The Stuff

Reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Op Ed “How Not To Be Alone” in this morning’s Sunday New York Times, and considering a few of the conversations that I’ve had recently, brings me back to some of the topics that continue to be a focus of this blog, as well as part of the general business of LiveWork Studios LLC. 

Not being much of a science fiction reader myself, I can only assume that, somewhere, there exists a sci-fi sub-genre that views the pinnacle of man’s technological advancement as a sort of return to Eden.  If there isn’t, there certainly should be.  This, to me, is the most powerful change that technology has to offer:  the power to rid our lives of stuff.  I know that this is a strange aspiration for someone who has dedicated themselves to the design, production, and maintenance of stuff, but it is truly one of my greatest fantasies:  a world of transparent technology, where we can enjoy the simplicity and beauty of nature and space, without sacrificing our safety, comfort, or our ability to travel and communicate. 

Aside from my work as a designer and builder, my other life as a firefighter may, in fact, represent the ultimate commitment to the world of things.  As firefighters, we ostensibly risk our lives to save other people, but we all know that a large part of the job simply involves saving other people’s stuff.   As a dual certified firefighter/paramedic, I can take some consolation in the old EMS joke that says:  “Paramedics save lives.  Firefighters save furniture.”   An over- simplification, to be sure, but not entirely untrue.

I am not a lover of things.  In fact, it could be said that I have an almost pathological disdain for stuff and its tendency to accumulate around me.  This is not to say that I am a neat freak or a minimalist in any traditional sense of the word.  Not by a long shot.   I’m fully aware of the ways in which the stuff that surrounds me has a tendency to make me crazy, and yet, surround me it does. 

My commitment to the physical world is largely as a producer and participant.  I realize that some degree of consumption goes with the territory, but I’ve always been among the most reluctant of consumers.  There is a certain hunger that I have which can only be sated through the production of physical things - a disease of sorts - but I can truly say that I have no nostalgia for the objects produced after they leave my hands.  Perhaps this is because every finished product feels like just another failed attempt at perfection:  an ideal to which we can get ever-closer, but never arrive.  Our approach is by halves, at best.  So what is the ideal towards which I’m striving?  The truly transparent design.  Total simplicity.  Total functionality.  Total economy of material and form.  A chair that is only there when you want to sit down. 

It is towards this ideal which the latest advances in materials and production technologies have brought us another half-step closer.  The power of the desktop 3d printer lies not in its ability to print a new part for your toaster when it breaks, but in its eventual ability to make you a piece of toast, followed by a new pancreas.  This, to me, is true minimalism.   Not the precious curation of a few festishized objects. Just “stuff when you need it, nothing when you don’t.”  Of course things will not naturally evolve in this direction.  Not in a society so centered on stuff and its production, marketing, sale, and distribution.  Not only do we have to convince people that less truly is more, we have to convince them to pay more for it. We have to convince them that the biggest status symbol of all is to arrive without a car and nothing in your pockets.  Like a hobo.

Of course this pastoral idyll is a long way off, and there is still plenty of work to be done for the industrious designer/builder.  The guiding principles, however, remain the same.  Simplicity, economy, elegance.  Or the old firmitas, utilitas, venustas (firmness, commodity, delight).  These are the central tenets of a design philosophy that is, at least to me, based on problem solving.  It is this focus, which has lately been the issue that I’ve had such a hard time articulating in my discussions of design and designers and the issues I seem to have with them.  I’m just not going to be impressed by another fancy-looking teapot.  Certainly not one made in a factory in China.  There are still plenty of teapots out there, and many of them are perfectly good.  Truth be told, I just don’t care all that much about tea, but I’ve owned a few teapots in my time, and only one of them has consistently pissed me off (it dribbled more than it poured).  Teapots are simply objects that lend themselves to elegant and novel forms, so designers naturally gravitate toward them.  Meanwhile, every can opener and garden hose sprayer I’ve ever used has been a complete piece of shit. 

