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Sending Astronauts to Explore the New Economy

Often a TI wanting to take an idea or an existing project and make it into an enterprise, doesn’t get started because it is totally dependent upon what I call 'unreasonable levels of commitment'. What I mean by this is commitment levels from one or more individuals that will likely be to the detriment of their work, leisure and sometimes even family life. Commitment that is likely familiar to many readers and that we can handle for a while but is unsustainable in the long run and we typically fall back into the rut of burn out and maybe getting a proper job. I’ve been through this kind of pendulum swing several times before. Swinging from proper job to passion job. You could even say that I’m getting quite good at it, if there is such a thing.

Shane and LilySo here’s the rub, our individual and our collective TI dreams aren’t mutually exclusive, in fact they’re intertangled (I think I made that word up!). Perhaps, you’d like to grow stuff for a living and your TI wants to buy stuff that is grown locally by people they know.

So here I am standing on this bloody fork in the road, again!! As I stand here, it’s easy to imagine that lots of journeys, that could collectively transform our communities, just don't get started despite a wealth of great entrepreneurial ideas coming out of TI’s. There’s a prevailing reason why so many projects don’t get started and that is the lack of that person or those few people that are willing to take on that level of commitment. If you’re involved in Transition I’m sure you’ve seen it.

Personally, on one side I’m getting older, I’ve dug myself a little deeper into the rat race rut and it’s harder to think about following my heart and ideas for short-term happiness followed by burn out. But on the other side before, when I engaged in my no cash passion jobs, I didn’t have access to that one resource, that in times of economic uncertainty is a better investment than gold, i.e. my community and my local TI. My TI just didn’t exist last time I volunteered my life away, or more accurately I was volunteering to set up the TI at the time.

Anyway, getting to what I hope is the point. I’ve been working with the Transition Network’s REconomy project for about a year now. The project is exciting and awash with innovators and I feel like it’s dealing with one of the Transition Network’s own precipices as it is tasked with trying to support TI’s bring into being the new local economy that they want. So, if anyone is supposed to have a solution to this kind entrepreneurial blockage that I’m trying to describe, apparently, given our DIY culture, it should be me. With this in mind I started thinking about the idea of:

"Sending astronauts to explore the new economy"

astronaut in the new economyWhen we send astronauts into space we, the community, invest our hopes and resources in their adventure in the unknown of what that journey may bring back to us and how it might enrich our lives. I argue that we should start to see individuals that are willing to take on unreasonable levels of commitment to build our new economy in a similar frame. Conversely, we the community shouldn’t just passively wait for committed pioneers to appear, let's identify the right people and give them what could be called 'unreasonable levels of support' towards aim that fits both their individual and the TI’s goals.

 I get that this sounds like an elaborate rouse, a cynical under hand way of getting personal support for something that I want to do. I’m fine with that. But I want to use this space to introduce the nitty gritty of how this kind of support might be structured and you likely have your own ideas to add. At this point it might be useful for you not to think of me and my plight but to think of a real project and a real member of your community.

It works like this; when a TI or community group decides it wants to set up a CSA or community brewery etc they should first get a basic and practical outline of their project. Then immediately set up a sub project (interdependent) that is explicit in its goals of identifying the astronaut, the right individual or individuals for the job, and to give these individual what could be called 'unreasonable levels of support'.

REconomy can put together suggested process for this vocational sub project and list the types of support available and needed to be given to the individual and also lay out a kind of quid pro quo structure where our pioneer astronaut once employed in the new economy dedicates some time and resources to experimenting and reporting back to the community and most importantly searching out opportunities where by the new economy could sustain further employees with a view to growing an employment strong hold in the economy.   

In return the astronaut has to do a lot of the initial practical work of seeding the project idea and bringing it to fruition, they have to throw in loads of commitment, some of which might not be reasonable but they do it in the knowledge that rather than burn out they could be employed by the project going forward. In practice no one project of "Sending astronauts to explore the new economy" will be the same as the next but this is a starter.

Changing tact slightly here’s a quote that landed on my Facebook feed a week or two ago and might inspire people over the precipice:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." W.H. Murray (though oft attributed to Goethe)

 Whether you take the leap or not, my fellow travellers, we’re all embarked on this collective rollercoaster….. buckle up and enjoy the ride.

