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An artisan is a skilled manual worker in a particular craft, using specialized processes, tools and machinery. Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge artisans of the post-industrial era are retrieving old world care and attention to detail, but using the latest tools and processes in an interconnected economy.

Artisans did not watch the clock and neither do knowledge artisans.


Next generation 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. Small groups of highly productive knowledge artisans are capable 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. Knowledge artisans are retrieving the older artisanal model and re-integrating previously separate skills.

Knowledge Artisans not only design the work but can also do the work. It is not passed down an 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 knowledge guilds was the open source community which developed many of the communication tools and processes used by knowledge artisans today: distributed work; results-only work environments (your code speaks for you); RSS, blogs & wikis for sharing; agile programming; flattened hierarchies, etc.

It is hard to be a knowledge artisan in a hierarchical organization that tells you what to do and which tools to use. Today, we are seeing the more experienced and adventurous knowledge artisans leaving, while younger skilled artisans are not joining command & control organizations.

Are knowledge artisans the mainstay of the network era economy? If so, what does that mean for your organization or business?

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