So there, I think, lies my issue with the current crop of up-and-coming designers.  They’re object fetishists – collectors of their own output.  It shows in their carefully arranged sartorial choices, and in their hipster/minimalist (minimalipster?) aesthetic.  Clean typography.  A round logo with some sort of “X” or plus sign in the center.  Beautifully wrought versions of things I don’t want.  More and more stuff.  It makes me hyperventilate a little just to think about putting all of that stuff into my house, much less, having to pay for it.  At this stage in my life, I figure I’ve already got all of the stuff that I need.  I have enough places to sit, a couple of salt and pepper shakers, and even a teapot.  So, if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a new piece of stuff, it had better replace at least one of the things that I already have, and it had better do its job well enough that I will want to throw away something that is – for the most part – perfectly good.  Of course, things that I own that consistently piss me off are at the top of the list for potential replacement, but I’ll consider anything that does a better job, in a nicer way, in less space than the stuff I already have.

Despite all of my carping about young designers and their outfits, I had a perfectly delightful interaction with the young designer Creighton Berman at the Wanted Design exhibition in New York a few weeks ago.  Berman was there demonstrating his design for a pour-over coffee maker.  “Manual” is a simple, elegant design that treats the daily ritual of coffee preparation as a slower, more thoughtful, deliberate process. Both literally and figuratively transparent, Manual speaks to my simple love of coffee as well as my laziness and disdain for most countertop appliances.  Envisioned as a sort of ‘manual’ appliance to be left out on the counter, Berman’s designs also solves the usual pour-over problem of where to put the hot, soggy, drippy filter after you’ve brewed a cup since the filter holder remains undisturbed by your removal of the cup from its center.  Berman demonstrated the value of his approach by making people free cups of coffee and talking to them while it brewed.  After a busy and rainy couple of days, a well brewed cup of coffee and some honest and interesting conversation made for a real highlight of our convention-going experience.  It’s so simple you never would have thought of it yourself.

Monetize It!

May 18, 2012

Watching the ceaseless coverage of Facebook’s IPO on MSNBC today got me thinking some more about what I do and don’t want to see in the structure and functioning of my own business.  I just finished reading “Rework” by the founders of 37signals, so some of these ideas have been bouncing around in my head for awhile.  Much of the philosophy presented in “Rework” has a direct connection to the ideas that I’ve had for LiveWork. Seeing these ideas in print, presented by people who have used them in their own businesses - successfully - provided some nice reinforcement for the ideas that I’ve been mulling over for quite some time.

To my mind, one of the most pertinent points made by the authors has to do with the concept of growth and its role in shaping our current business models.  As I have written before, I don’t think that a business necessarily needs to grow in order to be considered “successful”.  A business needs only to be as big as is necessary to accomplish the goals that it has set for itself (i.e. it provides the products and/or services to the people that it has set out to serve, and it provides a living to those who work within its walls).  The part of this concept that I missed in my own writing that the “Rework” authors touch on, is the faulty notion that every business must have an “exit strategy” wherein the founder(s) end up selling off to some multinational conglomerate and spend the rest of their lives sipping Mai Thais on the beach somewhere.  The authors argue that the type of person who is driven to form their own business, create, and develop their own product is not going to be satisfied with a simple life of leisure.   They will eventually want to start something else, and more often than not their successive creations just aren’t as good, or as fulfilling to them, as was their first business.  There is no reason for us to work ourselves out of a job.  I’ve seen it many times on a smaller scale as well.  The best carpenter gets promoted to supervisor due to his carpentry skills, not his supervisory skills.  Meanwhile, he spends most of his time wishing that he could be doing what he loves (building things), he probably doesn’t do such a hot job of supervising, and the company has lost the output from one of its best producers.  In this situation everyone loses.

