Embodied skill...

When Denis Diderot wrote his Encyclopedie in 1751 he not only looked towards the academie but also (and controversially, for the time) researched the most talented craftsmen he could find in Paris and beyond - I get the impression it might have been a kind of vast 'knowledge management' project.

Yet Diderot soon ran into difficulty; much of the knowledge craftsmen possess is tacit. They know how to do something but that 'something' doesn't translate into words.

I was shooting away with some printers recently and became fascinated when one of the guys stepped away from the vast computerised presses and began to work with a piece of machinery that could have been built when Diderot was a lad. He said it was one of the first machines he had worked on, nearly 30 years previously, and I reckon that that tacit skill had been gently building inside him ever since.

I get mesmerised by talent like that; these guys have an understanding of their work and their machines that is way beyond the intellectual realm that most of us live in when we show up at the office.  

And this sort of work can be a difficult proving ground.  In 'The Craftsmen', Richard Sennett makes the point that 'learning by doing' raises questions of our talent to act.

We may learn little - simply because we are no good at actually doing the work...