The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating 

A wonderful interview for anyone interested in community and creativity. So anyone working in markets, food and farming.

 

MS. TIPPETT: And I want to — I want to bring in the word tribes that you used, because that’s another way, you’re using a word that we associate with something primitive. Right? That we think, that we thought modernity was about outgrowing.

MR. GODIN: Right.

MS. TIPPETT: You are actually really affirming that… We choose who and what we belong to. It’s not just about survival. It’s about connection and flourishing.

MR. GODIN: So, you know, in the desert or the jungle, the tribe was defined by geography alone. That you were in the tribe based on where you were born. And then if we fast-forward to, I don’t know, Mark Twain. Mark Twain would show up in a city and a thousand people would come to hear him speak. And everyone who came was in his tribe. They were in the tribe of, you know, slightly satirical, slightly jaundiced people who were also intellectuals who could engage with him. And he had never met them before, but within minutes, they were part of a congruent group who understood each other. And so if we fast-forward to today — you can take someone who hangs out in the East Village or Manhattan who has 27 tattoos — they go to Amsterdam, they can find someone in Amsterdam who talks their language and acts like them, because they’ve chosen the same set of things that excite them, and that they believe in. And we divide tribes as small a group as we want. But what the Internet has done is meant that we don’t have to get on a plane anymore to meet strangers who like us.

That — the Linux operating system, which is on a billion computers around the world, was written by a group of strangers who have never met, who are part of the same tribe. And so the challenge of our future is to say, are we going to connect and amplify positive tribes that want to make things better for all of us? Or are we going to degrade to warring tribes that are willing to bring other groups down just so they can get ahead?

================================================

So, you know, on the way into the studio today, I passed a 1934 Rolls Royce. And in those days, if you were really rich, you bought a fancy expensive car like that. So we went through this era where you would value something that was physical. But now the things we pay extra for are connection. Right? The things we pay extra for are what are other people using — what networks can we be part of — what conference can we go to — who can we be with? And the people we choose to be with, the products and services we choose to talk about are all interesting and unique and human and real, as opposed to industrial and cheap and polished and normal.

Seth Godin — The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating – | On Being

The four stages of market management

Spoiler alert: The stages correspond exactly to the  four stages of competence:

  • 1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
  • 2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
  • 3.Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
  • 4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

I have been thinking about how we can organize the role of market manager to reduce the learning curve, and the fear some managers have of relying on others. We also need to  lessen the numbers who burnout and leave the job just as they reach unconscious competence phase.

My experience (from my human resources corporate training, my own management of markets, supervising market managers and observing them for the last 15 years) is that the market job takes about 16 months to 30 months to move through these 4 stages. The length of time it takes has something to do with “the strength of the stimulus to learn” but since that is usually strong with new market managers, it usually has more to do with the organization’s structure for training and for providing feedback. Of course the way managers learn is changing as millennials move into those jobs which is a matter I’ll tackle in another post.

Market managers are asked to master the most difficult work right away: to confidently manage dynamic logistics for a group of small businesses who are working side-by-side with their direct competition. In far too many cases, there are no manuals, no detailed history recorded or clear written process when dealing with risks or crisis.  Not all managers are offered a performance review or even clear deliverables or goals so they can correct as they learn. (I feel compelled to point out that I find it startling how few non-profits understand that their success is based almost entirely on the skill and labor of its people and how rare it is to find supervisors spending any time becoming more adept at that part of their job. )

So those 18-30 months can be quite stressful and without a clear training plan a negative feedback loop can be created, especially among watchful vendors who are rightfully expecting high productivity.

Often, the most difficult phase is #2 when the community doesn’t view the manager as new any longer and becomes impatient with every mistake- and yet as you can see from this timeline, mistakes are commonplace in the “conscious incompetence” phase. Mistakes are often caused by someone bravely trying something new or testing a varied way to do a task that needs updating. It is a process for learning but one that does need positive correction from the supervisor to okay the adjustment and acknowledge the validity of it as a learning process.