As I end I want to be clear that this article isn’t about you or me, the person standing on the precipice wanting to take the leap, it’s about the supporters, the enablers, the wider community. Perhaps we need a fancy name for the supporters too? Why does only the astronaut get the great name when it’s truly the rest of the group that make the space odyssey possible?

This video is a classic and is a fun way of illustrating the importance of the supporters and act of supporting early risk takers and pioneers:

Widening the astronaut analogy if we envisioned the whole economic transition as a space odyssey, I wonder how this would inform our strategies? I'd love the REconomy project to really deepen into these analogies of exploration, adventure and pioneering. 

Shane Hughes (Transition Bedford) is a member of the REconomy project team currently focusing on web and social media. He also runs his own consultancy Carbon Accounting System and is an insistent dreamer and social entrepreneur.

The REconomy website is in beta and will be launched in April but you can join REconomy on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/REconomy-a-Transition-Network-project/154533571322356

And on twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/REconomyProject

Photo credits: Shane Hughes and daughter (Lily) by the author; Astronaut,Victor Habbick

Comments

Jo Homan's picture

unreasonable levels of support

Great piece Shane, I hadn't thought about this before.

Enjoyed the TED talk - the second I've seen today. Check out this other one (but back focussed on the leaders) http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html which argues that people buy into the 'why' rather than the 'what' of an idea. It also says that the tipping point for something to be successful is 16%, made up of innovators and early adopters.

I also found this New Scientist interview interesting.  There's something here about Scott and Amundsen's different styles of leadership that is key: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128320.200-scotts-biographer-bri...

Charlotte Du Cann's picture

commitment

Ace post Shane. You have hit the spot with the level of commitment required for Transition projects to really prosper, especially as social enterprises.

However what kind of support does an "astronaut" need here? Won't encourgaging these hero-type/leader figures who take way too much responsibility work against the fostering of co-operative crews?

Best wishes, Charlotte

P.S. Jo have you read Artic Dreams by Barry Lopez? Really interesting stuff about polar explorers and knowledge of territory.

 

Shane Hughes's picture

Commitment or leadership?

Thanks, that’s really interesting both comments are around leadership. mmmmm  I hadn’t considered the ‘entrepreneurial blockage’ that I was describing to be a question of leadership but talk of pioneers is synonymous with leadership so it’s great you’ve made me clarify this. Clearly in group projects the leadership dynamic has to be addressed and Nick put together some great and relevant REconomy resources that can be part of any given T. enterprise start up pack.  

I’d like to suggest that leadership will have a huge bearing on the overall success and management of the project but commitment is the key barrier to starting soooooooo many community projects.

Even if we have collective agreement that we want to deliver a project the only ones that go forward (in my opinion) are those that have someone willing to take it on as their baby. Even if it’s not explicit at the beginning, someone always ends up carrying the project or it flounders. I’m saying lets be explicit about the need for ‘unreasonable levels of commitment’ and how the lack of it is stopping us from getting projects off the ground. Growing acceptance of this problem will hopefully enable increased solutions.  

Charlotte, you ask what types of support can be given.  TI support to astronaut would probably be loosely described as financial, educational, structural and personal, etc. REconomy support to TI group would largely be sign posting all the stuff that’s out there (perhaps developing new resources).  There’s a key second element, which is an incentive as much as it is support, and that’s the promise of employment for the committed, in the new economy. First few years of transition has been about setting up ‘projects’ but now we’re shifting to setting up ‘enterprises’ so it’s now we’re starting to have this incentive available. There’s a third part to the process, which is once the astronaut is established they work to bring additional astronauts over and together build a strong hold. REconomy's job would be to frame this whole process.

Perhaps we’re seeing a shift…. given that more and more projects/enterprise will be community projects, we have a new commitment dynamic. Traditional profit making enterprises solved the commitment incentive quite inherently through profits to the committed. But that’s no longer clear cut for our committed pioneers, they clearly have personal gain but we all gain from community projects.

Shane Hughes's picture

just to add that i have

just to add that i have nothing against leadership but rather than 'work against the fostering of co-operative crews?' i'd like to suggest that even in non-hierachial entities we're still reliant on people willing to 'carry the baby' and seem to always end up with a leadership attributed through action ... but if we're structured as groups as suggested above we get more collective choice about what enterprises to set up, if we want/need a commited anstronaut and indeed who's the person for the job. i'd say there's potential to shift power back to the group and reduce dependance on committed leaders. 