Back to Facebook.  There is a major paradigm shift in the works, and the financial prognosticators could all feel it today, but they didn’t quite know how to put it into words.  The basic gist was this:  we think we could make a lot of money off of this thing, but we’re not sure if these people hold the same values as us, and that makes us more than a little nervous.  It should.  Their uneasiness comes not from Mark Zuckerberg’s rumpled hoodie or the foosball tables in the employee lounge, but from the sense that these people might not even be working for the money (disgustingly giant heaps of it), they might just be doing it because they love it.  And people working for the love of it are a potential threat to the bottom line. So far Zuckerberg’s eccentricities have happened to mesh well with the more traditional methods of growing a business and making money from it, but there’s no guarantee that he won’t get a wild hair notion that he decides to pursue all the way to edge of the cliff.  This is the same issue that always made people nervous about Apple and Steve Jobs. Investors worry that a multi-billion dollar company cannot be built on the strength of one person’s creativity, but they fail to realize that this single-mindedness and attention to detail is exactly what has made these companies so successful in the first place.  A reader’s review of “Rework” on Goodreads puts it another way:  “Rework puts into words the things we've suspected for a long time. Mainly, that we are at war, and the battle lines are being drawn every day. Traditional, secure, process-heavy businesses which exist for self-preservation are fighting for survival and profits against small, lightweight, flexible individuals working for the love of their craft.”  

As a sometimes mountain climber and an avid follower of climbing’s history and progression, I think climbing provides a powerful allegory for other real-world pursuits that involve efficiency, speed, and risk. The first of the world’s largest peaks to be climbed successfully were all conquered using traditional “siege tactics”.  Large, expensive, heavily provisioned expeditions used a militaristic model and brute force to chip away at the mountain’s defenses over a period of weeks, months, or even years.  This proved successful in the beginning, but climbers soon realized that a “fast and light” approach offered several advantages over the traditional methods.  For one thing, expeditions could be organized and financed much more easily, and their size and structure also allowed them to adapt quickly to ever-changing conditions (change being the only constant in mountaineering, business, and life).   There are times when, much as we hate to admit it, the only way to minimize the risk is to shorten the amount of time that we spend in the danger zone.  

I’ve been making this same argument in my work as a firefighter.  There is a constant temptation to add the latest and greatest technology to our arsenal of tools (and we should always be looking for ways to become more efficient and safer), but we rarely stop to reassess the value of the tools that we already have.  The rule that I’ve been fighting for is that for every tool that we add to the truck, something else must go.  Preferably two things.  If a new tool has any real value it should do a better job than something you already have in your toolbox.  If it’s truly revolutionary, it will take the place of two or three of your previous tools.  Planning for every contingency, and outfitting yourself for every what-if situation is a recipe for disaster.  Just look in the backpack of every climber who didn’t make it to the top.

“Fast and light” is becoming more prevalent in all sorts of places.  From places like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms to small manufacture-on-demand hacker spaces, people are beginning to see efficiency in a new light.  It’s no longer simply the method by which we can squeeze the most work (and profit) out of each employee, efficiency is what allows us to run a lean and adaptable operation. Using the cooperative model, we all stand to benefit from these increased efficiencies.

Experimentation and Research

One of the main obstacles to innovation in a production oriented environment is the lack of time and funding for trial-and-error experiments with new materials and processes.  A lack of familiarity with the ever-expanding list of materials at our disposal leads designers and craftsmen to stick to what they know best.  Even when a new material or finish can be used successfully, there is always a degree of trepidation involved in sending it out without seeing how it behaves over time and use.  

Part of what sets LiveWork apart from other production oriented spaces is a constant drive to innovate in all phases of design and construction.  Each material and process gets evaluated on its own merits (suitability, workability, economy, longevity, sustainability, toxicity, etc.) without falling into the common traps of habit, seduction, convenience, or sentimentality.  With knowledge and access to a wide variety of materials and processes, successful designs can emerge in a number of ways.  Some designs may be directly inspired by a certain material or process, while others may emerge fully formed before beginning the search for a suitable medium.  

