Upsetting the MBAs

by Paxus Calta

This is being published simultaneously with Your Passport to Complaining.

During tours of Twin Oaks I make sure to point out the things which we do which are unconventional.  This makes the tour more memorable and hopefully thought provoking.  At three different points there are business practices which drive MBAs a bit crazy:

Embracing Inefficiency:  The jig that we make hammocks on is quite unconventional.  If you go into any other woven hammock shop in the world, you will see a weaving jig which is operated by a single person.  Sometimes these are upright and the person is weaving at eye level.  Sometimes these are positioned like our jig and people weave at waist level.  From the right angle these look like a capital U.

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Our jigs looked at from above look like a capital H instead.  This makes it possible for two people to weave hammocks across from each other.  What we clearly observe is that when people can talk with other workers their productivity goes … down.

Why would any self respecting business use tools which make worker productivity decrease?  Well, the easy answer would be we are not a self-respecting business in the conventional sense.  As you might know all work (including income work) done at Twin Oaks is done by volunteers.   Hammock shop managers think first of what will get people and keep people in the shop and only secondarily about what makes them go fast.  If you oppress or make uncomfortable your hammocks production staff, they will go out into the garden or cook or make tofu or take care of kids or any of over 100 jobs which are available.

This has most MBAs scratching their heads.

Profit Insensitivity:  As business professionals walk around and understand our economy they start to ask good questions.  “If you make a much higher dollar/hour by having people work in the hammock shop or the tofu hut, why don’t you pull workers from low dollar/hour areas (like Garden) and simply make more money and buy organic food?”

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Garden work is not lucrative – Photo credit: Aaron Cohen

The answer is “we want to grow our own food”.  This is a cultural value for us.  We want to live in a place where we are involved in all cycles of the farm, growing fruits and vegetables, running our own dairy and chickens programs and in good years even our own bee hives.  None of this makes economic sense.  We don’t do it for the money.

This causes MBAs to start pulling their hair.

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Marketing without Money:  Arguably the most unconventional thing we do is pretend that we can do almost all our marketing without spending money on it.  We spent less than a thousand dollars a year on advertising.  We prefer to use labor to do marketing.  The problem is people generally don’t move to communes if what they want to do is marketing.  I have been one of the few marketing managers in hammocks for decades, and I have not done very much with it until recently.

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Our unwillingness to go to trade shows, run promotional advertising with our many online vendors, even run ads in our local friendly urban press cause MBAs to look for the door.

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Really, it is not safe in here

Uncharacteristically, an MBA from Richmond is interested in Twin Oaks.  She has a good job and stable circumstance, but was profoundly influenced by the Women’s Gathering and wanted to check out the place which organized it.

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I was excited by someone with business experience possibly living with us, despite the peculiarities i listed above, there is much for us to learn.  So as i do with people who i really want to live here, i went over the biggest obstacles most outsiders have coming to the community.

  1. We are Filthy.  We can claim we are a farm, or that we have a bunch of kids and messy strangers.  But truth told at our core we are more than a bit unclean.
  2. Limited Privacy.  Your personal space ends at the door to your room.  There are lots of people out there and some of them are quite unusual.
  3. We will push your buttons.  Hard as it might be to believe, what ever they are we will push them.  If you know your hang ups, than this will be a personal growth opportunity.  If you don’t know what plugs you in, the we are guaranteeing a (probably painful) journey of self discovery.  Because we will find these buttons for you and push them.

Alexis did not pause.  She had done her research, she was unworried about the filth.  She was looking forward to living much more collectively and felt like she had a pretty good handle on her buttons.  I just hope she is right.

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Upsetting the MBAs

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