Wednesday, November 26, 2008

transitioning to a new paradigm business

If you ask my husband what he does, he'll tell you he "drives nails." But what this really means is that he is a subcontractor for new home construction, doing production work. Or he did that until recently. Last year, there was a sharp drop in new homes being built. He went from running five to six crews down to one full-time in-house crew plus one part time crew he subbed out. But now he can't keep one crew busy. He was getting homeowner contracts, because people realized that they couldn't move, so they would upgrade their existing home. But now, nobody is spending any money on anything. We have only so much money left to cover payroll, and then, we have to call it quits. It's heartwrenching. His guys have been with him for decades. They are family.

Fortunately, he saw the writing on the wall a long time ago, and has been searching for a new line of business for the past year. And it was a relief, in a way, because it hurt his heart to work in such an unsustainable business. In fact, he started the "turnkey" model of subcontracting, because he couldn't stand to see all the waste that was produced when the builders bought the materials and just hired the labor. Turnkey Decks, Inc. was born.

Then one night, while listening to Coast to Coast, he heard David Blume speak about distilling alcohol for fuel. Suddenly the lightbulb went off. If this model could work, it could answer all of his needs. He could disconnect from "the system" and become not only energy independent, but contribute to his own food production as well. Blume is a permaculturist, so his model is completely integrated, with no "waste products" at all--only streams to fuel other processes. In fact, alcohol is not the "cash crop"--it is the byproducts and what are derived from them, that is what is sold.

So today, we had a big powwow with his crew. Our dear friends, DF-F and DF-J, hosted the event. (DF-J is also on the crew.) We brought donuts, and watched 2.5 hours of video. After having pizza for lunch, we talked. I "scribed," to use facilitator's jargon, using a modified version of the Dynamic Facilitation process. I took down all of the pictures of DF-F's family on one wall, and put up six flipchart sheets. Each one had its own heading:
  • data
  • problem statements
  • solutions
  • concerns
  • questions/research
  • action items
As the conversation went on, I scribed the content, sorting each one onto each flipchart, and adding sheets as we needed. Scribing is a particular skill all to itself, but I happen to be very good at it, in part because I am a "kinetic" processor. It actually helps me to listen to do things like write on flipcharts, which can be handy for the group.

Having the record of the conversation up on the wall for all to see helps the group be conscious of what has been said already, which has many benefits. One is, nobody has to repeat themselves--they are secure that their input has been captured. Another is, they can build on what has been said--answering questions, coming up with solutions, etc. The "wisdom of the group" is not only captured, but affirmed, for all to see, which generates confidence and even more contribution.

On a side note, I have found that the category of "concerns" is one of the most important to include. Just having the blank sheet on the wall "opens space" for people to speak about their concerns, which is incredibly important in group process to avoid "groupthink" and running into problems later that were not addressed because people did not feel comfortable bringing them forward.

Besides the "questions/research" and "action items" categories that I mentioned above, I have also found it useful to add the "decisions made" category in some situations. In our situation, we hadn't agreed to be a decision making body yet, so I felt that was premature.

In our meeting today, I witnessed new possibilities being born. We have a long way to go in terms of finding out whether we can pull an "energy farm" off--we need to do a lot of due diligence before we find out if it is even worth investing in--but there was a lot of hope in the room.

I'll keep you posted.

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