Designers must always be cognizant of what we might call the “expensive decision” in the design process.  During this process, designers encounter a long and often complex series of decisions.  Seemingly insignificant changes to the design often turn out to have larger implications later on the process. One of the key ways in which designers can become more efficient and effective is to reverse engineer their finished products, looking for the expensive decisions along the way.  Sometimes these decisions cannot be avoided, but often a simple change of dimension, material, fastener, or finish can have a dramatic effect on the cost, efficiency, and elegance of the finished product.  This can often be accomplished through an honest approach to materials.  Exploiting the inherent qualities of a material instead of constantly struggling against its nature will always yield a more graceful result.  

I’ve recently been thinking about modernist minimalism and what I’m coming to see as its tendency towards dishonesty.  I was looking at an image of a beautiful cantilevered staircase (a simple dotted line of dark treads against a white wall, unbroken by risers, balusters, or even handrails). The image was stark and simple, but all I could think of was the amount of engineering that must have been hidden inside the wall in order to accomplish such a feat.  That’s not minimalism.  That’s maximalism with a plaster veneer.  What if the other side of that wall had held a mirror-image staircase so that the treads were simply slotted through the wall and the cantilever was equally balanced on the opposite side?  That would be minimalist in both form and execution.  And it would have been a whole lot cheaper and easier to accomplish.  Just as I find over and over again in my own writing, the point at which you think you’ve said something really clever is where you need to stop and get out the editor’s scissors.  True simplicity always has its beauty, but complexity disguised as simplicity is just you being clever.     

On Growth

“Corporations are people, my friend.”  -  Mitt Romney

    While I think the statement that Romney made at the Iowa State Fair was slightly misrepresented in the press, the trend towards personification of business in America has - in my opinion - contributed greatly towards the economic predicament in which we currently find ourselves.  What I think Romney was so clumsily attempting to say is that corporations are made up of people - people who benefit or suffer in relation to the actions of the larger organization.  Of course, this interpretation is actually the opposite of what he said.  

The traditional “grow or die” mantra of American business has - at its root - the idea that a business is a living, breathing entity that is governed by the same laws to which other forms of life are subject.  However, when corporations are viewed singularly as people, and not as the sum of their parts, their actions and the consequences of those actions are no longer tied to the real people that make up the whole.  The growth that has become so essential to our idea of success in business then only applies to the corporate “person” and not to its discreet (actual person) elements.  

     Under the traditional model, there are only two “people” that really matter in the world of business:  the composite, yet autonomous, “person” of the The Corporation (capitalized to distinguish it from the non-person corporation), and the similarly assembled “person” of The Shareholder.  The obvious omission here is the third “person” of The Customer, but I would argue that The Customer functions less as its own organism and more as a simple source of nutrition for The Corporation.  In this relationship, The Shareholder functions as a sort of success-obsessed stage mother, insisting on nothing but the best from her corporate charges. Here we risk extending the metaphor to breaking, but what we are witnessing now in our nation’s economic near-collapse is, in a sense, similar to the high profile meltdowns that  we have seen repeatedly from child actors, sports figures, etc. who have been subjected to the same type of treatment.  You cannot repeatedly push a “person”, real or imagined, to their breaking point, critique their every move, analyze each of their defects and inefficiencies, deprive them of rest, joy, and sustenance,  and still expect them to continue to perform forever.  Something will eventually break.

    The concept behind LiveWork Studios is essentially utopian in nature.  While we may not speak in such lofty terms to our customers or the general public, it is our goal to find a way out of this tragically flawed system for ourselves, our families, and our business.  The “person” that we have created under the name LiveWork Studios LLC is in many ways our child, but it is our goal to raise this child in a healthy, respectful way - the kind of child rearing that we try to practice in our own homes, where growth is as likely to occur in the parent as it is in the child.  

