The audacity of starting something new
I’m currently involved in the coolest and most important new venture in the Transition universe, the Transition Free Press. The TFP is a newspaper like no other, wielding the power of the pen and the pixel for good, telling the stories that must be told and spreading important ideas, like the simple, beautiful idea that each of us, in every community, holds the power to take hold of our own destiny, even to change the course of history, at least in our little region of space/time. The TFP connects us with each other compounding our effects, and reaches new people for whom these stories are life-changing news. The TFP isn’t just a newspaper, it’s a beacon of truth and a clarion for a future that might be if we act collectively and act now, calling out the corporate consume-the-planet-as-usual bullshit and amplifying the resounding YES rising from the growing numbers who value life, the local and the low carbon, the neighbourliness of sharing and giving.
Audacious. There’s no other way to describe starting a newspaper in the 21st century, one dependent on ethical advertising and a hundred volunteers in an increasingly ad-averse, electronic mediascape. OK, I admit my opening paragraph is a bit over the top, but done to illustrate my point. If I were a Brit true to stereotype, right about now I’d be tripping over myself apologising for it, and for starting something new, and for the audacity of its audaciousness. Not gonna happen.
Brash, audacious, self-confident, visionary, tenacious, persevering, fearless, resilient – these are the characteristics that typically describe successful entrepreneurs. Starting something new is a revolutionary act. It’s a statement that the world is incomplete, that the way things are isn’t good enough. It is a decision to rise up. These are the ingredients required to bring new ventures into being, create change, and attract a following. If we’re to manifest the kind of change required in a 400ppm world, if we’re to bring about a new kind of low-carbon, fair economics, these are the qualities Transitioners would do well to put into practice, pronto.
The TFP would never have come into being had we listened to the people who knew better and their thousand reasons why it would never work. Thanks to the vision and hard work of people like Charlotte, Mike, Alexis, Trucie and Mark, we didn’t listen. We’re working on our third edition and are planning to make this a lasting enterprise. We may yet fail, but we’re in the game and it’s glorious.
A big part of the Transition narrative these days is about getting in the game, whether it’s starting up new social enterprises or transforming your local economy. “How very dare you”, the local sticks-in-the-mud may say, those opposed to anything that might rouse them from their own self-consuming slumber or question their preference of corporate coffee chain. Let them moan. We don’t have to ask for permission. We have real work to do and the real work of Transition is about transforming our culture from passive, obedient, and vulnerable, to entrepreneurial, self-empowered, and resilient.
There is something sexy and thrilling about being part of a start up, but I think the real lever of change for Transition initiatives isn’t in starting new enterprises, but in creating the conditions for new ethical/green/social companies to form and thrive.
This is a big part of the Economic Blueprint project here in Totnes, where we’ve set about researching and characterising the potential opportunities for new ventures in food, renewable energy, and housing retrofits. It’s a bold piece of work that calls for, among a host of other things, an incubator for social and sustainable start ups and events, like the Local Entrepreneur Forum (LEF), that leverage and enhance the existing assets we have in our community – the ‘factors of production’ – required to support an entrepreneurial culture. The LEF and incubator would serve to focus the natural, social, and financial capital that exists in the surrounding area, perhaps more abundantly than we now realise. The area around Totnes includes universities, retired and semi-retired professionals, and a growing number of educated and motivated young people who are fed up with unemployment, underemployment, and a default economy that would offer only dehumanising work feeding the machine.
Indeed, we’ve just run our second Local Entrepreneur Forum, known affectionately as LEFT2013, designed to bring entrepreneurs, investors, and catalysts into the same room and get them connected. We offered peer-led support for about 100 attendees, about 80 of whom self-identified as entrepreneurs, through an open space session we call ‘Bee like a Bee’. We also generated significant financial and non-financial support for four worthy start ups in our Community of Dragons Den, a mash up of cash and gift culture investment. Throughout the day, we tried to make the point that everyone is a potential investor in their local economy and it isn’t all about the money. Everyone has a stake and everyone has something to offer. It was a small town event, and therefore modest compared with what might be encountered in San Francisco or London. But for our rural market town, it has made a big difference.
Our little event worked to make it a little more possible to start something new, that it might be supported, and might even be a success. Transition Homes is building 25 affordable, uber-green homes for low income people. The Totnes Art Hub formed an IPS and is locked in on their vision to create physical space for makers, artists and artisans. School Farm is launching a no-dig CSA. An Mosaic Totnes is challenging the High Street paradigm with a new local retail concept. There was no moaning on that day, but rather an abundance of vision and audacity.
Every Transition initiative in Britain could be doing this, too. There’s nothing special about Totnes or TTT. Don’t ask for permission. Don’t wait for Labour to get back in. Don’t wait for Mary Portas or Richard Branson to sort it. Just rise up and do it. And when you do, maybe others will be inspired by your story when they read about it the Transition Free Press.
Images: TFP2; Fiona leading Economic Blueprint Stakeholder session; Bee like a Bee at LEFT2013; Needs and offers at LEFT2013