Jo Homan's picture

leadership

I think the whole balance between a co-operative group and 'strong' leadership a huge issue. People join in with projects for lots of different reasons - often not for the joy of being in meetings! I think it's often true that, as Shane says, there's one person who treats it as their baby - probably the project instigator. The plant nursery is my 'baby', but I have strong support from two other people; we have a shared vision but I do most of the project management stuff. My goal is to make sure it happens and I'm all ears when it comes to the 'how'. Don't know if I'd call their support 'unreasonable' and I don't think they see themselves as followers. They're co-creators with less time. Lots of what we do is experimental. Then there's another ring of people who are regular attendees with specific interests that overlap with ours (carpentry, cooking, community building, socialising, rainwater harvesting). They help the project expand and become even more interesting. Then there's a further circle of people who will never join in with a meeting but really want to transport compost and DO things. Without these guys, our plants would die of thirst. Certain issues trigger off much more controversy and interest than others - e.g. how much rent we should be paying our landlord. I guess where it can cause a problem is if we are pretending that everyone is actively involved in (and interested in) each decision. Fortunately everyone enjoys the shared lunch. I don't yet have a clear idea of what 'unreasonable levels of support' would feel, but what an excellent conversation to have.

Shane Hughes's picture

Jo, you explain it well and i

Jo, you explain it well and i feel you know it well too. i always had it down as three concentric circles of commitment... ham, egg and chips. The pig is totally commited to the dish, no turning back, the chicken gives a major commitment but nothing on the level of the pig and well i'm not quite sure how to make an analogy out of the chips but i hope you get what i mean. However, in your description there's probably a four tiers of commitment an additional one between the chicken and the ham.

I too am not sure what unreasonable levels of support would entail at this point it's more of a vague idea but think with a bit of time (and commitment) i could start to articulate it and pull together the resource.  

Jo Homan's picture

!

as a vegan (and as a living human) I am troubled by your analogy for commitment and sacrifice! Who then, is the bstrd who killed me and is about to eat me?! Who's to say that the chicken's exploited existence (which some would describe as a drawn out death) shows any less 'commitment' than the pig's? What about using an analogy like a swimming pool? Or a dance floor.

Shane Hughes's picture

it's a crude analogy to

it's a crude analogy to be taken with a pinch of salt and a squirt of ketchup, not literally, dare i say it, supposed to be fun.... from a long term vegan but now veggy.

think i should steer clear of anolgies... pioneers and pigs aren't working out for me - about as clear as trains and eye opening as golf balls :)

 

Shane Hughes's picture

ok, scrap the salt but the

ok, scrap the salt but the ketchup's in, it's homemade.

Jo Homan's picture

:-)

what about having an analogy contrasting the different levels of commitment involved in cooking each dish? Sauce (high level) pasta (some effort) and ... no it's not working. As for the golf balls and trains, I am confused. It could be the organic vodka infused with fennel syrup I am feeling particularly committed to right now.

Shane Hughes's picture

Mmmm sound's very nice....

Mmmm sound's very nice.... Feeling ever so slightly jealous...

Shane Hughes's picture

CSA....... Community Supported Astronauts

CSA....... Community Supported Astronauts, perhaps we don't need to reinvent the wheel with the support structure that we provide our astronauts

 

Martin Grimshaw's picture

Just wanted to express my

Just wanted to express my gratitude. This piece and the following comments really resonated for me. Not much more to add at present, but I agree that the kind of support that Shane suggests for Community Supported Astronauts matches the kind of help I reckon we need to invest in Transition Entrepreneurs. And that kind of support could do with being designed in to any, especially more established, Transiiton initiatives.

Thanks and good luck!

Charlotte Du Cann's picture

thank you

Thanks for the clarification Shane. I think the hardest thing is finding ways for Transitioners to be paid for work most people think should be voluntary, or in the case of communications, work which is rarely recognised or given any value. One of the greatest gifts Transition can give is to value the labour and skills others do and have, by engaging in the work oneself. One night's working in our Bungay Community Kitchen soon brings that home!

The problem I have encountered is devolving and sharing responsibility if you have created/led a project. I always want to work within a creative, co-operative structure, but there is often great resistance to sharing the helm, even when everyone is really capable. Somewhere we fear taking the helm = taking the flack, whereas in a co-operative structure, everyone pulls together. No one is to blame. We are all working this out as a crew, taking turns to navigate the unknown ocean ahead of us.

