Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Craftsman, Engineers, & Scientists: A General Survey of Sensibilities

Basic Assumptions

The modern scope of American industry is nothing short of fascinating. The advances of the last century alone are astounding...
I will spare you any further cliches. It is true, the technologies and processes of manufacturing have greatly evolved over time, now encompassing an unprecedented American ability to produce.

With this rise in production has come a slew of academic ideas on what the American Worker is to expect relative to his job, and what the American “consumer” should expect relative to his paycheck. This is a massive subtopic, consumerism and its relation to craftsmanship, and I plan to get into at a later date. However take this as tacit acknowledgment that advanced industry and craftsman in those industries play a very important part in this.
However, regardless of the modern industrial advancements, the fundamental relationships among the public persona of well established roles and players within industry have remained more or less the same over time. Right product, right time, right place, right cost.
Manufacturing, in its way, has always been all about numbers, (this is about the only thing management literature gets right on the subject) yet the existence of this modern production force does not unduly affect the basic function of the industrial craftsman.

In the most basic of terms, the pre-modern craftsman only worried only with his/her personal production output from his own modest shop. Imagine here a blacksmith making a whole town's horse-shoes. Now, in contrast, the modern craftsman builds or maintains the equipment of sustained production. Imagine a mechanic tearing down and servicing a generator. Though involving different skills and knowledge sets the fundamental “persona” of the craftsman remains unchanged.

Craftsmen from any historical time frame are called upon by others to make use of their hands and heads towards the greater benefit of larger, at times, corporate, bodies. This is another possible avenue for further expansion. However, the idea of collective groups and how individual laborers interact with and within them is an already crowded field. I do not intend to slip towards public policy or social theory. We as a society are already overburdened with it as it is.

So despite the perverted inclination for current academics to view "craft" as strictly "artistic" or “social” their refusal to acknowledge industrial craftsmanship in and of itself does not hinder its reality.

The apparent resiliency of the industrial apprenticeship is very important to me, and the economy has shown the tremendous weakness systemic to Academia. Suffice it say that I attended a "good" school and graduated with a Lib Arts degree. I didn't stay any longer then one normally would. Now I am one of those down-and-out in the current economy.

There is growing data as well that suggests it is fruitless to obtain a law degree or another more generalist academic degrees. And this reality has rekindled a spark for making things.
So, leaving justification behind, what exactly do I mean when I refer to "public persona" When I refer to a "public persona" I am referring to the idea of "persona" from Cicero, wherein people and their personalities can be understood as a composite of choices, circumstances, and shared human facility,

Roughly paraphrased, the four persona are:

1) "Common Persona"
--> The shared rational (reasoned) nature common to all humans

2) "Personality Persona"
--> Who we are by virtue of our innate temperament

3) "Moment Persona"
--> What chance or circumstance makes us ("how we rise to the moment")

4) "Public Persona"
--> That most closely associated with personal effort, who we "chose" to become (^1)

In this view we can account for all the varied factors that form a composite of a person.

This post will focus on three traditionally recognized public persona: the craftsman, the engineer, and the scientist.

General Remarks Regarding "Management" and “Management Literature”

I have already addressed some of this in the intro, but I would like to flesh out some of the vapid tendencies, “management literature” has in its choice view all industrial leadership as fundamentally the same.

Ultimately management literature is only about the standard power-relationship paradigms of the time when it is published. This of course always misses the finer points of process in whatever industry may be in question. All to often all matters are reduced to the lowest common denominator of “The Office”. This is very unfortunate, simply discussing “power distribution” among the office ignore whatever chemistry, engineering, or process that goes on on the production floor. In such a way management literature relegates itself to what Venkat Rao at the ribbonfarm refers to as the Clueless.

Such literature ignores the differences in knowledge and experience required in the leadership styles and requirements of the lead craftsman and the leadership of the lead engineer. Why should we view such very different leaders as similar? Indeed why bother having a plant or process superintendent altogether?

It is in this gapping swath of ignorance that I wish to discuss and describe such organized and managed structures in-and-of themselves and how those structures and the people within them interrelate. This is what management literature claims to do already. Yet as is clear to anyone who works outside of an office, leadership or functional models based strictly on the office are inadequate to describe or elucidate the richness of objectively verifiable craftsmanship.

Indeed, how does a scientist interact with the lead craftsman, and the lead engineer? This is the heart of what I would like to address. Industry and manufacturing unlike many "office-space" structured companies makes a number of robust distinctions among its managers and their duties. And these differences take advantage of the skills inherent in the each public persona. Why the Druckers of the world continue to ignore such distinctions is beyond comprehension.
Such "office space" problems of traditional management literature do exist in the industrial environment, but it is disingenuous to reduce these situations into cliches of power like those of Drucker's Stonemasons.

