The Vulcan Forge


Feb 5, 2017

Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) : “Sing, clear-voiced Mousa (Muse), of Hephaistos (Hephaestus) famed for inventions (klytometis). With bright-eyed Athene he taught men glorious crafts throughout the world,–men who before used to dwell caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But now that they have learned crafts through Hephaistos the famed worker (klytotekhnes), easily they live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year round. Be gracious, Hephaistos, and grant me success and prosperity!”

myfastestmile is dedicated to a more humane and bespoke way of helping others to be their best. One of our defining principles is that betterment is achieved through patience and a willingness to developing craftsmanship, rather than short cuts, interventions and quick fixes.

Our lives are fragmented and we have no time. Everybody is looking for shortcuts or the latest hack. Love life? Tinder. Master a skill? Do it in 20 hours. Take Yeovil Town to the Champions League on Football Manager? Use the editor. Read a book? Blinkist. Write a Christmas card? Send a WhatsApp message. This mentality is seeping into every aspect of our lives, including teaching and coaching. Learn to teach on the job in nine months then move to Senior Leadership in three years. Immediately become a high performance coach straight after a career in professional sport. Teaching and coaching are fundamentally about helping making other people better. Learning to do this can’t be done via shortcuts. It requires a willingness to be patient, to take your time and have a deep desire to develop your craft.

Once craftsmanship used to be lauded, but perhaps no longer? Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin in their book, The Neo-Generalist, remind us that the journey to being a master craftsman from apprentice has a deep heritage. In Medieval times, professions had a guild to ensure that all who aspired to that profession were properly trained, passing through the three stages and experiencing the roles of apprentice, journeyman and master. We all want to be a master in our chosen craft, but no one wants to go on the journey to get there. “Journeymen were both students and teachers. They learned by doing and showing, challenging mental models through their actions. The journey was to be undertaken for the expansion of knowledge, cultural awareness and experience…” I agree with them both that there is much modern society can relearn from the concept of the journeyman.


We are in thrall with the new and the quick fix. Even in love we desire the immediate passion of ‘true love’ that never fades. The flashy and sudden thrills of an affair, rather than the predictable warm glow of a steady relationship. Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis describes two loves; passionate and companionate. Passionate love is the love you fall into. It is fire in the heart, but like all fires it will eventually cool. If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, then for companionate love it would be vines. Vines that grow together, supporting each and eventually becoming one. It is the affection we feel for those with who our love is deeply intertwined. This metaphor can also be used for the journey to craftsmanship and the deep intertwined relationship the professional has with their craft.

Developing craftsmanship relies on a continuing deliberate involvement. It takes many years of practice and reflection for the complex skills needed for teaching or coaching to become so deeply engrained that they are there, readily available, tacitly and self assured. The master craftsman is driven by curiosity, investigating slowly, and always prepared to learn from ambiguity. However has the journey that is needed for craftsmanship to emerge been eroded by the introduction of performance management targets and key performance indicators? Do these metrics mean that there is no place for the craftsman’s subtle “interplay between tacit knowledge and self-conscious awareness” in the relentless and ruthless Fordism of the current teaching and coaching profession? Richard Sennett is his excellent book, The Craftsman, makes the case that such quantitative driven environments result in the “lost spaces of freedom“. These spaces in which we can make the journey to craftsmanship, experimenting with ideas and techniques. Risking mistakes in the process and losing ourselves in our practice only to eventually find a better version of ourselves to help others.

Ron Berger in the Ethic of Excellence says we can pay no higher compliment than describing someone as a craftsman. ‘Someone who has integrity and knowledge, who is dedicated to their work and who is proud of what they do and who they are. Someone who thinks carefully and does things well.’ Homer in a hymn to Hephaestus, the Greek god of craftsmen, celebrated craftsmanship and its power to promote the common good. Craftsmanship and community are inseparable. There is a reciprocity between craftmanship and community. The community is enhanced when there is a greater level of craftmanship within a certain domain, such as teaching or coaching. Therefore as a community we should be both demanding and valuing the individual pursuit of craftsmanship in the classroom and on the sports fields. Surely we want more of those who embrace the journey and the long road to nurture and understand their craft, not those who seek a destination or reward soley through shortcuts.

This blog was previously published on drowningintheshallow