This should not be taken to mean that what we desire is stasis.  Stasis is decay.  There must always be growth for there to be life, but that growth must occur within ourselves. The business is there to grow us.  If the strength of any business is truly its people, then the growth that we seek must occur within those people for the business to continue to succeed.  In this way the studio becomes more an extension of the university than a traditional client-producer-shareholder relationship.  In the new model, innovation is prized over efficiency or repeatability, and risk-taking and personal development are actively encouraged.

Project Based

The work that we engage in as a cooperative must have a well defined scope if we are to remain focused and successful in the long term.  Although we are not (at least we should not be) in the business of mass-producing the same designs over and over again, we must establish an approach to our work that allows for predictable and repeatable outcomes.  Our strength lies in our ability to adapt to changes in market forces and customer needs through efficient use of the techniques and technologies at our disposal.  While projects may be produced in a variety of media, from furniture and textiles to electronics and software, a consistent and guided approach allows designers to express their ideas in a manner that is consistent with the stated goals and techniques of the cooperative.  
Proposed projects need not adhere to a limited set of materials, processes, or outcomes, but they should be guided by a common design approach or “aesthetic” and they should have a clearly defined strategy for execution.  Each project undertaken (or “sanctioned”) by the cooperative must be vetted for the commitments necessary for its successful completion.   These include but are not limited to:  projected time frame, labor hours and skill levels, shop space, materials, budget, marketing, and distribution.  In a sense, each potential project should be presented for the member’s consideration with its own miniature business plan.   Part of this plan should describe the “narrative arc” of the project with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  The question of how we will get it out of the shop and move on to the next project is in some ways just as important as how a project begins.  Each project will have its own narrative that may end in a variety of ways.  Potential outcomes could include a short production run with marketing and distribution handled in-house, licensing of designs for off-site production,  or assistance in setting up members of the coop or the general public  to take on production themselves as an outside project.  The members will determine a maximum desired workflow for the space based on project size and scope, and projects will be scheduled to utilize the available space and to avoid creating overloads and conflicts.
One oft-repeated piece of advice for writing business plans, bylaws, etc. is not to “reinvent the wheel”.  If someone else has already established a business model that is close to what you are trying to achieve, then you should learn from the work that they’ve already done for you.  One particularly useful model to study in relation to LiveWork is the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.  Many of Kickstarter’s methods serve as a useful guide for the necessary policies and procedures at LiveWork.  The physical manifestation of LiveWork Studios can, in some ways, be seen as a real-world version of Kickstarter’s online model.  Whereas Kickstarter is focused solely on providing funding for creative projects through online fundraising, LiveWork supports the actual physical production of such projects.  The project-based model is effective in both a crowd-funded environment as well as in the production-oriented environment of a worker’s cooperative.  The front-end design, research, and market analysis necessary for successful projects is best handled outside of each system, and this serves to encourage each designer’s efficiency as it focuses them on the elements necessary for successful production.   A designer/builder’s overall compensation is then based on their “authorship stake” (a predetermined percentage of the profits set aside for the author of the proposal) as well as their hours spent in production and the overall success (profit) of the project.
In speculative design work such as this, it is very difficult to tell which ideas or designs will make it through to completion, and it can quickly become a drain on the business to support these speculative efforts that may never pay off.  This is where the collaborative model excels, because members can develop their ideas off-the-clock while taking advantage of the resources offered by the space.  This unpaid labor is  then compensated through the member’s authorship stake in the projects that are seen through to completion.  This functions as a kind of incentive system that rewards both creativity and efficiency.  The role of the organization here is to support the research and experimentation efforts of the designers by providing the tools, materials, and space necessary for their individual explorations.

Death to Zombies

The BrightFuture Self-Elim  inating Zombie Helmet was designed for submission to the Art For The Survivors exhibition organized by Deon Blackwell  and Open Source Projects at LiveWork Studios on October 12, 2012.  The helmet uses a hacked Mattel Mind Flex game to monitor the users brainwaves by tapping into the Mind Flex's EEG functionality.  The when the EEG detects that the user has reached zombification and only the limbic brain is functioning, it triggers the helmet-mounted gun to fire. 

