Why people that think with Craft make the best hires.

When it comes to evaluating talent there is no end of opinions or philosophical points of view, particularly in the technology industry. Some have started conducting their interviews via text. Whether your company uses algorithmic problems, take-home projects, timed exercises, personality testing, or some combination of these, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for analyzing someone’s potential.

One rule of thumb, however, that I’ve found to be a powerful signal of technical talent is a candidate’s self-awareness of and dedication to their Craft. The best people in any industry on the planet—whether they’re building rockets or electric cars—are craftsmen.

Let me explain the importance of craftsmanship, and what thinking with Craft can bring to a business.

On why people that think with Craft are so valuable to a team
By “thinking with Craft” I don’t mean someone who is a hobby blacksmith, or likes to blow glass after work. I mean someone who’s deeply engaged by what they do, who is constantly seeking skills in order to learn about what they know from a new perspective, and who engages in radical experimentation. Really great developers will code for the sheer joy of it, or to solve a very specific problem that they have. Highly creative designers will tinker with prototypes, often destroying what they know will pass and starting again from scratch just to see what will come of it.

The insanely talented and highly creative have a well-developed muscle for generating ideas. Even that–idea generation–is something people across all disciplines in all sectors can do on a daily basis. 6Sigma uses the 5Whys, which barely gets airtime anymore. But just incorporating some discipline around thinking through alternatives can inspire new solutions, new projects–some of which turn into companies. A few turn into larger companies.

On how to evaluate craftsmanship
When ideas of craftsmanship and creativity are misunderstood, people focus those with hobbies or quirky side projects.  They look for the side hustle. Everything is on the side. And, that might indeed be an indicator of someone who thinks differently. However, sometimes it’s an indication that they can’t fully express their creativity through their day-work.

Many organizations are set up (consciously or unconsciously) to stimy creativity. When a certain pace for growth is seen to be achievable, and repeatable–creativity generally starts to fade. Research and development get isolated. Brainstorming is bracketed. Creativity is related to specific, time-bound activities so that the speed of business is not disrupted.

But true craftsmanship, you know it when you see it.

When someone is very, very good at what they do–they stand out., they challenge the status quo and elevate standards.

It’s not about the number of things they’ve accomplished. It’s about the level of ownership of and accountability to their Craft that are important. Think of the work you did when you were in flow. Think of the work you’re proud of.

By nature, people that think and work with Craft like to work independently on something before they partner. This is one of the reasons side projects are compelling at first. For Craftsmen, their independent work matters 10x more than what they did as part of a job or a team or group where they were instructed what to do.

On why skill development still matters
In the debate of skills v experience, it is chic now to value experience above all else. Right now I’ve found that to be mainly lip service, semantics, and a false choice.

Skills can represent experience, depending on how they are framed. A database analyst doesn’t necessarily need a ton of certifications; they need to know how to manage certain environments. That knowledge is skill.

Skills still matter, no matter what you hear. Skills are still present in every job description. They are listed in every performance review and development plan. Skills are what companies invest in more than anything else when it comes to development. That’s what funds the billion-dollar development industry.

Someone thinking with Craft is in constant pursuit of learning new skills if only to look back on their own certainty with fresh eyes. In fact, they are quite generous with their knowledge, willing to give what they know today because they know they will learn more tomorrow. They learn skills to advance their thinking, not to cross off a development goal.

Why investing in deep experiences is essential
Companies pay a lot of lip service stating they would rather hire for fit rather than skills. Tell that to the recruiter and the person that writes those templated, written for jobscan job descriptions. Most job descriptions haven’t evolved past the vapidity of ‘Must have ten years experience in this, five years experience in that, must know the latest software [name here]…’

A good candidate can pick up most skills on the job. A good engineer can learn a new language. A good designer can learn a new toolset. But how often are they really given the chance…when they are over forty? over fifty? changing careers? coming back from a career gap?

