Sunday, July 13, 2014

Craft, Craftsmanship, Creativity and Co-creativity: The Perfect Four for Virtuous Competitiveness

Over time, either by education or experience, or a combination of both, everyone becomes good at something or the other. In a very broad generic sense, one becomes good at a craft. He or she becomes known by the craft he or she is good at. Again, at a very broad generic level, people get referred to as academicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers, accountants or moviemakers, for example. Needless to say, each generic craft is a combination of several specific crafts. Corporate leadership requires the craft of weaving together a tapestry of multiple crafts to create a business canvas one desires. There is an element of individuality as much as an element of collectivism in the craft. In some cases, it is sequential, like several baton passing individuals participating in a marathon. In most other cases, it is like a musical ensemble with a whole set of musicians working together, each excelling on his or her instrument. From a social activity, craft has moved to industrial enterprise, over time.     

The continuous optimization of value chain is the core of serving the customers continuously better. While an industrial value chain has several components, design (in the laboratory), manufacture (in the factory) and delivery (to the customer) of a product constitute the three essential components. These, as well as other components and sub-components of the value chain are typically carried out by people who are educated and trained to do so. The skill or the competency with which these activities are performed determines the overall capability of the value chain and, as a consequence, the competitive advantage of a firm. Two aspects are important from a generic point of view: the perfection with which the activity is performed and the creativity with which it is performed. This blog post proposes that the industrial value chain concept as above is just a part or reflection of how people can conduct their activities, individually or collectively, in day to day life.
Craft and creativity
Craft, by definition, is an activity involving a special skill at making things with one’s hands. Working with hands implies, without doubt, working with one’s mind also focused on the activity along with hands. Craft is never a singular skill; it covers all the skills needed for a particular activity. A potter, for example, is engaged in the craft of making pottery. His or her craft is not merely shaping the clay into the desired shape with his or her hands. His craft also includes conceptualizing the artifact he needs to shape, the type of clay that would be optimum, the selection of the right potter’s wheel, an understanding of the right oven and baking methodology and finally a capability to inspect and pass the final product (through sensory inspection!). This analogy is true of every domain or activity. An aircraft pilot needs to be adept not only at piloting and aircraft instrumentation but also appreciative of the overall integrity of an aircraft and its accessories and inputs; he needs to understand not only his route map but also several alternate routes. To summarize, every craft is verily a set of multiple skills, related and unrelated.
Craft is closely allied with creativity. A craft may seem to be ordinary and repetitive but each craft requires creativity perpetually. A potter may use the same clay, the same wheel and his own hands always. Whether the pottery is the same or different, the shaping of the artifact from the raw clay with his hands, mixed with requisite liquid content and rotated with appropriate speed and shaped with customized handling, requires perpetual creativity. The functional leader may face the same set of internal and external factors each day but the fact that there would always be surprise additions or deletions besides changes in amplitude of each factor requires him to create a customized solution each day. On a higher plane, however, most crafts are non-repetitive contextually, and require a different solution. Sports and arts, for example, represent the quentessial crafts that abound in creativity every moment. Industrial leaders and organizational professionals need to view their respective crafts as creative outcomes from trained hands and minds responding to unpredictable events.
Craftsmanship and co-creativity
A craftsman is a person who is not merely versed in his craft but is so well versed in his craft that he consistently creates a product that is invariably perfect and beautiful. An accomplished singer such as SP Balu or KJ Jesudas, a dexterous sand sculptor such as Sudarsan Pattnaik come to mind immediately when one thinks of craftsmanship. The craftsmanship of a craftsman is reflected by the quality of design and work of a product or service. The difference between a Japanese automobile and an indigenous automobile is, for example, one of the former displaying the highest levels of craftsmanship. Craftsmanship requires dedication and passion of the highest order to the craft, and perfect synchronization and synergy between the body and the mind. True craftsmanship, however, goes one step further, it fuses the body, mind, heart and soul in the work one does. Organizations must look at craftsmanship as opposed to craft as the essence of talent building.
We have considered earlier that every craft typically comprises several skills. More often than not, a broader craft like corporate management or moviemaking requires working together of many crafts and craftsmen. We have also considered that a craftsman needs to be creative. In an organizational setting, it would not be sufficient for individuals to be creative by themselves; they would need to be co-creative as a team. Let us take the example of a communications executive interviewing the chief executive for an interview for the company’s house magazine. The communications expert may come up with a creative questionnaire and the chief executive may come up with equally creative answers. If, however, both of them design and execute the entire activity with each other’s creative inputs working synergistically the impact would be profound. At a product level, automobile design and manufacture emerge as perfect examples of co-creativity. Also, called concurrent engineering, co-creativity helps the engineers develop vehicles that are lighter yet stronger, minimalist externally and maximal internally, more powered but higher in fuel efficiency, and so on.
The Perfect Four
Ideal organization design should be based on a clear delineation of all the requisite crafts. Just as a bill of material drills down the product through a hierarchy to the smallest individual components, organizational design requires a comprehensive and detailed bill of crafts. The next objective must be to develop each person to reach the highest levels of creativity and craftsmanship in the craft. Organizations which reflect craftsmanship stand differentiated from those which are mere assemblages of crafts. To be able to do that, organizations must abdicate the convenient paradigm of forced ranking and instead put in place the challenging paradigm of universal excellence. Allied with this is the need to facilitate and encourage creativity at individual level and co-creativity in team and at collective levels.
Co-creativity does not mean working together only within an organization or between organizations. Co-creativity also involves organizations working with markets, leaders working with governments, engineers working with customers, and so on. Co-creativity is boosted when each member of the team is able to perceive craftsmanship on the part of team members; it results in healthy respect for each other and a drive for collaborative competition. The beneficial results of the Perfect Four for the industry and society are self-evident. Quality in products or services would be synergistic with customer fulfillment and demand generation. Organizations would simultaneously be able to achieve mastery over time and cost as well. India has some examples of the Perfect Four of craft, craftsmanship, creativity and co-creativity producing some amazing results; such examples need to motivate a larger commitment to Perfect Four across the nation.
The cost of setting up an automobile facility in India, for example, is estimated to be one-third that of a comparable overseas automobile plant (even with certain imported equipment) and the time for setting it up (even on a ‘learn and execute’ basis) is estimated to be half that of an overseas plant build in advanced countries. This has been attributed to the Perfect Four working together in such cases.  India’s space program is an outstanding example of the Perfect Four. The latest launch of India’s Polar Launch Satellite Vehicle incorporating five satellites from different countries, including India, is an example of craftsmanship combining with co-creativity. The successful launch inspired Shri Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister tweet that the cost of India’s PLSV launch has been less than the cost of production of the Hollywood film Gravity! He has also held it to be a perfect example of his mantra of skill, scale and speed (source: PMO India on twitter). There is so much more to be achieved in India by Indian firms and Indian talent. It is time that organizations and individuals recall their historical capabilities in crafts, craftsmanship, creativity and co-creativity and lead on a new trajectory of global resurgence based on deployment of the Perfect Four.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 13, 2014                   



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