Concept rendering. 

Concept rendering. 

Devon tests the Bright Future helmet prior to its debut at the Art For The Survivors exhibition. 

Devon tests the Bright Future helmet prior to its debut at the Art For The Survivors exhibition. 

On LiveWork

The process of writing business plans, “about us” pages, and “elevator pitches” is all a process of distillation.  Until now I have simply been throwing ingredients into the large pot that will someday become LiveWork Studios, turning up the heat, and occasionally stirring.   I’ve been trying to engage as many people as possible in discussion about the focus and structure of this enterprise, but I always sense a bit of a sideways glance coming back at me.  I know that my thoughts and ideas sound a little unfocused and bizarre.  This has been one of the few times in my life that I have found myself at a loss for words.  I can “feel” what it is that I want this place to be, but it’s a synthesis of so many disparate ideas and influences that my attempts to describe it just sound insane.  I’m like the music critic writing about a band that’s un-classifiable.   The good news, I think, is that my inability to find the right words stems from the fact that this

IS

an entirely new enterprise.  I don’t want to have to resort to a recitation of more familiar business models in order to get my point across.  “It’s like IKEA and Etsy built their own Design Within Reach by downloading SketchUp plans from Wikipedia.”  So maybe the best approach for now is simply to delineate a few key concepts and to expand on them as we go along.  We’ll start with the “big ones” and work our way down to the specifics.

Democratic

de·moc·ra·tize/diˈmäkrəˌtīz/

Verb:


  1. Introduce a democratic system or democratic principles to: "public institutions need to be democratized".
  2. Make (something) accessible to everyone: "mass production has not democratized fashion".

If it hadn’t already been (I think wrongly) attributed to the Target Corporation, I would just go with the mantra “democratize design”.  I like this mantra not in the sense that it was meant for use by Target as a substitute for “design for the masses”, but in the double entendre created by the first definition of the word “democratize”.  It’s not just design that needs to be “democratized” in this sense, but the entire workplace centered on this or any other type of manual production.   “Design for the masses by guys who wear glasses” has a nice ring to it too.

There has lately been a lot of talk about the rise of direct digital manufacturing (DDM) and its potential to lead us into the next industrial revolution. As techniques for mass customization and manufacture-on-demand become more prevalent, we are poised to enter an entirely new phase of human development.  The sci-fi writers and business boosters see this as the American worker’s chance to come out on top once again, but few of them address the inherent obstacles created by our present economic system.  

Efficiency is what DDM is all about.  The ability to move rapidly back-and-forth between the phases of design and production makes the DDM process uniquely scalable and agile.  The ease of automation brought about by machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC routers allows manufacturers to respond quickly to changes in demand, materials, and design.  All of this bodes well for owners and entrepreneurs, but it does very little for the average worker.  The idea that the current vast expanses of unemployed Americans will be able to transition easily into new roles as designer/builders is as far-fetched as hoping the entire high school basketball team will end up playing for the NBA.

This problem, to me, is what makes the cooperative model of organization increasingly attractive. Workers cooperatives value innovation and efficiency as much or more than simple production.  In the old corporate model of production, increased efficiency ultimately only benefits management and is in fact often detrimental to the rank-and-file.  Witness the current unemployment crisis.  Worker productivity is at an all-time high and yet there are fewer and fewer jobs available for this most productive of American workforces.  How is it that after 200,000 years of human evolution the average American still works well more than forty hours a week?  

The constant boom-and-bust cycle of our current economic model functions as a simple ratcheting mechanism that sheds jobs and extracts wealth as productivity increases.  With each contraction in the job market, employers get to see just how few employees it takes for them to get by, and the efficiency increases realized throughout the boom years become immediately apparent.  When hiring begins again there are never as many jobs as there were before.  And why would there be?  Even the most altruistic of employers is not going to hire unnecessary workers just to make a dent in the unemployment numbers.