Years of experience really don’t matter that much, or they shouldn’t. By now, there should be a younger version of me out there who’s better than me at almost everything. That is proof society progresses. The learning tools have gotten better. Younger generations were raised with the internet, cell phones, portable media, and gadgets for nearly everything. With all that to support them, they should be smarter than me. Look at this kid. All I could do at that age was write a letter to my senator and try to be heard. They should have read more than me. They should be better at math than me. They should be able to build a business younger than me.

Kinds of experience are what should matter now. Regardless of age, how someone has fashioned their own learning, taking responsibility for their own development is what should matter most. Did they challenge themselves to learn something difficult? How did they go about that? How much risk did they take? How have their experiences contributed to their thinking and problem-solving skills? How have their experiences enhanced their creativity? How has what they’ve learned been revealed through their work and how they express themselves? How has their approach to learning given them insight on their uniqueness of perspective or greater proximity to the problems they want to solve?

On the importance of aligning incentives
People struggle in hierarchies because hierarchies bury talent. In hiearchies, people develop survival skills to be seen, like managing up through bosses and other sponsors versus really thinking about what is best for the business. It’s referred to as “increasing visibility.”

On the whole, it’s important to be working on incentives. After recruiting and retention, which in fast growth cultures, is almost the sole focus of a manager, their most important priority is incentive design. After the vision is laid, the strategic goals are chosen, and people are staffed to execute on those goals–then it’s time to design the incentives that will enable those goals.

Incentive goes beyond financials. People want flexibility with where they work. However, when a company isn’t hitting its target, they want everyone close together. While money and equity still matter, flexibility in when and how people work are additional ways to motivate.

People vary in their productivity. How do you keep and motivate those people who can run circles around everyone else? You can’t pay them 10x more. And, it’s hard to actually link their productivity to skill, luck, and teamwork. That’s what stock grants are for.

Stock grants should align with the contribution. One area where Silicon Valley–and more startups–miss the target is they provide a lot of equity based on when you joined. Inevitably people join in year five or six who have a fraction of the equity of their peers. And yes, their peers took some risk, so they should have some more equity, but it usually ends up extremely lopsided. That’s what makes it harder and harder to recruit and cultivate loyalty.

Employee number 500 needs to be taken care of as well as employee number 5 if 500 turns out to be super productive, and 5 is not.


Good Humaning: Orient toward 3 guiding causes

Photo by Pavan Trikutam

There are three causes that help us integrate lessons we are taught: a qualified teacher, an awakened mind, and supportive circumstances.

Sometimes, I think I only have one of those at a time. When I think of a “qualified teacher” I think of people I respect or who are years ahead of me in their skill. But teachers are in the people I actively ignore, who frustrate me, and annoy me, or hurt me too–and I always need reminding of that.

The inertia of life clouds my brain and I have to make a conscious effort to be present and awake to my circumstances, what I have to get done, and with whom I’m working.

Supportive circumstances, these I think I sometimes take for granted. I have a partner of a lifetime, a dog I would die for, and two cats that turn themselves into blankets for me. When I think of what I’m trying to accomplish in the world…that’s a different matter.

In reality, when I slow down enough to take stock, I have all three all the time.

Think about it for a second: When you think of putting teachings into practices, what is your lifeline?

Good Humaning: The external is an illusion.

Photo by Benjamin Bousquet

Don’t be swayed by anyone’s facade.

Sick or well, rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful – reverse the logic of trying to avoid suffering or risk to seek pleasure or safety.  If you wish success for yourself, wish it for others first.

It sounds counterintuitive and even unpleasant to take on sickness, poverty or lack of success–but the more you own the unwanted in yourself, you realize all the others who are in the same circumstances.

/This post-series is about trying to anchor my experience by exploring within and reminding myself about what it means to practice “good humaning.” It’s about moving forward imperfectly. To follow this thread in my posts, look for these tags: #NotesFromMyYogaJournal

10 Hallmarks for Thinking with Craft

OVERVIEW: This article was inspired by research I conducted with Mastercraftsmen & Women in 2016. As part of that effort, I wrote a series #LookToCraftsmen posts that provide context for tehThe book is set for publication in 2019.


