsman willingly participates in trade groups, often at his own expense, in
order to network with his peers.
It is Important to note that the craftsman does not need to be told he needs
periodic training to sharpen his skills. Instead, he takes the personal
initiative to stay on top of his game. Further, the craftsman has no problem
with a periodic job review; in fact, he welcomes it for it might bring out a
weakness in a skill he needs to sharpen.
2. Attention to detail.
The craftsman understands and respects the process of building/delivering a
product or service and is acutely aware of the penalties for cutting corners.
Earlier we discussed the need for a methodology that specifies 5W+H. The
craftsman is intimate with all details of his scope of work, so much so, he
could probably write the methodology himself. Further, his intimacy of the work
process means he can produce a reliable estimate of time and costs to perform
Although many of the craftsman's tasks may be repetitive, it doesn't mean he
easily falls into a rut. Instead, he is constantly looking for new tools and
techniques to improve the work process. As such, he plays the role of Industrial
Engineer who is normally charged with such a task.
The craftsman's attention to detail also means that he demonstrates patience in
his work effort. Again, wary of cutting corners, the craftsman must possess such
patience in order to produce the product the right way.
3. Views professional life as an extension of his personal life.
The craftsman identifies with the end product which is where pride in
workmanship comes from. In his mind, the craftsman has been charged with the
responsibility of producing something, and wanting to satisfy the customer, puts
forth his best effort to produce it. In other words, craftsmen take their work
personally. This is a difficult trait to teach particularly in today's society
where the focus is more on financial compensation than on the work product
itself. It may sound naive, but the craftsman believes he will be suitably
compensated for producing superior results.
Years ago, Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears (NFL) confounded sports writers who
could never understand why Butkus played as hard as he did year after year for a
losing football team. True, Dick loved the game, but beyond that, the sports
writers didn't understand one thing about the seven time All-Pro linebacker:
Butkus took his job personally. It was important to him that his opponents know
that they had been tackled by the best player; as he said, "When they get up
from the ground I want them to say 'it must have been Butkus that got me'." Dick
Butkus was a craftsman.
The craftsman has a burning desire to produce a superior product/service because
he sees it as a reflection of himself. As such, the lines delineating their
personal life and professional life are blurred. This is a significant
characteristic that clearly separates a craftsman from the average worker. The
craftsman's work is his life. He does not shirk responsibility, but rather
embraces it with confidence and embosses his name on the finished product.
Conversely, making a work related mistake of any kind pains a true craftsman.
Job titles are normally inconsequential to the craftsman who is more interested
in delivering a quality product/service enjoyed by the customer. Instead, the
craftsman takes pleasure in being touted as the best in his craft. He
appreciates recognition; when someone makes a compliment about a product, the
craftsman views it as a personal compliment. This too runs contrary to today's
corporate world where people desperately seek recognition through simple job
titles. Want someone with an inflated ego? Give them a title. Want something
done right? Call a craftsman.
"Dependable", "professional", and "resourceful" are adjectives that aptly
describe the craftsman. He is not one who fabricates excuses but, rather, always
finds a way to get the job done. The craftsman is typically your most productive
employee. He is mindful of the concept of productivity that we have touted for
Productivity = Effectiveness X Efficiency
Most people fallaciously equate productivity with efficiency, which simply
gauges how fast we can perform a given task. Effectiveness, on the other hand,
validates the necessity of the task itself. There is nothing more unproductive
than to do something efficiently that should not have been done at all. An
industrial robot, for example, can efficiently perform such tasks as welding.
But if you are welding the wrong thing, then it is counterproductive. Going back
to our description of a methodology, effectiveness defines
"Who/What/When/Where/Why", efficiency defines "How." The craftsman is well aware
of the difference between the two and knows how to apply both. As such, the
craftsman is in tune with his work environment and corporate culture.
So how do we make craftsmen?
Not easily. Because of the human dynamics involved with the craftsman, you will
need to be a pretty intuitive manager or industrial psychologist to make it
happen. Selecting suitable candidates is the logical first step. Devise an
aptitude test to determine the candidate's suitability to become a craftsman.
After all, "you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear." Aside from specific
knowledge and experience in a given field (e.g., programming, woodworking,
construction, accounting, etc.), here are some other important traits to look
* Fertility of mind - judge his ability to learn, to adapt to changing
conditions, and to look beyond his scope of work. Evaluate his professional
* Confidence - judge how well the candidate knows himself, particularly how well
he knows his own limitations. He should admit his deficiencies and not fabricate
* Dedication - judge his loyalty and determination to accomplish something. What
is his attendance record? What outside clubs and organizations does he belong to
and how active is he in them?
