The negative scale effect..

Scale is so alluring.

All that coverage, all that income. Scaling is an industry. Growth Coaches, Scale up Experts. 1.3 billion items listed on Google.

Craft Coaching. Much less popular. 64 million listed on Google. Yet craft is where it all starts. Somewhere, right at the beginning of the product or service was someone dedicated to their craft. A scientist, a writer, an artisan chef. Somebody who created something original (for a brief moment)

The problem with growth is that is is as fragile as it is addictive, as we’re seeing right now.

Scale requires infrastructure and overhead. Factories. People who don’t create, but are part of a making machine. Operatives, not artists. Very humanly painful and financially expensive to unwind.

The moment we scale, we largely immobilize the product or service. When it has acquired structure, overhead, and marketing it becomes sluggish and can no longer adapt in the way the crafter who created it could help it do. We launch the product into the world and the world absorbs it and moves on to require something new. A sort of accelerated assured obsolescence.

iPhone from stunning innovation to commodity in a little over ten years, even with the genius of Apple marketing behind it.

I suspect there is an inverse law between craft and scale. Craft is a function of love and dedication; scale is a function of efficiency and measurement.

There is a point at which the negative scale effect sets in. Research suggests there is a finite number of connections that we can manage effectively – with emotional resonance – and that is around 150. As an organisation, once we get above that the internal resonance reduces, and that will impact on clients. It’s hardly a precise measure, but more an indication of probability. Above a certain point, our connection to craft and our stakeholders starts to erode.

And there is no going back. Never again will an iPhone be a craft item in the way it was when Steve Jobs and the team synthesised it (invented is I think an overstatement). It has spawned copies in the time it has been around, some of which are, on an incremental basis arguably better, but the magic has now evaporated, and cannot be recovered.

Craft has magic. Faberge Egg #69 was no less magic than #1, and the collection is more valuable than the sum of the parts.

That’s because the magic of craft is a function of what goes into it. Dedication. love, obsession, detail, and the never ending pursuit of better for its own sake. A reflection of the soul of the artist who creates it.

We could, I’m sure scale Faberge Eggs, and indeed many counterfeiters have had a go.

If we succeeded the magic would be gone.

We are all Craftsmen and Women at Heart

I know accountants and lawyers who have a sense of craft – sometimes to be found in their profession, more often outside it. Our industrial business model does not make it easy. The ruthless pursuit of a six sigma error rate is not forgiving of foibles or artistic touches.

Outliers as bad, not interesting or inspiration.

That’s fine for commodities – I’d really like light bulbs that work every time and last for as long as they say they will (gentle sigh)

When it comes to the Lamp that carries the bulb however it’s different. We watched one being made for us in a workshop in Italy, one of three. The potter showed us the flaws that didn’t matter to anyone else other than him. That lamp is wonderfully unscaleable.

The people who run the recycling centre in Derby Raynesway have something of the artist.

Given what they do, the place is incredibly clean because they don’t stop cleaning it. They come and help empty your car, unbidden, with a smile. They are led more than managed (people like this need very little managing) by someone who understands and respects recycling, and the team that do it.

Covid-19 has reminded us of the vulnerability of thoughtless scale. It is going to cost us financially and socially as well as environmentally. It’s a lesson we might want to learn.

Craft to scale is easy. Scale to craft is virtually impossible. We lose much in transition.

Craft is eternal. Scale is temporary.

I guess its a matter of values, and what we want to do with our lives.

We can choose.

Scale is a conscious decision.

Published by Richard H Merrick

Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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