Craftsman, Scientist or Artist – who are you? Three approaches to Expertise

Craftsmen Scientist Artist ExpertiseIn my post on communication I mentioned that language has its limitations when trying to explain something – for the simple reason of possible gaps in the understanding of terminology by the involved parties. We’ve already encountered this problem when trying to distinguish between Skill, Competence and Expertise, as everyone seems to understand these concepts differently. However, there is an elegant solution for this problem: instead of using special terms and acronyms you can use everyday words that receive a new meaning when applied to a new subject.

Let’s try to apply this method on our discussion of possible approaches to Expertise.

As, you remember, we defined Expertise as mastery of a whole Skill Domain, but how can we compare two experts who both mastered their Skill Domain (or domains)? Of course, we can estimate their general level of Competence, but what about a FUNCTIONAL estimation?

Would you consult the same person for the perfection of a working process and for the situation when the old process should be discarded in favor of a new one? Would you call the same person to supervise the process and to save you when the process has failed? Theoretically speaking, all these situations would be related to the same Skill Domain, but in reality – all of them require a certain approach by the Expert to his or her field of expertise.

I detected three such basic approaches, most different from each other, in my experience, and these approaches are that of a Craftsman, a Scientist or an Artist.

Many people in any line of job see themselves as Craftsmen. The essence of Craft is maximal mastery of the TOOLS OF THE TRADE, so naturally, Craftsmen judge themselves and others by this parameter. Craftsmen of the same field recognize each other by emphasizing the tools they work with and by never straying from professional terminology. You can recognize Craftsmen by a phrase I’m sure you’ve heard many times: “I don’t know what went wrong. I did everything right / as I was supposed to”. Craftsmen rarely can imagine a possibility that the problem could be solved by using an existing tool in a new way or by inventing a new tool out of nothing. To be sure, they are most fond of acquiring new tools, even when they don’t offer an actual increase in performance over the existing ones, because in this kindergarten kids are judged by the toys they play with 🙂

But the system just cannot function without Craftsmen – they are the “lore keepers” of the trade, and under most conditions their mastery of working tools proves crucial for the success of any project, especially when things should be done quickly and without mistakes. Just don’t expect to hear from them any insight when the conditions become more adverse or when change is around the corner.

When this is the case, there is a different type of Experts to come to your help – the Scientists. Scientists try to UNCOVER THE BASIC PRINCIPLES behind the possible problems, the existing tools and the interaction between them. Understanding of abstract principles allows them to play with different possibilities of solving the problems, inventing new tools on the way. A scientist can foresee the coming change by following the existing trends and help you to prepare accordingly. He can also quickly adapt the existing tools for the new conditions as due to his understanding of principles he understands what has changed and what needs to be changed.

Of course, Scientists also have their drawbacks. Residing in the world of abstract ideas they sometimes tend to forget about friction, that influences everything in the material world. An idea may seem great on paper, on its implementation will require a lot of effort, especially if something needs to be changed. Trying to stay in touch with the material world, Scientists pay very much respect to data, but this makes them focus only on measurable parameters, while crucial intangibles are frequently left out.

You can basically say that by uncovering the principles behind everything, Scientists SET THE RULES to be followed by Craftsmen, if those rules have proved themselves in the real world.

But sometimes rules need to be broken. When everything has changed and there is no data or when the situation is so rigid that all tangible data was already processed, we turn to Artists to help us jump to the beginning of a new cycle.

Artists are not liked by Scientists and Craftsmen, because they’re DOING EVERYTHING WRONG in their eyes. But somehow, out of complete chaos, a new style is born, and Scientists come to discover its inner patterns to turn them into rules. This is because Artists possess an inner ability TO UNDERSTAND THINGS INTUITIVELY, without using a defined methodology. This lets them uncover principles with minimal access to data and therefore – to take into account all kinds of intangibles. But this comes with a price: most Artists do not understand how their ability works, so they cannot teach to others or explain why this is the right way to do something, but even more important – their own results are rarely consistent. Think about the big movies of the last year, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about 🙂

So Artists should never be left to their own devices – they should work in close contact with Scientists and Craftsmen in order to balance their chaotic nature.

So, recognize yourself in any of these types?

Tell me, I’m curious 🙂

8 thoughts on “Craftsman, Scientist or Artist – who are you? Three approaches to Expertise

  1. Brilliant, well though . Trying to recognized myself in any of these types surged this opinion……… the trade as you called it gets through a process of EXECUTION (concept of existing posibility) every time is created, and through that process new concepts, new minds and new approaches are born to stay until the natural cycle of human need for change set the new tools that come into the execution process which involves once again a management of the three approaches to a solution.
    I feel I am more like the one that recognize the technology and its methodologies to maintain status quo but a change management processes is another technological challenge to scientifics and craftmens to survive on the new cycles of change and so again the only way to execution which is more toward the scientific becoming more artistic to later go back to craftmen.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. You are right that having understanding of these three different approaches to expertise (craftsman, scientist and artist) facilitates changes and its management as well.

  3. I see a parallel with a model I sometimes use.
    In my model I exemplify with the skills that are learned and used with mastery by a Technician, a Professional Graduate, a Master and an MD.
    I like your model better for extended professional use. I use my model in an academic environment, where I find it useful.


  4. @Fungus, thnx! I can definitely see how your terminology of competence levels serve academic environment.
    Re: “extended professional use” – you caught my drift precisely, once underlying principles are known all the rest is a matter of fine tuning.

  5. The craftmen & Artist definitions seem fine, but Scientists is too broad of a label to be reduced this way. Technicians, engineers and researchers can all be labelled as scientists however
    – Technicians would best match with craftmen,
    – Engineers would match with your current definition of Scientists,
    – Researchers would better match with your current definition of Artists.
    In any case, the post is interesting food for thoughts… 🙂

  6. I’m glad you liked the post 🙂
    My point here actually was that no matter what your profession is, you can engage it on three completely different levels, meaning that you can work as a Technician, but do it as either a Craftsman, a Scientist or an Artist. It’s an approach to expertise generally and not to the actual field of expertise. I hope this clarifies things a little bit 🙂

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