The Return of the Artisans

When we have a Saturday with nothing in the diary (which doesn’t happen very often) there are a few things we like to do as a treat. One of them is to travel to nearby Lancaster; once there we will stroll through the market and visit a favourite Indian food stall where they make the most fabulous Samosa. The lady behind the stall, Sanah, is a character and greets everyone with a smile and a vigorous welcome. Having collected our Samosa we walk a little further to the nearby bread stall with wonderful smells wafting up from the selection of home-made speciality breads. We’ll wander a little further and look in other places, but these two stalls are a must. Having completed our shopping we’ll head back towards the car, stopping at a local speciality coffee shop along the way.  There we’ll choose a particular coffee from a particular country, we’ll watch the Barista weigh out just the right quantity of beans, see them ground to the correct coarseness for the particular method of coffee brewing that we’ve chosen. The coffee will be expertly made and presented with a smile.

Each of these traders are artisans – they are skilled in their craft, they produce high quality outcomes and use high quality ingredient. They’re not part of huge corporate machines, they are small businesses selling to other small businesses and individuals. They aren’t constantly driving to produce the cheapest goods they can, there is a standard to what they produce that comes at a price and in its time. Each of these artisans has a passion for what they do. These businesses are anchored in a historic way of trading – these businesses are the future.

You might think that the future is going to be dominated by large corporations turning us into ever more homogeneous versions of each other, but there’s another trend building and it’s a much more human one.

It’s worth taking a detour into a quick history lesson for a short while. Back in the 18th Century we Brits birthed an industrial revolution named after the transition to mechanized manufacturing and the rise of the factory system that was taking place. Prior to this time production had mostly been done in small workshops environments but now people had to attend to the machines in large factories. This industrialization of production completely revolutionized the way we live and resulted in a mass migration from a rural society to a primarily urban one. There are towns in the UK that only exist because someone decided to build a factory or a mill there.

The initial phases of the information age also relied upon the centralization of people to enable access to expensive machinery. Over the last five to ten years the need for people to attend to gain access to information systems has all but vanished in many industries. Large scale production environments have become largely automated. Another way of working is emerging – the artisans are being reborn. The artisans aren’t just baking bread or creating crafts they are also doing data science, designing, developing application, producing films and many other roles.

These people no longer need to go to a centralized facility to do their work, they can work wherever they are and sell their good to the whole world. That doesn’t mean that they won’t travel, just that they don’t need to travel.

In 2013 I highlighted the move to sole-traders and small businesses that was occurring in the UK at that time, since then the transformation has accelerated.

“Overall the number of SMEs has increased by 1.8 million (up 51%) since 2000.”


We are in the midst of another significant change in working habits, I struggle with the word revolution because it’s so often over-used, but perhaps it’s applicable to this change. The impact of automation and robotics on this world is still being worked out, but that’s another subject for another day.

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