Some tips to help free the mind and connect with your innate creativity.

Photo by Ricardo Viana

A few years ago, I spent time studying master craftsmen and women and how they get better at what they do. This work culminated in a book, Look To Craftsmen, pending publication. That effort kicked off a deep fascination I have human being’s penchant for creativity and it offers some advice for living a more inspired life, of living and working with Craft. Far from the often romanticized amber sunbeams cast across wood shavings and worn leather aprons, the process is often messy and riddled with contradictions. For example, I describe master ceramicist Louise Pentz’s method for evolving her work emphasizing constant editing–to the point where she actively deconstructs her work or practively damages it. Some might think her “focus on destroying refinement extreme or merely artistic license. However, she knows giving up an attachment to perfection she will reach new thresholds in her knowledge.” In this way, Craftsmanship is not a result; it is a process (of learning by doing). Craftsmanship is about standing apart from the mainstream, by standing out through unique, quality work. As Louise herself explains it, “You’re hoping for the mistakes, because…too much control and the outcome loses some of its essence. Our natural tendency is to be judgmental and controlling. This has two negative consequences: we are less happy and our work is mediocre.”

Of course, few of us consider ourselves creative in the way that craftsmen and artists are creative. But creativity is so much more than natural talent. It is a state of mind. Craftsmen and women have an attitude that they bring to every task. There is a general air of spontaneity. They question everything about the world and the way things work, breaking things and reconstructing them again. As a result, they are continually seeing their medium through new eyes, the eyes of a genuine learner, even though they have so much experience. Not only are they solving problems, but they are also finding new ones all the time. It’s a way of being.

Prescribed solutions do not work for the perplexing, complex problems we face today. In order to adapt, we need to build up our subjective intelligence systematically. Those of us who don’t have language for subjective qualities have to learn it. This often impacts us where it counts: following dreams or advancing professionally. If you are a person who consciously works at these capabilities, these tips might provide some insight on how to develop your creativity with deeper focus.

Along with creativity, the concept of failure is starting to become popular again, which is heartening. But few people have experience true failure enough to know what it is in order to court the kind of risk it requires. We are told to “fail fast” as if it were a small thing.  We know, inherently, that each one of us needs to have courage. We need to be willing to fail, learn from that, get up, and try again.

What’s most surprising to me about creativity and transformative learning isn’t, as most research suggests, that people haven’t realized how powerful it can be. We know, in theory, that learning, asking tough questions, curiosity and creativity are powerful leadership behaviors.

What’s most surprising are the subtle ways we resist these qualities. I don’t believe we need to learn the benefits of creativity, per say–we already know them. I believe we need to focus on learning to tame our resistance to allow creativity (and the failure that comes with it) to happen–that, is what sets Craftsmen apart.

Here are ten hallmarks to help you unlock your inner Craftsman and tap into your innate creativity:

1. Inspiration and creativity cannot be forced or approached directly.

Sometimes a deadline can help spur your creativity. Other times a specific task or job requires some level of imagination to complete. But generally speaking, focusing on the result doesn’t achieve the inspired performance we are seeking. You cannot achieve inspiration through sheer will. You don’t wake up and say to yourself, “today I will be creative.” And, the more you want it the less likely it is to appear. Creativity requires space. Craftsmen do not approach gaining expertise directly. There is no straight path, no “one thing” that will get them there—it’s everything they do, together.

2. Know when you are in the presence of bias. 

From elementary school to the workplace, we have a bias against individual expression and unique choice. Craftsmen feel stifled by environments where they need to conform to a standard. They are in the business of elevating standards, requiring them to question the status quo. The standardization of education and work really kills creativity. How can students and 9-to-5ers overcome rigid structures? By tapping their intuition. When you find something that ignites your curiosity and interest, find an outlet to express it.