Drucker's Stone-Cutters and the Errors of Management Literature

I generally get bent out of shape whenever there is talk of Drucker's now iconic quotable on the stone-cutters. I am responding in part to a modern take on this story by Venkat Rao @ ribbonfarm under the heading of  The Genealogy of the Gervais Principle. He blocks a quote from The Essential Drucker,

A favorite story at management meetings is that of the three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.” The third man is, of course, the true “manager” [we are more likely to call this person 'leader' in 2010 - vgr] The first man knows what he wants to get out of the work and manages to do so. He is likely to give a “fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”… It is the second man who is a problem… there is always a danger that the true workman, the true professional, will believe that he is accomplishing something when in effect he is just polishing stones or collecting footnotes.  

Rao in his commentary essentially conflates craftsman with his own definition of "clueless." Now given the way our society treats its top craftsman I think both Drucker and be extension Rao erroneously place great craftsman in the "clueless" middle.

I guess Rao hasn't watched either the speed channel, or the discovery channel lately. In modern America where knowledge work has become the norm and fine craftsmanship has become somewhat of a lost skill, we as a society have elevated our craftsman and their skills. We give these skilled professionals TV shows and those without TV shows run well-to-do companies that craft aftermarket parts.

It is unfortunate really, but this is ignorance is itself a function of Drucker's ideas of management. The Dilbert principle is obviously at work if we elevate the visionary, "I'm building a cathedral" stone cutter. After all, the "best stone cutter" wants him gone since the visionary more then likely doesn't know how to cut stone properly. Now in the new found position of prominence he may demand that everyone start cutting stone improperly! Sure it might save a few dollars in the short term, but what of the eventual collapse of the cathedral? Such calculations are not part of Drucker's ruminations.

Vision in leadership can only take you so far.Yes, you need vision to be a good leader, but Drucker (with his stone-cutters) and those in his wake seemingly think that this is all that is required. Leadership and management, despite the ideas today, cannot be separated. Leadership of its own accord leads to cutting of corners and improper workmanship.  (and probably contributed to the boom in litigation!) Required Obsolescence and multiple devices are the new norm.

All we have to say for this is that this is the epitome of modern production Druckerism. It's no wonder that there is such a of self-loathsome quality when one tweets the revolution! You can't lead a revolution by demanding people follow the status quo!

(NOTE: Later on I plan on addressing the moment persona of a "manager" and how it interacts with public persona. Suffice it to say here that "manager" itself is not, or perhaps more precisely, should not be a "chosen" or "publicly" assumed persona as the mere ability to chose to be a corporate "manager" may (depending on the individuals actual public persona undercut the very meaning of the word manager...but this is a whole other issue in itself)

A brief note on non-scientific academics and their ideas on industry.
I suppose here I should mention the obvious. Not all who have ideas on American industry are those of scientific or technical inclination. This is the realm of the public persona of a social scientist or social theorist. Having some matter of low level experience in the liberal arts discipline I remain skeptical of the value these “soft” disciplines provide to the shop floor.

Cognitive tests, surveys, and statistics abound, all are the arbitrary markers used by those bound to the office chair. These tests grant office authority figures a mistaken impression of “objectivity” when in fact the developed “facts” are no more or less arbitrary then the personalities that inhabit the actual work-space. This is after all the space where such works as the Rao's Gervais principle find their home.

However, if we chose to leave the broad-based “socialized office” theorems aside, I feel we may open a fruitful avenue for further exploration. Just as long as it is clear that the only “objectivity” worth dealing with is the objectivity of the hard sciences. Humans do not act objectively and therefor their feelings and motivations cannot be objectively quantified, they must be addressed from the horse's mouth.
Personally, I wish to avoid the trap of talking, “objectively” as would a social scientist. As an individual, in the interests of transparency, I think my biases should be clear and it is up to the reader to account for that biases within the act of reading.
Social science leaves behind too much for the eyes of the beholder...

A Note on the General Survey of Sentiment

It is right to say that each persona is mutually dependent on the others.

Like anyone else who is writing about broad categories I will make broad generalizations. Now, as I pointed out above I am working within a rubric of an individual's four persona and as such In what follows, unless otherwise noted, I am generally referring to the "public" persona.

In this way I leave a grand space for individual temperament and innate or trained skill that allows an individual to stretch beyond his or her public role in ways that seemingly cross the theoretical "public" persona boundaries.

In fact, I rely on this discursive element in my following explanations. This empathetic, cross discipline dynamic is essential to the advancement of any industrial or other innovating practice.

The Public Persona and Their Sentiment

1) The Craftsman,

--> "This works, here it is"

2) The Engineer,

--> "This should work, here's a picture with the calculations"

3) The Scientist,

-->"This is what we know, here's an equation"

The Craftsman

The Craftsman in public are the people who know the harsh physicality of a job: the "wrench" of an operation. This is the much chided realm of "experience." Academicians love to bash this sort of hard won knowledge as "low", irrelevant, or worse.

I don't understand this propensity. After all an academic might be able to describe in great detail what happens both physically and chemically in a weld pool, but that explanation can't help him actually lay-in code quality root bead and filler pass that will pass x-ray inspection.