All the best for your enterprise,

Charlotte

lisamcloughlin's picture

Finding the Sweet Spot

Hi Shane,

Have you read 'Finding the Sweet Spot' by Dave Pollard? If not, perhaps you may find some answers within the pages...

Once your gift, passion and purpose is clarified as a natural enterprise idea, you then set about finding the right partners with complimentary skills and not too much skills overlap. It explains the power of people and the importance of responsibility, collaboration, relationships and community, and how we should behave as a natural enterprise :) I apologise if this book has already been discussed somewhere, but I am new to your blogs...

Dave Pollard lives in Canada and writes a blog; he seems approachable when you ask him questions :)

jdaviescoates's picture

BizzFizz, Multistakeholder Co-ops and Community Shares

Interesting thread.

A few things I'd like to share:

1. BizzFizz is a sucessful model of providing support to new local entreprenuers:
http://www.bizfizz.org.uk/about/how-it-works

2. Multistakeholder Co-operatives societies are a great way of sharing responsibility, decision making power and rewards. In short you can e.g. define customers/ supporters, workers, investors and stakeholder groups and allocate different %s of voting power and share of any profit to each group.

See http://somerset.coop/somersetrules for my favourite set of rules (although they got an even better new version going through the FSA approvement process at present)

See also:
http://files.uniteddiversity.com/Money_and_Economics/Cooperatives/Multi-...

3. Community Share issues (of withdrawable, non-transferable share capital) are a great way to raise funds for societies. Asking the general public to invest and buy real shares (without shed loads of regulation) in this way is something that only (cooperative and community benefoit) societies are able to do (although crowdfunding site http://crowdcube.com now enables something very similar for other legal structures).

There is loads of great info about how to go about doing a share issue here:
http://communityshares.uk.coop

I particularly recommend the following docs:
http://www.communityshares.uk.coop/sites/default/files/practitioners_gui...
http://www.communityshares.uk.coop/sites/default/files/practitioners_gui...
http://www.communityshares.uk.coop/sites/default/files/investing_in_comm...
http://www.communityshares.org.uk/sites/default/files/wca_community_inve...

I'm hoping to launch http://communityshares.coop later this year to make the whole thing a lot easier (and, hopefully, to massively scale community investment in community infrastructure)

4. Crowdfunding sites are also a great way to raise funds in the form of donations. US-based Kickstarter is the one most people have heard of, but for TIs in the UK the most relevant are probably the following:

http://peoplefund.it/
https://buzzbnk.org/
http://spacehive.com/
http://www.soloco.co.uk/

5. If anyone really wants to be a astronaut, check this out!
http://www.shareable.net/blog/to-the-stars-a-diy-open-source-manned-spac...

Finally, anyone here feel like financially supporting me? You can do so here:
http://uniteddiversity.com/support-our-work/

Smiles,

Josef.

lisamcloughlin's picture

a suggestion

How about REconomy setting up a structured webpage (you may already be?) inviting prospective Transition Entrepreneurs to register their interest with starting a Transition enterprise, but also noting their key strengths, skills and natural abilities... Then the entrepreneurs could be matched up with each other into working groups of at least 2 people (more the better) that covers all the key core skills (I'm banging on about the 'sweet stuff' book again, sorry) needed to make a successful enterprise within their community (within a certain radius). One of the biggest problems with setting up enterprises is when the key people involved have overlapping skills and gaps in other key skills. It can lead to conflict and burn-out.

My permaculture head is on with this suggestion, as it will help prevent burn-out as most skills are covered by a few commited people (reduce energy use); and extra helpers (who are not able to input regularly and consistently) can pitch in with things as needed. An example would be to get volunteers to start mini focus groups in their community to match up community needs with the Transition agenda of building local resilience and then feeding back to the entrepreneurs etc. The REconomy team could pitch in with support too. Combining strengths with a defined purpose should make for a more robust and sustainable business (yield) and certainly one I would love to work for in the future.

Shane Hughes's picture

Good For Nothing

Just a comment to say that the amazing Good For Nothing events would fit great with the idea of unreasonable levels of support http://www.goodfornothing.co/2012/03/31/weve-been-backed-by-nesta-innova...

Thanks Jo for reminding me of these guys in your REconomy web feedback...