3. Balance IQ with EQ.

Achieving craft in our decision making means learning to use judgment, imagination and improvisational discernment in our own work. Turning simple problems into craftsman’s problems means relaxing our grip on what we perceive to be objective data (there is none). We need to value subjective knowledge and better integrate our multiple intelligences toward creative solutions.

The stonemason sees a relationship between the way shadows play on one side of a rock and structures the rest of her vision around this emerging relationship; a CEO weighs market reactivity and customer pressure, then makes a far-reaching decision on shifting culture more aggressively toward more sustainable practices. As they work, neither the mason nor the CEO limits their judgment strictly to data or deductive reasoning.

4. Remain unfazed by failure and fame.

Failure and fame are two sides of the same coin and one that craftsman find of little value. No matter how devastating the failures might be, and no matter how awe-inspiring their successes, the measure of performance is not what matters to most craftsmen. Failure and fame are traps that true craftsmen work hard to avoid. Craftsmen rely mainly on their own evaluations. They compare what they produce to the ideals they pursue. They evaluate their effectiveness based on how closely they create what they intend. They judge what they produce by assessing the subjective quality of those qualities displayed.

5. Manage Feelings and Feel.

True craftsmen know the difference between emotional feelings and feel in their medium. They know that the feelings they have for their work—whether upsetting reactions or motivating passions—can distract their attention from the critical connection they have to their medium…their perception and recognition of certain qualities. To keep their perception and recognition abilities in the presence of failure, success, drama, difficulty, exhaustion, discouragement, challenge, derivation, hurt, fear, anxiety, grief, uncertainty, excitement, and the like, craftsmen cultivate the ability to discern feelings from feel. When feelings threaten to flood perception, the craftsman remains open, curious, empathetic, interested, fascinated, determined, brave, sensitive, intrigued, surprised, attentive and focused.

6. Go after process and outcomes, simultaneously.

Craftsmen develop their outcomes as they engage the process, at the same time. Sometimes this happens on a grand scale, as when Zingerman’s embarked on a 15-year vision. Sometimes this happens on a smaller scale, as when Sanna determines and adjusts felt for a particular piece she is working on, or Eric learns from a particular piece of joinery that isn’t working. What is common to all is what Donald Schön called, the ‘conversation with the situation.’ This conversation generates and then reshapes both ends and means as the situation changes in response to the craftsman, and the craftsman learns.

7. Be compelled by your subject. 

Craftsmen are fascinated by their medium, so much so, it’s a compulsion. They think about the idiosyncrasies of their medium all the time. This comes from total involvement in the work and full immersion in all the qualities and aspects of the medium. It’s a kind of love and affection. Despite adjectives of “total” and “full” this relationship or connection to the medium is a never-ending learning process. There is no point at which the craftsman feels he or she knows all there is to know. Experiences change from day to day—whether using clay or managing a business—and there are always qualities yet to be practiced. These may remain overlooked until subtle shifts of awareness bring them into focus. Once experienced, qualities can be interpreted and used to guide action. Achieving this unity, craftsmen acquire feel in their medium.

8. Embrace paradox

Craftsmen welcome the tension of paradox. They enjoy melding two seemingly contradictory ideas that lead to some new understanding of their medium. We accept a lot of false dichotomies in our lives, such as the imaginary line between work and play. Craftsmen are good at trusting their intuition but also being highly rational in their analysis of whether their work is complete, or good, or in need of development. Craftsmen are highly sensitive but are capable of staying true to their values even under significant pressure.

9. Remain Open. Hold knowledge lightly.

To push the boundaries of what they know, craftsmen demonstrate expertise in response to the qualities they recognize and, at the same time, generate original responses when the situation inspires. Craftsmen are committed to building skill, working effectively, and achieving control in their medium; and, they also maintain and openness, seek novelty, generate variation, and invite surprise. Balancing these competing forces is a temporary achievement that craftsmen know they must leave behind. In transient moments of balance or flow, craftsmen combine expertise and ingenuity to create ideas, products, performances, and outcomes that are both excellent and original.

