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.
So 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"
When 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