Everyone Needs to be an Artisan Because the "Age of Average is Over"

Thomas Friedman wrote an interesting opinion piece this past Sunday. His title for it was The Election That Wasn’t. (In the Atlanta-Journal Constitution it was called Creating good jobs should be vital issue.) In his piece he asks the question “How do we generate the jobs needed to sustain ur middle class and pay for new infrastructure?” He suggests that government will have to change and we will have to dig our way out of the economic rut we allowed the government to get us into. He thinks we may need more “stimulus” but at the same time WE as individuals need to do more.

The “MORE”  is encapsulated in his statement “Everyone today… needs to think of himself as an “artisan” – the term used before mass manufacturing to apply to people who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch in which they took personal pride. Everyone today needs to bring something extra to the their jobs.” (He was quoting Lawrence Katz a Harvard labor economist with the term artisan.”

Friedman says there are alot of jobs that can be done in a low skill way and earn low skill wages. Or you can do those jobs with more skill, more learning, more “extra” and subsequently earn a higher wage.  He further states that “…average is over. We’re in the age of ‘extra’ and everyone has to figure out what extra they can to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer.”

Basically Friedman is asking each worker to bring to the table what businesses define as “value-add”. What distinguishes one business from another is the “extra” they can bring to the sale. It is also known by the term “unique selling proposition” or USP. People out looking for a new job are often taught to think in those terms. But how often do we help our workers still in place to think about what “extra” they can bring to their job. What additional knowledge can they add? What additional service can they add? How can they foster that relationship just a bit more? An example may be a haircutter being aware of the condition of someone’s scalp and making a recommendation for a conditioner to improve this.

So the questions for they day are directed to individuals and to HR departments. First, as an individual, what can you do to add some extra? Can you do some reading in your field beyond what is required? Can you develop a relationship where no exists? Can you learn a bit more about a customer? Can you share something you learned with the rest of your department?

For HR, what are you doing to encourage the “extra?” Have you helped identify what “great” is for your employees? Are you rewarding that behavior with things like knowledge based pay?

I like the idea of ARTISAN. It sort of fits with the concept of YOU, INC.

How about you? What can  you tell us about that you add “extra” to your work? What examples can you think of where you have seen this extra added?

2 thoughts on “Everyone Needs to be an Artisan Because the "Age of Average is Over"”

  1. Hi Mike –

    Love TF. Great books, and the artist theory is similar in many ways to Seth Godin's book, Linchpin. Friedman's value add is that he always looks at talent issues through the global lens, more specifically how we're going to compete with China, Indian and whoever else emerges next…

    Thanks – KD

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