Proposal Development as Soulcraft

To keep stimulated and sharp, proposal professionals should always be reading articles and books on proposal development, especially those that touch on the subject in new and important ways.

One book I strongly recommend is Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft:  An Inquiry into the Value of Work (New York:  Penguin, 2009).  Crawford brings an unusual perspective to the world of work because he has a doctorate in philosophy from theUniversity ofChicago and runs an independent motorcycle repair shop inRichmond,Virginia.  Although I am no motorcycle enthusiast and associate these vehicles with organ donation, I found his combination of philosophy and mechanics thoughtful and directly related to proposal development. 

According to Crawford, “the disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhabit.”  For Crawford, the decline of industrial arts education is a sign that we are becoming more passive and dependent on the things around us.  Crawford thinks shop classes and motorcycle repair are important because they teach an ethic of maintenance and repair while promoting the use and reuse of practical, useful objects.

Crawford finds that too many of today’s white collar jobs separate thinking from doing and therefore degrade work.  As work becomes more abstract and fragmented, its meaning becomes devalued. 

When cognitive knowledge and decision-making become located in a separate management class, work requires less deliberation and judgment and it becomes deskilled.  Crawford believes that electricians, plumbers, and motorcycle repair people may perform more satisfying and useful functions than well-educated professionals who sit in cubicles all day and stare at a computer screen (like I am doing right now).

Crawford concludes his book by pointing out that “real knowledge arises through confrontations with real things.”  Meaningful work engages people with a community around them while it promotes freedom, responsibility, humility, and the patience that comes with doing something difficult and intrinsically rewarding that is concrete and real.

As I was reading Shop Class as Soulcraft, I could not help but think about my own profession.  Perhaps we should see proposal development as a craft akin to motorcycle repair.  It involves something concrete and very useful – the development of a proposal.  It involves challenges and complexity.  It involves individual agency – no matter what our position, we must constantly exercise our intelligence and skills to produce a competitive proposal.  And we must work within a larger community of proposal professionals and business people to succeed.

Perhaps Crawford is right.  Perhaps too much white collar work has become vague, meaningless, fragmented, and of limited use, both to workers and to the larger society.  If that is the case, we should strive to create the kind of environment in proposal development that are the opposite of what he describes.

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a very readable, thoughtful book.  I think that any proposal professional will enjoy it and better understand what constitutes meaningful work.

 

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