Tell an academic this and chances are you will be met with a stony hubris-laden silence. He will feel insulted and more likely then not insist on unwarranted, and undeserved umbrage. How dare you insinuate that he does not know everything about which he professes.

Of course not all academics are so dismissive of craftsmanship, Richard Sennett to name just one. These other thinkers on the obverse of our own hapless academic straw-man seemingly place too much stock in the concept of “craft” itself. Generally these people in-so-far as they refer to social concepts of the craftsman seem to have little interest in the on-the-ground reality of craftsmanship as career.

Indeed, those academics speaking in favor of "craftsman" do not earn their living through the practice of a craft, whatever they practice themselves is forever secondary to their primary profession of an Academic. And because of this these academics remain stuck-upon the narrow aspects of the relation "craft" has to aesthetics.

Admittedly good craft has its own aesthetic; however, that aesthetic is not the end itself. A working craftsman is not in the business of making art, he or she instead pursues the craft itself and that craft puts food on the table. The beauty that the academics laud actually comes from pride in one's work, and a job well done.

Pride. This is one area in which a craftsman, in general, will best both the engineer, scientist, and professor. This pride comes from the the experience the craftsman has. He/She KNOWS the work is sound, and that it has been independently verified (possibly by the engineer and scientist!)

So when all is said and done the craftsman lives on his individual skill and experience and it is a shame that many (academics especially) in society view this hard won experience with scorn.

The Engineer

The Engineer occupies a unique position. Here is a discipline that in many ways serves as a communicator. The engineer takes the knowledge that is developed within one or more fields and he/she applies it to a practical problem.

A good engineer should have a strong grasp of both the abstract realm of science and a similarly strong grasp of the practicalities of the craft(s) that apply. So perhaps the Engineer isn't a Certified welder (CW) but hopefully he's handy enough to lay down a good bead on his own home-based projects.

Of course this idea of an engineer coming off the floor is a foreign concept in modern industry. There are few programs now to promote capable craftsman to positions of greater responsibility within the engineering departments. This is a shame given how closely Engineers and craftsman often work. Neither can work without the other and it would be advantageous to the discipline as whole to seek relevant experience.

This matter mirrors similar problems in other realms of the American society. Sure the engineer CAN stay in his office, but what good do the drawings do if they don't match reality?

This wider margin for error that Engineers enjoy has played out many times. Make the wrong calculations, or fail to make the right ones you get Tacoma Narrows, The Hindenburg, or Hyatt Regency.

To this end the engineer plays a large role that may either advance craft, or abuse it. It is certainly a great responsibility.

The Scientist

The scientist is vested with the responsibility to advance collective understanding of a process or phenomena. This of course grants this persona with the most latitude and choice when it comes to what narrow section of understanding to study.

Scientists, as a result of their station, may pursue two general directions. They may either ruminate on the purely theoretical (such as string theory) in an attempt to increase academic knowledge or they may pursue the combination approach mixing theory and practice in varying amounts attempting to directly advance practice. Keep in mind that there is also a practice of theory, but calling that practice a “craft” breaks down the distinctions we are attempting elucidate.

Depending upon the academic, or industrial area of research this may or may not involve the assistance of either an engineer or a craftsman. Though as I've identified earlier the tendency is for the academy to avoid delving directly into matters of established practice, this is generally left to the academic engineers and chemists and their research into the improving of manufacturing and chemical industrial processes.

Each chosen discipline must be aware of the limitations and strength of the others. The three of them, barring private scuffles of personality, in general have well established custom when dealing with the others.

In the future I hope to elucidate some of this custom, and present a compelling alternative to the way we have been trained by The Academy to view the future of our work. “Knowledge work” may be in now, but it cannot be sustained indefinitely. I would go so far as to say that the economy in its current state speaks to this reality. Sure anyone can be a knowledge worker, but one look at the “management literature” of today and you can tell that “work” has the least to do with modern academic and technical ideals of society.

Addendum: Motivation for craftsman centered writing.
An example of job induced hubris.

At trade school you hear lots of stories from the craftsman-instructors. One of my favorite involves an engineer who refused to go down to the floor to assess the situation before drafting his work order. The gist of which follows:
Craftsman: "I can't build this"
Engineer: "Why not? I drew it."
Craftsman: "The drawing is wrong."
Engineer: "I don't see how. I used the updated prints"
Craftsman: "There's something in the way"
Engineer: "Well it can't be. It's not on the drawings!"
Craftsman: "Have you even bothered to look at the site? There are new process pipes there now."
Engineer: "They're not on the drawings! Stop being lazy! Get out of here and go do your job."
Craftsman: "Look I told you why I can't build it! Come down to the floor and see."
Engineer: "Look, I've got a lot to do and I don't have time for this. Go do your job"
Craftsman: "Forget it, I'm going to find someone who will listen."
Here the Engineer has failed to do his job and the power relationship prevents corrective action in lieu of going above or outside the customary command structure.

(^1)paraphrased from; Sherman, Nancy. Stoic Warriors pg 53

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