An artisan is skilled in a craft and uses specialized tools or machinery. Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge artisans are similar to their pre-industrial counterparts, especially when it comes to tools. Knowledge artisans not only design the work but they can do the work. It is not passed down an assembly line.
Augmented by technology, they rely on their networks and skills to solve complex problems and test new ideas. Small groups of highly productive knowledge artisans are capable of producing goods and services that used to take much larger teams and more resources. Many integrate marketing, sales, and customer service with their creations.
It’s difficult to be a knowledge artisan today in a hierarchical organization that tells you what to do and which tools to use. More experienced and adventurous artisans are leaving companies and younger skilled artisans are not joining them. They have what Jane McConnell calls a ‘gig mindset‘.
The formula for the gig mindset emergence is clear:
High people capabilities + stagnating work cultures + rigid leadership = birth of the gig mindset.
Keeping knowledge artisans will be a major challenge for companies. They will have to change how they operate or lose their best workers.
“The first big obstacle to building a gig mindset culture is old-school leadership, anchored in hierarchy and command-and-control methods. A second, equally serious barrier which is in fact related to the first, is work practices. Although it is increasingly common today for people to self-manage their work, this has limited impact beyond the individual. They are not able to have a broader, change-inducing role because they are rarely solicited to give input to business goals and strategic plans. Above all, they are not encouraged to question status quo and propose radically new ideas.” —Jane McConnell
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. But creating a status quo is more difficult than maintaining an existing one.