10. Express beliefs, understanding, and awareness in action.

Using our imagination is one way we adapt. Being deliberate about how we approach problem-solving, and doing it in a way that helps us adapt and improve is a beautiful human quality. Subjective intelligence involves the crafting understanding of experience, as reflected in the grace of storytelling and elegance of using imaginative models to simplify the complexity of the problems we deal with.


All of these qualities suggest that Craftsmen think differently because they do something very distinct from everyone else: they create contemplative practices in their lives, or habits, that force them to think about their priorities, goals, and work with more depth than people using their job as a means to an end. That depth pays huge dividends when it comes to quality of work and gratification in one’s work.


Christine Haskell, PhD is a researcher, writer, and leadership consultant specializing in personal and professional mastery. She emphasizes deep self-awareness and reflection with practices that stick, so people can take responsibility for their own development. By taking charge of their own learning busy leaders become more intentional about developing their own path for the future.

What makes you uniquely creative?

Photo by Vova Ustymenko

This question stumps most of my clients. It’s not a trick question. It’s just that most people overthink it.

They go right to skills and no-how. They start comparing themselves to others to find differences that make them stand out (to themselves).

The answer is both obvious and subtle.

Your life experiences and the coping mechanisms you acquired along the way make you uniquely creative. How you process and make sense of your own life attracts you to certain problems that you are uniquely qualified to solve. That is why one person’s path to success arc cannot be the same for another.

The problem is that our unique abilities get edited out of our lives at such a young age. All through school and later in our jobs we are told to get with the program, fit in, get on the bus. When really, it is our unique perspective on the world that will help solve the world’s greatest problems.

Each of our journeys is unique because one person’s tactical steps cannot be the same for everyone. The choices we’ve made in our lives have a deep context.

When we start out in life we are issued backpacks, of sorts. Our packs filled with very different things. Some of the contents are advantageous. Others are quite heavy and detrimental. The ratio of those items varies for each of us.

But that pack doesn’t need to stay the way you got it. As you make progress or suffer setbacks in your life, you can toss some of those items and rearrange the contents. And, you get to accept the cups of water, energy bars, and free advice from the people you come across all along your route.

I challenge you to be both a well-prepared hiker and enthusiastic support to others along the way.

Good Humaning: Failure v Fame

Photo by Ivars Krutainis 

Whichever way you’re tipping, the goal is to stay neutral.

Whatever is happening in my life, the joyful or the painful, I can’t get swept up in the reactivity of either. High highs are fun but it takes time to settle back in again. Low lows are never fun and take a lot of energy to regain equilibrium.

Craftsmen understand this emotional pendulum well as they show up to their Craft, day in and day out. They know the thrills of solving a challenge and learning something new about a medium they’ve dedicated their lives to deepening. They know all too well the depths of frustration when problems remain unresolved and new, unpredictable constraints present themselves.

When this happens to me, I have to remember patience. I have to practice compassion. I have to regain perspective.

/This post-series is about trying to anchor my experience by exploring within and reminding myself about what it means to practice “good humaning.” It’s about moving forward imperfectly. To follow this thread in my posts, look for these tags: #NotesFromMyYogaJournal

Good Humaning: Be singular in your intention.

“My Life Through A Lens”@bamagal

Craftsmen work with a singular intention. Everything they do directly or indirectly benefit others. We benefit by the beauty they create and the standards they elevate.

If I take the attitude of wanting my work to benefit others I increase my community and kinship with the people around me.


/This post-series is about trying to anchor my experience by exploring within and reminding myself about what it means to practice “good humaning.” It’s about moving forward imperfectly. To follow this thread in my posts, look for these tags: #NotesFromMyYogaJournal