Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/02

Are you an information craftsman, or a tinkerer?

Craftsmen and tinkerers

There are craftsmen and there are tinkerers. Tinkerers enjoy a hobby for its own sake; they have a working knowledge, and a partial set of tools and experience. A craftsman on the other hand not only knows what works; they know why and how it works, and have developed a gut-feel informed by thousands of hours of experimentation. A craftsman is imbued with the philosophy and history of his trade. To him, his work is beautiful; whether architect, database administrator, web developer, artist or business analyst. The types of jobs available are changing; however, the new economy (whatever that means) will still require craftsmen.

In today’s milieu of (mostly) blue-collar lay-offs, creativity and knowledge management are the new union cards. We used to be an agrarian society; now fewer people work the fields to produce our food. We used to be a country of manufacturers; yesterday, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. The shifting economy hurts many of us personally; particularly in Detroit. For the past several months–every other week a friend of mine is laid off. Contrary to the way it feels sometimes, our economy is not dying, but many of her staple job types are.

Which jobs will remain or be in higher demand? Jobs in which creativity, communication and information are both the main tool and product. The tools of our fathers and grandfathers were tractors, axes, hammers and welders; and they took great care of them, since they were their livelihood. Like them, we must take care of the tools that take care of us. In our time, the way we manage our creative energy, our relationships with others and our information, separate the tinkerers from the information craftsman.

Creative energy

So many brilliant people have written on this subject. One of the ones I consistently enjoy is Merlin Mann. He is clever and often unvarnished. His work typically focuses around productivity and working on meaningful things (as opposed to plodding along for a paycheck). I mention only one example; but there are thousands of excellent blogs and websites on the web that will inspire you and teach you how to be inspired. A short list of things that I have learned:

  • Know your type. Find out what your Myers-Briggs type is and arrange your life accordingly. This tip alone is priceless
  • Spend time away every couple months. You have to get more than 50 miles from where you live every 3 months for at least a couple nights or else you stagnate
  • Immerse. Whether it is reading, watching, listening, or touching–engage beautiful, impressive and humbling things
  • Lateral influence. You will tend to gravitate toward the familiar. Every so often do something a “person like you” wouldn’t do. As long as it isn’t illegal or immoral, you will be better for it
  • Find an executive board. Find the smartest people who will say “yes,” from within your field and without, with whom you can be candid, and meet every so often. Let them hear your story and hear theirs. Ask their advice. This is not the same as your friends; but they will often become your friends.

Relationships

I always carry two types of business cards. Mine and my company’s. I am a brand that works in partnership with my current employer’s brand. We have a conjoined purpose for the length of time I am employed by them; but we are never the same entity. I am equally ready and proud to introduce either of us because I am proud of what we both do. This is a newer way to look at having a job. A whole field has emerged to parse out what I just said. It is called “personal branding.” The bottom line is that for myself and my peers, as information craftsmen, we are paid in part because of who we know and how well we can relate to others. Here is a very quick list of things I have learned about professional relationships:

  • Have a cohesive online presence. If you use LinkedIn, a blog, and a twitter account; be sure they are all updated and referring back and forth between one another. If you are not online; minimally, get a LinkedIn profile and consider a professional website. A site like this one is very affordable and priceless
  • Readers are leaders. Read Dale Carnegie, Steven Covey and some of the books listed when you search Amazon for personal branding
  • Remember who your friends are. You only have between 10 and 50 friends. Everyone else are people you like, know, or would like to impress in some form. If you feel that the world has changed to the point that you can say whatever you want whenever you want, you will get burned. Use discretion.
  • Put in the time. “Networking” takes time. Convince yourself of its benefit and necessity early on, so that you feel the freedom to invest that time

Information management

This third item is the area I come by the most naturally. I really enjoy know that my data is secure, accessible and backed up. I put a lot of thought into how and where I store things. Here are some of my best habits:

  • Have an easy backup and a Crap-Hit-The-Fan (SHTF) backup. The easy backup is stored in the same office as your computer. This could be time machine for Mac folk or a stand-alone hard drive with an automated backup software running, for the PC folk. The SHTF backup should be offsite (so that you still have you data if their is a theft or fire) and in my opinion, over the internet. There are a lot of services like Amazon S3 that charge you a few bucks a month and do a great job
  • Have a file naming convention. They help out a lot when you need to find out the latest draft of a document you haven’t edited in 6 months. Here is a hypothetical document name I would create, “20090602A_DG_BusinessCaseMacBookPro” If I had an new version go out that same day, I would save a new copy and the “A” would become a “B.” If the new version goes out the another day, I change the date in the beginning of the file name. I have used this for about three years and I love myself whenever it saves me tons of searching
  • Discipline. Computer desktops are for pictures of unicorns, not for files. Seriously, put files where they belong, not strewn everywhere. I am a recovering desktop litterer and I can promise you it is worth the extra three clicks to do it the right way
  • Use RSS for your listening posts. I talked about this at length last week in this post.

Conclusion

I am fortunate that my skills line up well with the direction the economy is headed. I actually love doing all of the things listed above. This is a brief and stylized version of what I do for my clients. That said, these items are not the sole domain of the business types or the creatives. The forces of globalization, the Green movement and the flagging economy are creating a perfect storm that will uproot the weak, the ignorant and the unfortunate. That same storm will water those who are ready to accept what it brings and channel the deluge. Start now.

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Responses

  1. This is a great post and applies to anyone who works with a computer.

  2. It is rare to find someone so perceptive willing to share such insight. Thank you!


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