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Does Artisanship Mean Yuppie Elitism?

Artisan ≠ Yuppie elitism.

Get Artisan is travelling to the States again in October witha one day program exploring the development of engagement, excellence and value within mediation services.  You can join us in Seattle by booking a space here

One event organiser helpfully provided some feedback explaining concerns that some mediators had, namely that the call to artisanship had yuppie or affluence connotations.  It is an interesting tension that is well worth exploring.

When I first delivered Get Artisan as a keynote at the European Collaborative Conference in Edinburgh, 2012, I started the talk with the story of Gepetto, the carpenter who made Pinocchio.  In the application of his craft and passion he created a piece of work with which he was so pleased, so enamoured, that his prayer as he went to sleep that evening was that this puppet would come to life.

As I wrote that initial iteration of the Get Artisan model I was anxious;

Does the use of Gepetto as artisan role model perpetuate a romanticised myth of the happy but impoverished craftsperson?  Was there a risk that I was reaffirming that mediation is a poorly paid, predominantly volunteer sector filled of dedicated, highly skilled professionals but a sector where one could not, should not even, expect to earn a living?  Would I be perpetuating what I believe to be the greatest self limiting belief of the mediation profession, namely, don’t give up the day job?

For me artisan speaks of the integrity in the unrestricted, abundant application of skill, craft and ability in order to meet the needs of the customer to such an extent that they are thrilled with the work they have received.  In my own more romantic moods I envisage a paysanne, rustic quality to this notion of artisan, a sense of simpler times where excellence (and value) in product and service becomes self evident.

I am not alone in this.  Scurrilous marketeers and feckless ad agencies have also recognised the appeal of the artisan moniker.

Artisan can be bandied around in as vacuous, banal and cynical a fashion as any adjective.

As a result I walk past a mass producing, multi-national fast food sandwich chain that proclaims that its abundant produce is served up on `artisan’ bread.

High streets across the country are festooned with various iterations of Artizan (sic) hairdressers or artisan markets selling little more than sponge cakes and brandy snaps.

The cynical application of the artisan adjective can be seen as an attempt to imply extra value and therefore charge more or suggest added cachet.

If we pull that back though, we come back to the same issue. Value and added value through heightened excellence and artisan levels of skill and attention.

Often artisan wares will fetch a premium price.  Often it is merited and yet the artisan is not motivated by income generation.  A key criteria I suggest of artisan work is that it is so important and fulfilling to the artisan that they would do it for free.

That is not to say that they should.

The sustainable artisan is comfortable with deriving a living from their craft – itself a declaration of commitment to their craft and a confidence in the value that it provides.

I also find that artisans often have a strong sense of community and of service to that community and are able to hold income generating work (that means they are able to feed themselves, their family and therefore ensure their work is sustainable) alongside public service work.

So artisan should not equal yuppie elitism (although some elitist yuppies loudly proclaim their own artisan buying habits) but nor should mediation always equal unpaid voluntary work.

I resolved, as I wrestled with Get Artisan, that income generation is an important and difficult piece of this work.

The artisan image has an inescapable element of cost and value.  There are large parts of the mediation sector that find the notion of income and paid for services to be unedifying.

Mediation, for many, evolved out of funded community projects where disputants could access the services for free or for very low payments.  Entire mediation centres have been developed on the back of benevolent funding.  For many those days have now passed.

Even in that climate, however, someone was paying for the mediation.

Mediation needs to find its confidence in marketing itself and demonstrating the considerable value that the service provides.  Get Artisan is designed to frame that challenge in a way that is attractive and that is steeped in integrity and the very best levels of skill, competence, application and service to our communities.

I hope that you will feel able to join us in that journey.


Why you are trapped in mediocrity

Ever seen someone succeed and mutter to yourself “It’s alright for them”?

If so then you are falling into the I.A.F.T. trap.  It will ensnare you in mediocrity and envy.

How does it work?

You see success.  Let’s take Andy Murray’s triumph in a brilliant victory against Novak Djokavic at the 2013 Wimbledon Men’s Final.

You then reduce the success you have just witnessed into privilege and luck as they like to do in the media with the subsequent “Is tennis an elitist sport” angle.

“It’s alright for them…” you say.  They were able to afford tennis club membership, coaching, equipment and travel.

Let’s say you see a local peer doing really good business in a  sector that you want to work in – mediation or collaborative law perhaps.

“It’s alright for them…” you say.  They’re old school, in the jobs for boys privileged clubs and networks, already commandeered a headstart in 10 years of experience.  They’re able to hog all the local work you say and they leave nothing for us.

You watch some starlet on X Factor get through to the finals;

“It’s alright for them…” you say.  They went to stageschool, RADA, this or that academy that their mummy put them through, how could they not fail.

You see a speaker on stage delivering one out of a hundred talks she will be delivering this year; just the work you would love to do.

“It’s alright for them…” you say.  They’ve got a more interesting background, they made a fortune from a book, they won a sporting event that gets them the attention and makes them standout.

When we reduce other people’s success to IAFT then we deny the effort that they have put in.  It is a reductive response that suggests that their success was a direct result of the privileges that we choose to assume for them.

When we do this then we deny ourselves the opportunity to ask more interesting questions;

  • What did they have to do to succeed?
  • What systems did they put in place?
  • What sacrifices did they make?
  • How did they keep going despite the setbacks?
  • How did they tolerate frustration and despair?
  • What coaching did they use?
  • What other techniques did they use for constant reflection, learning and development?
  • What can I learn from them?

Do not resent other people’s success.  Learn from it, every time you see it.  Be curious.  Ask the questions, read the better coverage.

Finally the worst IAFT of all is this;

“It’s alright for them, they’re lucky.”

Why?  Because we find it very easy to attribute luck as a factor in other people’s success and very few of us consider ourselves to be lucky.

Stop IAFTing and start asking;

What could I learn from their success?

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