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28 April 2009

Artisanal vs. Industrial in Artistic Industries


Last week I jested a bit about my new life as a businessperson. It’s healthy, occasionally, to poke fun at a mode of thinking that too often focuses on big wins & lowest common-denominator strategies. (i.e. People love them some big f**king flashy business cards.)

However, business can also be a powerful way of understanding the world in a cross-disciplinary way. An artistic mindset demands extreme focus; a business consciousness demands constant appraisal of conditions in the wider sphere. Last night, for example, I was struck by this passage from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s excellent book about the realities of food production in the modern societies:

    Drawing on the theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, [Allan] Nation had distinguished between industrial and artisanal enterprises to demonstrate why attempts to blend the two modes seldom succeed. Industrial farmers are in the business of selling commodities, he explained, a business where the only viable competitive strategy is to be the least-cost producer… In a commodity business a producer must sell every more cheaply and grow ever bigger or be crushed by a competitor who does.

    Nation contrasted the industrial model with its polar opposite, what he calls “artisanal production,” where the competitive strategy is based on selling something special rather than being the least-cost producer of a commodity. Stressing that “productivity and profits are two entirely different concepts,” Nation suggests that even a small producer can be profitable so long as he’s selling an exceptional product and keeping his expenses down. Yet this artisanal model works only so long as it doesn’t attempt to imitate the industrial model in any respect. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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