A skill or craft, requiring a lifetime’s learning, and whose tight feedback loops reveal errors quickly.

This is in sharp contrast to activities which are in various ways protected against feedback (e.g., politics, economics). Without quick feedback, actions which will in due course lead to disaster can be assumed (on the ignorance-is-bliss principle) to be successful, and firmly embedded and reinforced in irrational assumptions, appetites, reflexes and emotions which the person assumes to be right.P76

The built-in feedback of practice does things. First, it nudges in the direction of the incremental improvement, or evolution, of the skill. Secondly, as suggested by Alasdair MacIntyre, it requires a person also to develop the skills of truthfulness (because the craft will not allow you to bluff your way through), justice in dealing with associates (because there is usually little point in evaluating the work of other craftsmen—masters, learners, equals—unfairly), and courage (in that to achieve excellence it will from time to time be necessary to make sacrifices and take risks).P77 By building a distinctive skill, the person not only learns and practises the essentials of citizenship but commits himself to taking pains—with consequences described by John Keats:

Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and trouble is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul?P78

Practice builds skills. Skills build citizenship. The significance of practice has been discussed by other philosophers such as Michael Oakeshott, and by Aristotle, whose concept of “practical wisdom” (prudence), contains the same concrete grounding: you look at the situation, you respond to it, you observe what you have done, you evaluate it and revise it accordingly. The contrast between this practical wisdom (phronesis) and an appeal to universal and general theory (episteme) is the essence of the contrast between the diversity of place and the ideological principles of the managerial state, between Aristotle and Plato, between the fox (that knows many things) and the hedgehog (that knows one big thing), between a society that can respond under pressure, and one that breaks. Aristotle was a lean thinker.P79


Related entries:

Profession, Manual Skills, Middle Voice, Social Capital, Lean Education.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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