features
#007 / 1998

book review

Artists, Craftsmen And Technocrats

by Patricia Pitcher (1997)

By their very nature, designers and makers of wood products know what they want to do and where they want to go with their skills. Unfortunately this determination is often met with roadblocks that our society erects to dissuade the creative spirit. Are these barriers inevitable or are they products of the way we manage our private and public institutions? Such questions are addressed in Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats, a book that employs the terminology of applied art and design to discuss the state of business management worldwide.

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Artists, Craftsmen And Technocrats
by Patricia Pitcher 1997
second paperback edition,
Stoddart Publishing, Toronto

Author Patricia Pitcher expands on an eight-year academic study of senior management at an unnamed international corporation and helps us to understand how bad (and good) management impinges on us all. She concludes that there are three identifiable "styles" of management which she labels artist, craftsman and technocrat. Even those with little interest in the machinations of corporate "politics" will gain something from this book if they ever puzzled over such contradictory jargon as "planning for innovation."

She sees the artist manager as an emotional, inspiring and visionary risk-taker, guided by an intuitive sense of the future. The craftsman manager is more realistic, wise and dedicated to preserving and protecting the inherited human resources of the company. The nemesis of these two categories is the technocrat manager, defined as an unemotional, calculating specialist who uses the term "teamwork" but in reality operates under the principle of "my way or the doorway."

(Some members of the art/design community have criticized the use of their terminology to label corporate "types" but the irony of the situation--an academic using hands-on attributes--should be appreciated.)

The corporation that provided the author with the impressive data that substantiates her conclusions grew from a small regional operation to international stature under the leadership of an artist CEO, aided and abetted by supportive craftsmen managers. On retirement the CEO chose a technocrat as his replacement (artists and craftsmen genuinely believe in mixed-management teams) who set about hiring clones of himself, thus building a company without the experience or vision to adjust to change. A few years later the company collapsed.

For the entrepreneur in B.C. there are several lessons to be learned from this book. To use Ms. Pitcher's terms, most small manufactures or designers "manage" like artists (or craftsmen with artist tendencies) and have to deal with problems caused by technocrats in government, big business and education. The book provides vital clues to help identify the technocrats who are often disguised as "paint-by-number artists" until given positions of power. The author warns about placing technocrats in charge though she concedes they can play a vital role where attention to detail is important. These lessons can be used to ensure community organizations are managed by people who understand the designer's concept of "quality" and who favour long-term vision over short-term expediencies.

With a broader view we can consider the cumulative effect of management styles on the economic and social infrastructure of B.C. and see that the influence of the technocrat is all too prevalent. For example, resource companies are producing basic commodities which shows a lack of long-term vision; educational institutions are stressing specialization at the expense of a multidisciplinary art and design curriculum; government bureaucrats are fearful of making imaginative decisions.

There may be historic reasons for this situation but we can look to innovative economic systems in regions of Europe and Canada that offer some solutions. Canadian retailers of modern furniture and accessories will know that a disproportionate volume of their Canadian inventory originates in Quebec. Quebec has a long tradition of artisanship, professional training and European models of decentralized manufacturing. It is an example of a "designing and making culture" and seems to validate the economic roles of Ms. Pitcher's artist and craftsman.

Business managers, educators and government officials in B.C. would be greatly assisted by this book as they work on solving our province's economic problems. A creative team effort is surely the way to proceed.

Reviewed by Stephen Harrison, reprint courtesy of Kootenay WoodVine.

(Readers should note that the original 1995 publication was thoughtfully revised and expanded for the 1997 Canadian paperback edition. There is also a US edition titled Drama of Leadership published by Wiley in 1997.)

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