Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shokunin Kishitsu

More on making real things.

I follow Daniel Pink’s twitter feed, where he recently mentioned “the best 82-minute movie on mastery I’ve ever seen.” He pointed to a documentary about Jiro Ono, one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs. In a clip, Jiro mentions the term shokunin, that I recall from some other corner of my brain. A search leads to a 37signal’s Signal vs Noise (really good blog) post, that in turn points to another site’s (iA) post on Japanese aesthetics.

I don’t speak Japanese, but as far as a I can tell, Shokunin Kishitsu is more than just great technical skill (the 10,000 hours sort that Gladwell wrote about). It also is about a deep sense of purpose and pride in doing something as well as one can because that’s what the craft demands, not just because the client or customer requested it.

The respected Japanese woodworker Toshio Odate says:
“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan’, but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skill, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. These qualities are encompassed in the word shokunin, but are seldom written down. … The shokunin demonstrates knowledge of tools and skills with them, the ability to create beauty and the capacity to work with incredible speed. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” 
This can be challenging for some folks to understand. For some, they haven’t done the 10,000 hours. They may be young, or impatient, or young and impatient. I trust that will work itself out. More problematic are those that lack an actual craft or don’t recognize there is an actual craft to what they do. Such are the awful presentations we all suffer through. If you don’t know a better way, and those around you don’t value a better way, why would anyone expect things to change?

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