Being Craftsman

What does the word craftsman evoke? For me it is images of toolmakers building watches, shipbuilders working in tandem towards building massive vessels and of course developers cranking out code.

Progressing as a craftsman is a hard task. I think there are three key essentials for success.

1. The Guidance of Master Craftsmen/Women(henceforth referred to craftsman for the rest of this essay).

2. The burning desire to build, tweak and continuously refine.

3. The tenacity to work hard through the not so interesting parts.

Self learning is a good thing, but in the company of master craftsmen one can make giant leaps. As I rediscovered, working with the best evokes the desire to build better. There are techniques one can pick up by observation and osmosis.

While I was writing this post I rather serendipitously came across a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” .(Available as of 30th Dec 2012 on Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming.) Jiro is a master Sushi chef who runs a Michelin 3 star restaurant in a Tokyo Subway.(Earning 3 stars from Michelin means that the place is so good that it is worthwhile to visit the country just for that restaurant.) Jiro at 85 years plus is someone who is at the peak of his craft and still aims to surpass it each day.

What resonated strongly was the idea that to achieve success you need to be so good that you cant be ignored. Further building on this is another idea that you need to satisfy your work rather than rooting for some dream passion. Satisfying the work that is given to you is a stepping stone towards building expertise and thus uncovering a deeper satisfaction of the work that you do.

It was also enlightening to see the tough regimen that aspiring sushi apprentices have to undergo before they can even handle fish often running into many years. Jiro’s son Yoshikazu a master Sushi Chef in his own right at 50 years still gets critiqued by his demanding father. The other takeaway was simplicity and the ability to develop an expertise in a niche area. There are no shortcuts and one has to commit to a lifetime of learning.

Finding a master is not easy. Why should anyone spend time to critique you? This is not a question that I have an answer for, just theories. Ultimately one needs to offer something of value. Finding a way to lighten your potential master’s load or solving a problem for him is one way to form a symbiotic relationship. The other motivation I think comes from great craftsmen themselves who want the craft to progress. In an environment like a Software company or even a Sushi bar like Jiro’s it is imperative to train apprentices to take upon future roles as craftsmen themselves. This is pure economics at play once the enterprise needs to run at scale.

There are times when apprentices get assigned dreary tasks. I think the most successful craftsmen have gone through this phase, tenaciously completing the assigned tasks, learning the domain along the way.Many problems are apparent only after doing the grunt work first.

I wish you a lifetime of learning. I would love to know  how you became a Better craftsman or even a Master Craftsman 🙂 ?