by Jennifer Riggins
Has the Makers Movement brought back the Business Guild? Or has it always endoured?
In her Monkigras talk, Dormain Drewitz spun off the Monty Python plague bit “Not Dead Yet”, as she outlined areas — like letter-press printing, antique cars, and at times open source — where, when passionate people are involved, things don’t die away, even when technology has made it potentially obsolete.
This year’s craft of software conference was based on sustainability. Now, it’s a tech conference so you’d imagine it’d be focused on generating and integrating with code that doesn’t break. But so far the conference (about a quarter of the way through when I’m writing this) has covered quite a bit about typography, social contracts, and the anthropology of the PDF. (Yes the Adobe file type. And that was really a super engaging talk!)
Why do communities still exist around obsolete activities?
Dormain’s talk was mostly about her passion for letter-press printing, something that developed hundreds of years ago out of medieval craft guilds. But why does it still exist after offset printing crushed it over the last 70 years and then digital printing slaughtered it over the last 20? Well, you could just say, like urban beekeeping, old barber-shop shaves, and butter churning, it’s damn hipsters again holding onto nostalgia they’ve never experienced. But moreover it’s about community and shared passions… and that people are still willing to buy this outdated craft.
Dormain started her talk revealing her previous passion of her degree in medieval history, taking us through what has driven craft guilds overtime, particularly in that field of letter-press. The main driver was a desire for information and access to printed materials. Seeing this emerging market, these guilds formalized master craftsmen and apprenticeships.
But since the 1990s, when the wave of digital printing came crashing through with its cheaper and faster production, letter-press should have died. But it didn’t.
Shared passion may pivot, but doesn’t often diverge entirely
So, why is letter-press making a comeback?
While it’s definitely died off a bit, Dormain pointed out that letter-press printing is growing again because of many, many people who share her passion. In the world of Kindle, there’s a contradictory new book arts scene around the world of print-making, binding, typography and calligraphy. She even said there’s a $2.5 to $3 billion industry just printing wedding invites alone.
“The mark of the craft has changed while the commercial value has shifted,” she said, certainly going more niche and customized, high end.
But it is still growing, with, in this so-called Digital Age, the British stationery market at around 2.1 billion GBP a year, growing more than three percent in the last five years.
So, again, why is stationery, and letter-press printing in particular, still popular?
One word: Passion.
“Passion is part of the equation for driving this craft forward,” Dormain said. “Why things that should be dead aren’t dead yet.”
There are thousands of people who just love letter-press. Or obsolete, old cars. Or outdated open-source software. It’s real love.
“Not only was it a trade; most printers had an affinity with the history. The smell of ink, the relentless rattle of machinery, the weight of the lead cast letters – a strange alchemy works its way under the skin.”Colin West, National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (NATSOPA)
Dormain argues that this craft, like any, has sustained because of passion.
“You have commercial venders in there, the open source community and then the passion,” she said.
The passion is You.
With many communities of practice and business guilds, she lays out the following Venn intersections:
- passion + communities = hobbies
- passion + commercial = fine arts
- passion + community + commercial = sustainability
“The acid test is if it’s actually obsolete, and it still has a community and it still has commercial value, and it’s still going, that’s the actual measure of sustainability,” Dormain said.
How modern business guilds aren’t just about roles and projects
Many organizations need to harmonize practices, procedures, and tools across teams and departments. They also need people to share knowledge and develop their craft by communicating across traditional organizational boundaries. This is the purpose and role of guilds and huddles.Jurgen Appelo, Managing for Happiness
Business Guilds and Communities of Practice are actually some of the oldest Management 3.0 Practices. Obviously this is focused on businesses encouraging these communities dedicated to areas around the business. But there are lots of uses for these groups and gatherings that aren’t within the context of a team or organization. More often than not, these communities emerge on top of side-gigs and passionate side hustles. (Sometimes it can even turn into a business association dedicated to happiness at work.)