Rou­tin­i­sa­tion is usu­ally seen as deskilling, as alien­at­ing, as the oppo­site of cre­ativ­ity (Braver­man, 1998; Lei­d­ner, 1993). Aus­trin and West (2005) sug­gest that the rou­tin­i­sa­tion of how casino staff manip­u­late cards acts as mech­a­nism for sur­veil­lance. Stan­dar­d­is­ing and con­trol­ling how staff hold their thumb and fin­gers lim­its the chances for them to cheat.

Rou­tines are sup­posed to feel demean­ing, to destroy our imag­i­na­tions. I like rou­tine, per­haps because what­ever rou­tines I have are not imposed by any­one else. In Ways of the Hand David Sud­now (1993) reflects on learn­ing to play jazz piano. The rou­tine of prac­tice gives him a base­line from which being cre­ative becomes pos­si­ble. His fin­gers learn where they need to be to make cer­tain chord shapes, and that means they know where they need to go next to make cer­tain sounds. Unpre­dictabil­ity — new sounds — relies on this know­ing. It’s a process that becomes un-thought, and once it is un-thought, Sud­now says cre­ativ­ity is possible.

Nick Dunn is a free­lance shoe designer.He draws shoe after shoe after shoe, tiny vari­a­tions, maybe 50 at a time.Then he takes a few of the best and refines them. It’s some­one else’s job to build a pro­to­type, to make them real. There is joy in see­ing the pro­to­type, sure, espe­cially as the trainer moves from the page into three-dimensionality, and Nick is fully engaged in the con­ver­sa­tions that make this hap­pen. But the biggest plea­sure of his work is in the rou­tine, the rep­e­ti­tion and the refine­ment of the sketches. Nick describes draw­ing as ther­a­peu­tic, occu­py­ing a calm space beyond thought. Cre­ativ­ity needs the rou­tine; cre­ativ­ity is in the rou­tine; the rou­tine per­mits flow.

In the sketches, this flow is present in the pen­cil lines that out­line the shape of the trainer, and that mark the details. I didn’t expect from Nick’s descrip­tion that each idea comes in three sketches, show­ing the left side, back and top. Whilst he draws on flat, seem­ingly translu­cent, paper, the three dimen­sional trainer that ends up on your foot is already in his imag­i­na­tion. It’s not that rou­tines end up with cre­ativ­ity; to say that would be to viciously mis­rep­re­sent the expe­ri­ence of con­trolled, rou­tinised work such as that por­trayed in Pravda. It’s that cre­ativ­ity is not well-conceived when it’s seen as a prod­uct of free-floating inspi­ra­tion pro­duced by a roman­ti­cally starv­ing artist. It stems from prac­tice, skill and routine.

Ref­er­ences

1. Aus­trin, T and West, J (2005) ‘Skills and sur­veil­lance in casino gam­ing: work, con­sump­tion and reg­u­la­tion’. Work Employ­ment and Soci­ety. 19 (2) 305–326.
2. Braver­man, Harry. (1998) Labor and monop­oly cap­i­tal: the degra­da­tion of work in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. New York : Monthly Review Press.
3. Lei­d­ner, R. (1993) Fast Food, Fast Talk: Ser­vice Work and the Rou­tiniza­tion of Every­day Life. Berke­ley, Los Ange­les, Lon­don: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press.
4. Sud­now, D. (1993) Ways of the hand: the orga­ni­za­tion of impro­vised con­duct. Cam­bridge, Mass.: MIT Press.