Have you got a lovely job or a lousy job? According to Goos & Manning (2007), increasingly there will only be those two options – lovely or lousy? And there will be many more lousy jobs than lovely ones.

I am sure that you are aware that technology, automation and globalisation are changing the landscape of work. What you might not have realised, is that one of those changes involves the disappearance of ‘good’ jobs. In this new world, some people are doing interesting and meaningful work and many more are doing repetitive and stressful work. The jobs in the middle, the ones that are okay, the ones many of us were expecting to do, those jobs are vanishing.

In this environment, if you want an enjoyable and rewarding career, it isn’t enough to be efficient and effective, you need something more.

In order to thrive in this new context, you need a shift in mindset from an achievement orientation to a craft-centric orientation (Cal Newport, 2012). In an achievement orientation, efficiency is the priority. You aim to do things as easily and quickly as possible. This is the world of production lines, checklists and process improvement.

This approach has created an abundance of cheap products and has even improved medical safety. Efficiency matters. The problem is, when achievement is the major focus, work can feel tiring and soulless. Efficient organisations are run in a way that means each individual worker can easily be replaced by someone else. Many of us have discovered this the hard way. Redundancies and short term contracts tell us very clearly how disposable we are. The answer to this may feel counter intuitive. Instead of becoming the most efficient person, the answer may be to develop a craft-centric orientation and become an artisan in your field.

The artisan is efficient but they are also so skillful that their work isn’t just useful, it is also elegant and beautiful. People seek out the work of the genuine artisan. An artisan with rare and valuable skills, can pick and choose the work that interests and inspires them.

(This is what a sink looks like when an artisan has created it.)

You can be an artisan in almost anything, from engineering to teaching; from IT to leadership. The leader who takes the approach of the artisan; sees each interaction and decision as an opportunity to be skillful. From the stance of the ‘leader as artisan’, a performance review conversation isn’t about working through the HR checklist as quickly as possible; it is an opportunity for a brave, rich, meaningful and memorable discussion.

If you are to become an artisan in your field, you will need to become excellent at something hard. A skill that others find too challenging to truly master. This will require sustained, deliberate and focused effort, or deep work.

It requires a commitment to:

  • repeatedly staying with what is difficult
  • seeking honest and reliable feedback
  • continuing to refine your skills, even during the slog phase, where you work hard and don’t see much improvement
  • giving yourself time to think
  • learning from other experts both in your own field and in completely unrelated fields
  • learning complimentary skills to create a rare and valuable combination
  • learning from your ‘customers’ – being brave enough to ‘Get out in front of customers, early and often’ and see what excites and interests them (Blank and Dorf, 2012) Note: Although your customers might be the people who buy your product; they could also be your direct reports or other important stakeholders.
  • serving your customers – this isn’t some ego driven wish to ‘follow your passion’, it is a heartfelt commitment to offer something genuinely valuable to the world.

It is this commitment to mastery which sets the artisan apart. The artisan’s way is fierce, hard and joyful. It is both satisfying and challenging.

Where should you focus your own effort for mastery? You need to identify the skills in your industry that are both rare and valuable to others, so you don’t waste your efforts on something that others don’t value. This article by Cal Newport might give you some pointers. Or you can contact me here, if some coaching might be helpful for you to think this through.

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