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the act of creation is human


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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In 2005 I wrote a business plan for a client that was based on an operational model of employing ‘knowledge artisans‘.

Next-gen knowledge artisans are amplified versions of their pre-industrial counterparts. Equipped with and augmented by technology, they rely on their human capital and skill to solve complex problems and develop new ideas, products and services. Highly productive, knowledge artisans are capable individually and in small groups of producing goods and services that used to take substantially larger teams and resources. In addition to redefining how work is done, knowledge artisans are creating new organizational structures and business models.

I later followed this up by discussing how knowledge artisans choose their tools.

Knowledge Artisans not only design the work but they can do the work. It is not passed down the assembly line. Many integrate marketing, sales and customer service with their creations. To ensure that they stay current, they become members of various Guilds, known today as communities of practice or knowledge networks. One of the earliest guilds was the open source community which developed many of the communication tools and processes used by Knowledge Artisans today: distributed work (computer supported collaborative work); results-oriented work (your code speaks for you); RSS, blogs, wikis, flattened hierarchies, etc.

I continued to build on the idea of new artisans of the network era.

As more organizations engage with connected workers who have seen the new workplace structures, they will need to change some habits, like letting workers choose their own tools. Knowledge artisans are often more contractual, more independent and shorter-term than previous information age employees. Because of their more nomadic nature, artisanal workers will bring their own learning networks. Companies will need to accept this in order to get work done. Also, training departments must be ready to adapt to knowledge artisans by allowing them to collaborate and connect with their external online networks. When the future of learning is the future of work, then learning support has to adapt to the new reality of an artisanal workforce. But it’s also worth noting that to be a successful knowledge artisan will take a lot more than just being a good employee.

I then summarized the situation in 2014 in —engaging knowledge artisans.

Most organizations are playing with all these new digital technologies and not putting in place structures to support knowledge artisans. But all these levels of hierarchy and control processes, based on a systemic lack of trust, will be overwhelmed by the resulting complexity of a hyper-connected economy. Overarching knowledge work principles have to be first established. An adult-to-adult relationship model like wirearchy is one example; “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” Complex environments are the new normal. Relationship building is needed in order to share complex knowledge. Implicit knowledge takes time to share, so time has to be set aside for sense-making, reflecting, and conversing. These are significant workplace changes, but can be mastered with a stable foundation of PKM practiced by interdependent and autonomous knowledge artisans. When everybody is engaged in sense-making, then any organization can better sense where it needs to go.

I related the knowledge artisan to Jane McConnell’s gig mindset advantage in 2019 — from knowledge worker to master artisan.

“The formula for the gig mindset emergence is clear:
High people capabilities + stagnating work cultures + rigid leadership = birth of the gig mindset.”
Jane McConnell

A gig mindset is a change in the status quo. While creating a status quo is more difficult than maintaining an existing one, the time may be right for systemic change in how work gets done.

Today, Gianfranco Chicco described a need to move from artificial to artisanal intelligence.

In craftsmanship, different kinds of knowledge are already at play. Intellectual knowledge residing in our brain and tacit knowledge residing in our body. What AI adds is the possibility for a different, non-human kind of intelligence to have a role … What often gets lost in the current narrative about AI is the why we do what we do. The act of creation, of bringing something into this world that didn’t exist before is not just a transactional act to favour convenience or reduce friction. We create because it’s a way to manifest our humanity, to understand the world and our role in it, and to connect with fellow humans. Removing that creation from our beings, outsourcing it onto another entity — in this case AI — because it can make it easier or even better is to miss the point completely.

Knowledge artisans provide an opportunity to reconnect humans and work. Industrialization compartmentalized tasks and jobs. Artisans work the entire creative process. Yes, we can use tools like GPT and LLMs, but it’s our humanity that creates something unique, and not an iteration of what has been scraped by machines from that which has already been created and shared by people. As Chicco concludes, “I’m excited to see how (if) craftspeople might embrace artificial intelligence and how it might allow us to develop our natural intelligence further by creating things (objects, ideas, environments) that make life better, not just for humans but for Gaia as a whole.”

Knowledge intensive workplaces demand cooperative learning in addition to collaborative work. This will require structural changes in the hierarchy and control systems. It also means changing the employment relationship where becoming a successful knowledge artisan will take a lot more than just being a good employee. A gig mindset is a change in the status quo.

Principle of Network Management — It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions and willing cooperation that more productive work can be assured. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, especially management.
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