Thought the "artisanal everything" movement was over? Think again. Instead, it's extending to include a greater variety of workers, argues a handful of experts.
Several months ago we charted the rise of a new type of entrepreneur, the techie artisan. This particular breed of skilled creative combines old-fashioned craft products such as custom-tailored shirts or small batches of homemade preserves with the latest in business tech to create a fresh and profitable blend of old and new.
Harvard economist Larry Katz has become a guru of sorts of the new artisan economy. He argues that many well-paying jobs of the future will be in the service sector and will reward people whose skills and personal touch set them apart. One example he has offered is a well-educated caregiver able to engage with elderly clients as opposed to someone who approaches the work as drudgery.
"People will always need haircuts and health care," he told The New York Times, "and you can do that with low-wage labor or with people who acquire a lot of skills and pride and bring their imagination to do creative and customized things."
[Partner at Emergent Research Steve] King spelled out his vision of an emerging artisan class in a 2008 report for the Institute for the Future. "Like their medieval predecessors in pre-industrial Europe and Asia, these next-generation artisans will ply their trade outside the walls of big business, making a living with their craftsmanship and knowledge," he wrote.
And on the in-house blog of California-based consultancy Emergent Research, King clarifies his thoughts further on how broadly a more artisanal approach to entrepreneurship is spreading. He expands the traditional definition of artisan, which encompasses those that expertly and lovingly craft their physical products rather than aiming for mass production, to include another two types of artisan springing up in the modern economy:
Personal service providers and especially those that provide high-end personal services
Knowledge artisans that leverage their social and intellectual capital
Knowledge artisans, he explains, "rely on intellectual and social capital to solve complex problems and develop new ideas, products, services and business models," and notes that included in this group are "the 2.2 million independent workers who generate more than $100k in revenue. This group of highly skilled freelancers and independent consultants are successfully making their own way in today's turbulent economy."
Why this creeping definition of artisan? In a world of stiff international competition for the rote, routine and mass produced, a higher-end, more personal approach is often better able to stand out in the market. Or as the National Post puts it: "With globalization and computerization upending many traditional workplaces, analysts predict successful 21st-century workers in all sorts of fields will have to summon their inner artisan."
Could your small business better compete by going artisanal?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel