A nation of shopkeepers

Today, I opened the Smithery Shop to the general public.

Which is quite exciting.


The first thing in there is the limited edition Artefact bundle (2 boxes of cards, pens, instruction booklet, badge, sticker).

Artefact cards, as you’ll no doubt know if you read this blog regularly, are a card-based thinking system, to improve how you craft you own ideas, how you work with others, and how you share stories and structures.

They’re born of my massive dislike of post-it notes (transitory, disposable flimsy nonsense that no idea worth its salt would be seen dead on) and frustration with the ‘stickiness’ of digital working (it’s much harder to live inside ideas, move elements around, create new connections and so on).

Artefact Cards help you craft ideas that have a greater permanence, and find their own perfect shape a lot more readily.  “Like playing with ideas on an air hockey table” as James Box from Clearleft said.




It’s brilliant to move out of the concept testing stage of the project and into a real thing.

Of course, there are still many things I want to do with Artefact as an idea (quarterly subscriptions, different patterns & devices on cards, bulk orders for partnering companies etc etc), but this really the first stage to fuel those next ones, a proof-of-concept to myself that this really is a useful thing that other people buy into, and get a lot of value from.

To get here, it’s been through the hands of lots of people already.  I’d like to thank them all publically, actually, because all of their feedback and assistance has really helped shape this next iteration.

Thank you, you clever, generous people:

Tom Abba, Toby Barnes, Ben Bashford, David Bausola, James Box, Kevin Brown, Rachel Coldicott, William Corke, Russell Davies, Graeme Douglas, Mark Earls, Mark Elwood, Stefan Erschwender, Mel Exon, Chloe Gottlieb, Robin Grant, Tim Hamill, Anthony Harris, Henry Hicks, Kala Horvitz, Adam Hoyle, Mo Husseini, Clare Hutchinson, Curtis James, Gareth Kay, Deb Khan, Matthew Knight, Peter J Law, Matt Locke, Ben Maxwell, Matt J McDonald, Matthew McGuinness, Tim Milne,  Johnnie Moore, Anthony Nelson, Neil Perkin, Cara Poirier, Damian Proctor, Anjali Ramachandran, Ben Richards, Ian Sanders, Matthew Scott, Philip Shepherd, Matt Sheret, Dan Shute, Sarah Sutton, Ben Terrett, Clare Townhill, David Wilding, Faris Yakob


What’s also been really apparent over the last week or so in making the shop (using the excellent Shopify) is how easy it is to be a shopkeeper nowadays.

Which should suit our national psyche, surely?  After all, wasn’t it Napolean who called us ‘a nation of shopkeepers’..?

Well, it turns out no.  It’s from Smith’s Wealth of Nations, originally (back to Adam Smith again, eh?) –

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers.  It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”

In short, the empire existed to great a big enough customer base.  Britain is just a small island, so finding lots more people elsewhere means that the products we create can find a bigger audience across the globe.

We don’t need an empire nowadays.  The internet provides a global customer base.  Maybe the ‘shopkeeping’ thing was only a means to an end.  I think we’re more of a nation of tweakers and tinkerers that Gladwell referred to in his review of the Steve Jobs bio.  We only needed the shop front to sell the ideas.  Britain had to build an internet of customers by using wooden ships and vast armies, rather than superfast broadband and next-day delivery.

Anyway, I digress slightly.  The empire can wait for another day.

Pop on over to the Smithery Shop and have a look.  And please, if you feel inclined, share it with the world.