WriteWright

Wheelwright
" … one should never attempt to engineer accidents."

Nearly a hundred and ten years after the publication of Frederick Winslow Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management, we're witnessing a resurgence of artisanal craft. Taylor's book deeply influenced the way people thought about work, encouraging mass-produced uniformity, the underpinnings of our modern economy. Now, we hardly think in other terms. He argued that tightly regulating the means of production would result in the holy grail of any industrial-scaled economy: cheap but good. His Scientific Management concepts were even adopted by housewives and ministers. One would be hard-pressed to find any segment of the industrializing world uninfluenced by his rational perspective. Industrialized food production injected itself between the farmer and the table. Centralized production facilities vaporized smaller-scale local producers. Much in the same way that Amazon has undercut local retailers, Scientific Management insisted that big was necessarily cheaper and so somehow better.

Carried to illogical extremes, to ultimate scale, industrial production seems to produce more to an ever-shrinking market.
Robots could finish this progression. First, a few iconoclasts protested against the dehumanization inherent in the Scientific Management revolution, but in 1911, modern people believed that scientific everything would certainly be mankind's salvation, though they teetered on the brink of the First World War, which would provide clear evidence that it would not always prove thus. Us hippies preferred to shop at the co-op and make our own bio-deplorable dinners rather than rely upon microwavable abominations. Many of us preferred to ride the bus rather than maintain a personal gas guzzler. We would not be caught dead in a big box store. What started as a peripheral economy promises now to grow to scale, except artisanal scale never translated into industrial scale. Contradicting the first principles of Scientific Management, artisanal scale approximates one inch equals one inch, the same scale as human relationships.

This small scale presents real difficulties for creating the leverage larger-scaled undertakings require. In the fine art world, few artists expect to ever produce a volume of work which might enable broad distribution. Small craft brewers seem satisfied servicing tiny markets and those who have sold out to their industrial brethren watched dismayed as what was once scarce and great transformed simply cheap and merely good. From a craftsperson's perspective, the bigger they are, the stupider they seem, for Taylor's Scientific Management paradigm omitted the crafting, an inescapably irrational means of production dependent upon the eye and the sixth senses of the producer, replacing these with infinitely replicable statistical approximations of good enough. Hardly a fair trade.

I've labored at that workbench, straining to somehow fit my craft into larger scales. I've many times been asked the qualifying questions: Does it scale? Do you have at least ten thousand followers? How might we use this technology to transform an enterprise comprised of thirty thousand employees? Years into this search, I begrudgingly (at first) admitted that my work might reasonably scale to approximately one inch equals one inch. I recalled the work of the now long-displaced wheelwright, the producer of custom-made wagon wheels. He was not a worker, but a wright, a craftsman with an admittedly tiny share of any global market. Judged a failure in terms of market penetration yet considered a master by his quality of work and his customer's satisfaction.

Some writers seem more wrights than simply writers. They aspire to create finely-crafted works and dare not judge themselves with market-penetration metrics. They might not ever realize financial success in any industrialized sense, secure or not within their tiny orbit of satisfied readers. On a fluke perhaps, they might find their work more broadly appreciated, but they dare not aspire for such scale or craft their work with the intention of penetrating global markets lest they achieve Taylor's inevitable ideal of merely cheap and good. A wright's work never comes cheaply, and good or terrible, it first aspires only to satisfy the craftsperson, the Wright, even if nobody else ever understands or appreciates.

In any industrial-scaled society, popularity serves as the ultimate success metric. Going viral might mean a heap of revenue funneled from advertisers selling stuff completely unrelated to the content. Advertisers trade in impressions, a largely fictional form of scale, and pay dearly for a second or two of disinterested attention. This metric says nothing about the content, though the content might live or die depending upon the ad revenue it generates. The Wright cares little about this large-scale context, but might still struggle with the conflicting context. The Wright might dream of making it big before realizing that making it as a Wright means making it small. Big might seem good, but never really good enough. Great exclusively comes in small packages, directly contradicting what industrial society insists. Wrights inhabit garrets, not penthouses.

I find myself deeply conflicted. I've written seven books in the last year and three quarters. My readers wonder when they'll be formally published. I answer that I do not know, for I'm a WriteWright, not a publisher, not a promoter, not a public speaker but a more private one. Publishing seems to Wrighting as industrialization is to craft. I spent much more money promoting my best seller than I ever made from sales, a common Wrighter's dilemma. Tesla can pull off spending more creating a car company to produce cars than selling cars could ever return, but that seems like a game industrialists play. Amazon spent more than a decade before ever declaring a profit and I doubt they'll ever successfully balance their books, the deficit resolved with stock speculation, not producing anything but negotiable paper promises. What would I pay for broader notoriety and what might that gain me? My publisher explains that a writer can make a lot of money speaking and engineering large-scale corporate sales, where clients purchase hundreds, even thousands of copies, distributing them to employees and customers. I've witnessed this happening, but can't imagine this Wright ever producing such a thing. I Wright, and while I might retrain myself to become a kick-butt public speaker or corporate salesman, I dare not judge my viability by those metrics. I Wright. I do not see myself as much of a writer, a role including those broader, seemingly orthogonal skills. I should find my satisfaction at the scale of one inch equals one inch.

I hired a publicist in anticipation of The Blind Men and the Elephant's publication. She set about, in her words, "dumbing me down." I kind of failed in that challenge. She explained to me that no one would ever understand the book unless I found a way to explain it to them, a perspective she adopted after reading then not understanding the book. Her job, as she defined it, involved transforming the raw Wrighted material into something as inoffensive as a breath mint. We finally agreed to cancel our contract early. The book became a best seller anyway, though it never achieved industrial-scale acceptance. As near as I can tell, the book boomed by word of mouth, at the approximate scale of one inch equals one inch, replicated by the power of human relationships. Such success should not prove replicable. I figure it was an accidental convergence and one should never attempt to engineer accidents.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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