I recently attended a pilot Get Artisan workshop run by Neil Denny. Neil has had an interesting journey from lawyer to international speaker, author and trainer.

You can read how he came to  be running a workshop on artisan ways of working here. I was lucky enough to get on the pilot session of his new workshop with half a dozen other people – all with very different backgrounds to mine.

The day looked at the work of the artisan and how we can adopt some of the thinking that underpins the way artisans work. It turned out to be an interesting exploration of values, work value and connection.

Neil provided a run through the work of artisan craftspeople using the work of Richard Sennett (The Craftsman).

The key concepts of artisanship are:

Talking through connection, we explored how we connect with our profession or sector, with our self and how we connect with our work. Artisans tended to belong to guilds and these provided a development path as your skills improved – starting as an apprentice you developed to become a journeyman and finally a master. Guilds also imposed standards to ensure your skills were up to scratch.

This sparked some good discussion. For me, I feel my guild is more of a community built through online connections and face to face events. I don’t feel a strong affinity with my profession as I feel what I do has changed so much. It’s an interesting one for me – I like the idea of what other artisans like me can offer in the way of connection and support. The main issue is that I am not sure I have found that group yet. The answer from discussion on the day is to create it!

In terms of connecting with self, we discussed our values and the value we create in the work we do.  Neil referenced Stephen Covey’s book the  7 Habits of Highly Effective People and in particular the importance of security, wisdom, guidance and power and how we connect with our emotions and use them to become more effective at what we do. Work and life are entwined for an artisan. Maybe the notion of work-life balance is completely different. What I do shapes who I am and vice versa – being comfortable with that and finding a balance is important for the aritsan.

We then looked at complexity by making a loaf of bread. This was great fun. We were given the ingredients and worked in a group to make a loaf each. We got dirty, asked questions and followed Neil’s advice. I guess we were the apprentices and Neil the master. None of us had had much experience of making bread apart from Neil.

Through this bread making process the ideas of connection, complexity and autonomy came to life  – bread making is complex (there is a complex chemical reaction, for example) and we do not always know what will happen next. We need to be curious and try things out. We were autonomous, working on our own,  and connected in the room as well as very connected with our work – kneading dough for 10 minutes is hard work.

We then sat and reflected on the process and later enjoyed some delicious bread (my loaf is pictured above).

Neil also talked us through the deeper issues around complexity and learning to get comfortable with the unknown. We also discussed the Expert’s curse in which experts, by their very definition of knowing all there is to know, must dismiss new information and thinking.

We talked bout the value of seeing yourself as a perpetual learner – one that is always open to new ideas. This seems to be a much better place for us all to be.

There was a lot to take in and I have reflected on bits that stood out for me. The aritsan way of thinking is a useful way to explore your work and life in a holistic way, whether self-employed or not. Striving to be good at what you do, always in perpetual beta when it comes to learning and improving what you do, being curious, trusting yourself and others and being clear and comfortable about the value you offer (if you are selling your services) are all really important. As is being part of supportive communities (or guilds) and passing on skills and experience to the apprenticeships.

Who would argue with this:

“To do work that is noble and just, that enriches, delights and fulfils the worker and the customer alike.”


And here is a reading list from the day:

Collaborative Leadership, Archer and Cameron
The Craftsman, Richard Sennett
Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
John Ruskin, Seven Lamps of Architecture
Adaptive Leadership, Roanld Heifetz
Steven Johnson, Where good ideas come from