The Artisan

Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed column in this Sunday’s New York Times, raises an interesting perspective.  He recognized the idea of individuals considering themselves as an “artisan,” a term promoted by Lawrence Katz from Harvard University.  To get at the core of the concept, Mr. Friedman writes,

“But just doing your job in an average way- in this integrated and automated global economy- will lead to below average wages.  Sadly, average is over.  We’re in the age of ‘extra,’ and everone has to figure out what extra they can add to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer…Their work will be more meaningful and their customers more satisfied.”

It makes me wonder if a portion of the social sector has relied on being average for too long.  With the new frontier of B Corporations about to start a land rush for enterprises that use the power of businesses to create public benefit, are we entering the sunset of the social sector.  Is the 501(c)(3) endangered to become the transistor radio of the television era?  Will the demand for greater profitability in the name of the greater good attract a whole generation enticed with start-ups and the responsiveness of a business environment?  Will having an impact without the need to take a pledge of poverty become the calling card of innovative ideas?  Are we drinking from the same well and using similar maps to predicted the best path for our campaigns?  Will the idea of invested stakeholders and the development of a profitable brands take the place of doing good without the need for glory?

I wonder if the touch-paper has been lit and we will see the smoke only after the flames have reached our mission?  The social sector is at its most vulnerable and most revered in the economic recession.  Contraction and partnerships have reduced some of the overlap but much like Wall Street financial institutions, I am not sure what lessons we have learned will inform our sector’s future.

If you are an artisan, perhaps now is the time to confirm your purpose.  As an outdoor wilderness instructor once suggested, a compass is a tool.  It can lead you to safety or off a cliff, depending on your ability to use the information.  If a new frontier is opening, it is nice to know where you are starting.

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