This is why we need to work for ourselves.


Open Source

Another important aspect of design’s “democratization” (in its second definition) has to do with the way in which it is distributed to the masses.  Simply making something inexpensive (or

inexspensive-

ly

) does not make its ownership possible for all or even most people.  People do not truly own that which they cannot easily access, understand, maintain, modify, repair, and reproduce on their own terms.  The open-source model has had great success in the software world and it is now beginning to gain some traction in the world of manufacturing, sometimes under the term “open design”.  There have been plenty of articles and opinions written about the failure of the open-source model, but these mostly seem to relate to traditional top-down, proprietary methods of production and marketing.  The workers cooperative, however, is perfectly poised to

capitalize

(poor word choice as Boots Riley would say) on open source’s unique set of attributes.  

Being a small producer of physical objects, our reach into the world at large is necessarily limited, but having our designs open and available to all increases our brand’s exposure and identity at very little cost to us.  In fact, the process of documentation necessary to present plans, bills of materials, and assembly instructions through the web or other means can only serve to refine our designs and production methods.  The dissemination of these designs and methods through print, workshops, the internet, and other media is vital to the mission of the organization and to the mission of cooperatives in general.  In many ways, this ethic can be summed up in the old med school mantra of “see one, do one, teach one”.  Nothing helps us to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of our own methods more quickly than having to teach them to someone else.


Project Based

The work that we engage in as a cooperative must have a well defined scope.  Although we are not (at least we

should

not be) in the business of mass-producing the same designs over and over again, we must establish an approach to our work that allows for predictable and repeatable outcomes.  Our strength lies in our ability to adapt to changes in market forces and customer needs through efficient use of the techniques and technologies at our disposal.  While projects may be produced in a variety of media from furniture and textiles to electronics and software, a consistent and guided approach allows designers to express their ideas in a manner that is consistent with the stated goals and techniques of the cooperative.  

Proposed projects need not adhere to a limited set of materials, processes, or outcomes, but they should be guided by a common design approach or “aesthetic” and they should have a clearly defined strategy for execution.  Each project undertaken (or “sanctioned”) by the cooperative must be vetted for the commitments necessary for its successful completion.   These include but are not limited to:  projected time frame, labor hours and skill levels, shop space, materials, budget, marketing, and distribution.  In a sense, each potential project should be presented for the member’s consideration with its own mini business plan.   Part of this plan should describe the “narrative arc” of the project with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  The question of how we will get it out of the shop and move on to the next project is in some ways just as important as how a project begins.  Each project will have its own narrative that may end in a variety of ways.  Potential outcomes could include a short production run with marketing and distribution handled in-house, licensing of designs for off-site production,  or assistance in setting up members or community members to take on production themselves by forming their own businesses (especially  coops).  The members will determine a maximum desired workflow for the space based on project size and scope, and projects will be scheduled to utilize the available space without creating overloads and conflicts.


Equitable

Members will participate equitably in the profits (or losses) of the cooperative through a combination of cash and/or labor.  “Patronage” will be distributed based on a combination of project profitability, hours worked, skill level, and authorship stake.  Members may also choose to buy into “preferred stock” or have it awarded to them based on other equitable contributions such as materials and equipment donations.



Sustainable

The concept of sustainability is at the heart of both the cooperative business model and the products produced through the cooperative structure.  The cooperative model recognizes that perpetual and unrestrained growth should not be the measure by which a business is deemed successful.  Cooperative members recognize that their success is measured by their ability to provide comfortably for themselves and their families through work that is meaningful and rewarding while maintaining a concern for the effects of their actions on their co-workers,  community, and on the environment at large.  Designs should be tested for sustainability in all phases of production through material selection, construction techniques, packaging, longevity, and potential for reuse.