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The Passion of the Craft

The Passion of the Craft

Google search “craft” and you’ll get crafts for kids near the top position. No one disagrees that quilting, basket weaving, balloon animal making, flower pressing, bead working, or corn doll making are crafts – of course they are. There is, however, an age old dispute distinguishing art from craft. Craft often gets the bad rap, especially from self fashioned fine artists. Do we dare call Picasso or Pollack craftsmen? How about David Burne, Santiago Calatrava, or Steve Jobs?

Craftsmen have guilds. Master Craftsmen apprentice, gain skill and make money – or, at least they once did. The industrial revolution reduced many craftsmen to hobbyists, but that doesn’t change their awesome skill, only the income stream. If a craftsman no longer makes money do they involuntarily turn artist?

Social validators maintain that craft and art separate via intent: function or personal expression, profit or pure aesthetic. Make reproductions of art work, no matter how fine, they become product – the reproduction is transformed into craft that performs as art – confusing to say the least if you accept the premise. A Ming vase was designed to hold flowers, made rare by antiquity, magically becomes a work of art. When the two are bundled together as in “arts and crafts”, does kitsch over take the result by virtue of its label?

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I occasionally ponder contemporary art that I simply don’t “get”. Feel the emotional void? The artist’s supplied blurb doesn’t help generate an emotional connection; it succeeds only at revealing the creator’s intent. Do artists keep the work’s significance obscure so they can dictate interpretation, or are they miserable failures at their craft? Chances are good they’d claim to be ahead of their time or too insightful for mass consumption.

Creativity is an ingenious mix of the familiar with the unexpected. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee, in their book, On Intelligence, describe remarkable creativity as using uncommon past analogies to make uncommon future predictions. In other words, we combine previous experiences, knowledge, or thought patterns in imaginative ways to create new patterns that solve problems or shape artistic expression. We solve new problems using what we know worked and combine life experience with our understanding of the current challenge. Success creates new solutions that are pressed into service as past analogies the next time we’re challenged, hence skills are built.

With artistic endeavors, if too much “new” is introduced, it ceases to resonate with an audience. It’s as if we pull our audience along with a delicate string. Pull too hard and the connection breaks; too slack and attention is lost. Proceeding with a broken string makes for self indulgent artistic expression. True innovation breaks convention and violates predictions, but if shared unsuccessfully with fellow humans, otherwise significant creativity is either uniquely useless or massively self-indulgent. Craft is the connecting string.

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To be skilled at a craft is not craftiness: i.e. adept in the use of subtlety and guile. The craftily skilled are not artistic fakers. Craft is what we see, hear, read, taste and feel about creativity. It’s the “Do” share of creativity. Craft is the vehicle of personal expression and innovation. Craft is what we hone in order to push our imagination out to the masses.

From Kitsch to Avant-Guard, craft is what connects us to the artist; it’s the difference between satisfying a challenge and indecipherable theories. High craftsmanship is rooted in human skill, expertise, dexterity, ability, and technique; machines can’t demonstrate craftsmanship. If machines produce high quality objects, it’s the result of fine machining by the innovative humans who created the process. Did you make an aesthetic decision in your crafting process? Then the outcome is art, aka – human expression. No decision? Then you’re a machine or an exceptionally good plagiarist.

Craft gets polished through building on patterns of a skill pyramid: simple early skills topped by highly developed sophisticated abilities honed through repetition. Once learned, the exceptionally gifted own the power to penetrate the sensations of others. They inspire awe and excitement. Their skill opens our emotional and intellectual receptors – we hunger and covet. Our souls play emotional hosts to admiration, envy, and eagerness to take part in the fine art or creative innovation demonstrated through extraordinary craft: an enrichment of the human spirit.

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With audience receptors unlocked, artists and innovators are released to share their creativity. Creators at their skill peak report feeling emotion flow from each note of music played or every nuanced dance movement performed. Each fine stroke of a brush or every architectural detail designed makes a meaningful human connection. Remarkable craft is present in both the height of artistic expression and purposeful innovation. Fine craftsmanship is the mouthpiece of creativity.

The objects we call Art or Craft are members of a continual spectrum under the creativity banner. Odds-on, the most purposeful and predictable will be labeled “crafts”, while the most abstract and useless will not. Where do we put the fulcrum in this teeter-totter? Intuition may tell us, but it matters little unless you’re a government bureaucrat required to levy import duty, or an art dealer primed to cash in on the next Rembrandt.

It may also be a matter of context. Display objects heretofore perceived as crafts in an art museum, they cease to be useful and therefore perceived as art by virtue of surroundings. A rare Ming vase is no longer useful behind bulletproof glass. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is a renowned venue for the exhibition of artworks that were – or are – mass produced and purposeful. There seems to be no rule for which we can’t find an exception.

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Why are “art objects” valued higher or fine artists held with greater esteem than those perceived as Crafts or Craftsmen? Exclusivity and purity I suspect. For the same reason art increases in value post mortem, objects perceived as crafts appear to be more easily reproducible. They often have a product-like appearance such as an unlimited edition photograph or a Charles Eames Chair.

What’s more, Artists claim a purity that is unaffected by profit or committee approval. Artistic “sell-outs” lose a piece of their soul [so I hear]. While profit motives can be problematic for artistic expression, I don’t believe it is the fulcrum of the creativity teeter-totter. Countless great artists and innovators respond to commission, and the galleries are full of art for profit.

Those who spawn what we label “art” or “craft” use the same creative essentials. Self designated artist or craftsman, approach personal expressions or innovations from different perspectives but achieve parallel results. Intensity of emotion, imagination, function or intent dictates the resulting perception. Uncommon creative passion is delivered through worthy craft; it’s the essential skill for successful transfer to an audience.

Bruce DeBoer
Visit: http://brucedeboer.typepad.com for more articles and information

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Last Updated on April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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