* Entrepreneurial spirit - judge his personal initiative. Is he driven to
succeed (but not to the point of reckless abandon)? Does he have a problem with
accountability? This says a lot about assuming responsibility.
* Attention to detail - judge his ability to focus on a subject. Does he have a
problem with discipline or organization? A person's dress, mannerisms, and
speech says a lot about a person.
* Reliability - judge his ability to assume responsibility and carry a task
through to completion.
* Resourcefulness - judge his ability to adapt to changing conditions and
persevere to see a task through to completion. The candidate cannot be
inflexible; he must be able to find solutions to solve problems.
* Socialization skills - does he work better alone or as a team player? His
position may depend on his answer.
When you have selected suitable candidates, here are three areas to concentrate
1. Develop their skills and knowledge by allowing such things as: participation
in trade groups, outside certification and on-going training, subscriptions to
trade journals, continued education, etc. Some companies even go as far as to
develop an in-house school to teach the company's way of doing things. If the
in-house school is good, it will promote confidence through consistency. Even if
people leave the company, they will recommend your company because they know the
quality of the work produced. Supporting the education needs of our workers is
not only smart, it is good business.
2. Teach them the need for producing quality work; they should become intimate
with all aspects of their work process (5W+H). Further, instill discipline and
patience in their work effort.
3. Change their attitude towards development so they become more focused on
delivering a quality end-product. This is perhaps the most difficult element to
teach. However, it can be realized by having them become intimate with the needs
of the customer (have them visit or work with a customer for awhile - "let them
walk in the customer's shoes"). It may also be necessary to change their form of
remuneration by going to a reward system for work produced (as opposed to
guaranteed income regardless of what is produced). Changing the mode of
financial compensation is highly controversial in today's business world. But,
as an example, can you imagine the change of attitude of today's professional
athletes if they were paid based on their accomplishments (e.g., runs or points
scored, hits, rebounds, etc.) rather than having a guaranteed income? Their
motivation and attitude towards their profession and team would change
Candidates must learn to respect their institution, the process by which they
work, fellow human beings, and themselves. They must also learn not to be afraid
to TRY; that they must put their best foot forward, win or lose. Bottom-line:
they must learn that their work has meaning and worth. If they don't enjoy their
work, they shouldn't be doing it.
"There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you
are going to have a good time as long as you live - I have no use for the
sour-faced man - and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that
you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do."
- President Theodore Roosevelt
Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmas-time 1898
Teaching the elements listed above probably cannot be done in one fell swoop.
Further, companies simply don't have the time or money to wait for the craftsman
to be produced. Instead, they must understand the human spirit needs to be
cultivated and be allowed to grow over time. Because of this, it is strongly
recommended that an in-house certification program be devised specifying what
the candidate should know and what skills and talents he should demonstrate.
This should be divided into classes of progressive expertise; e.g., apprentice,
intermediary, and craftsman. The ancient builders in Egypt, Rome, and Greece
understood this concept and devised such classes of workmen. Other disciplines
and schools follow similar tactics (the various degrees or belts in martial arts
for example). Each degree is based on specific prerequisites to master before
moving on to the next level.
An in-house certification program has the added nuance of making people feel
special which greatly enhances their self esteem. If they are made to feel like
a vital part of the company, regardless if their work of a large magnitude or
trivial, they will strive to do what is best for the company overall, not just
themselves. Consequently, their work adds meaning to their life.
There is one pitfall to all of this; today's "go-go" management style fails to
see how craftsmanship adds value to the company. In fact, there were companies
back in the 1980's that shut down such programs simply to reduce costs. As a
result, quality suffered, repeat business was lost, products were more in need
of repair, absenteeism on the job escalated, etc. Want value? How does a loyal
customer base who has confidence in your products or services sound? And what
effect would employee harmony have, particularly if they believed in the work
they were producing? It would be mind-boggling, all because we had faith in the
human spirit to produce superior results.
A final note: craftsmanship is not a one time thing. After it has been instilled
in people, it has to be cultivated and perpetuated. If a manager slips even for
a moment, it will go right out the window and it will take time to bring it back
to life. As for me, I like to post motivational reminders kind of like the one
recently spotted in the Hickey Freeman manufacturing facility in New York,
"Excellence is Tolerated."
"Manage more, supervise less."
- Bryce's Law
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective
Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of
M. Bryce & Associates
(MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the
management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-06-04 11:07:04 in Personal Articles