So markets can do a better job preparing the community for a new manager  by allowing the manager to ease in to some of the more difficult tasks, space to make little mistakes and even better, to formalize a system for dealing with risks so there won’t be guesswork. A copy of every market map should be kept, filed and noted with weather, no-shows or risk issues written so new managers can review past years. These are also helpful in cases of slip and falls or property damage suits,as legal proceedings may come much later and the data from that day may very well help your team defend your market and at least remind you what happened and why. Sets of laminated pictures of the market set up, the storage area, the table layout for new managers to know what is desired during set up can also make it easy to have volunteers to take over those duties so the manager can then move on to new tasks.

On the subject of conflicts, is usually a good idea for markets to have an off-site process for any hot button issue, new manager or not:  Disagreement between vendors or about a rule should not be hashed out on market day. Instead,  a temporary solution for that day is all that should be offered.  Have the manager quietly ask those involved if the discussion can happen that next week by phone, in person or via a video conference call if possible. Not only does this allow everyone to simmer down (including the manager) but it also allows some time for the manager to get some input from senior vendors or board members. Most importantly, it sets a tone for future issues.

Other suggestions:

• The new manager should have an hour of weekly reading from the files and by scanning some of the most important articles and magazines on community food while on the clock.

• They should be introduced in ever widening circles to the members of the community – even if they are local – as the manager by board members, anchor vendors and volunteers.

• If a market hires a new seasonal manager annually, it might be helpful to have a market business card with a line for the manager to write in their name, and also allows board members to do the same.

• Asking new managers to keep a journal of the day also helps get them through these early stages. I used to ask my new managers to write me an email on their smart phone even if I had been onsite with them all day. Some of them drafted it all day when they had a minute, and then sent it to me as they got in their vehicle to go home or from their laptop first thing on the next work day from their scribbled notes. That email was broken down into logistics, vendors, shoppers, other and helped them analyze their day.

If systems are put in place and care is taken to help the new manager move through these stages, one can easily gain a market manager loyal to the organization and ready to move to the stage of unconscious competence soon enough.

 

Another idea for the evolution of the market organization to make it more sustainable is outlined in this post from Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC):

Worker self-directed nonprofits enable staff to organize their labor and compensation in a way that is sufficient and sustainable for them. At SELC, for example, our collective decision to each work only 30 hours per week and only be required to spend 15 of those hours at the office has opened up tremendous possibilities. By choosing when and where we work, we regain a tremendous amount of autonomy over our lives. This flexibility lets us attend community events or be responsive to the needs of our loved ones in ways that a rigid eight-hour day does not.

The reduced workweek shifts our financial calculus as well. Many of us who could use a bit more money accept consulting jobs or engage in entrepreneurship to supplement our incomes. Some staff can use their time to cut down on other expenditures that they would have been forced to incur otherwise, like childcare. And beyond the numbers of it all, many of us feel like the opportunities our flexibility provides are priceless.

This exact arrangement may not be best for all organizations. The essential point to notice is that we (with board oversight) get together as a staff and make decisions about how organize and compensate ourselves in order to make the best use of our organizational resources and provide ourselves with the lives we crave. Ultimately, this care for ourselves feeds back into the organization in the form of low turnover and high commitment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Things Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand About Poverty (But I Didn’t, Either) 

Karen Weese is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Dow Jones Investment Advisor, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Everyday Family, and other publications.

There are many prescriptions for combating poverty, but we can’t even get started unless we first examine our assumptions, and take the time to envision what the world feels like for families living in poverty every day.

Alternet

Designing Better Shopping Experiences

Using a variety  of research methods, students with disabilities and conventional students at San Francisco State University studied “how the principles of Inclusive Universal Design practice can promote equity with respect to access and use of the physical environment.” Their findings can certainly assist market organizers and their methods should influence how we gather data.

The Symposium & Workshop sought to orient and prepare students with disabilities to educational and professional career opportunities in the design disciplines. There were three primary goals and collaborative interfaces.

(1) To introduce inclusive human-centered design applications in the design curriculum at SFSU that will orientate students, both the students with disabilities and conventional university design students to the holistic benefits of design education and practice that go beyond the exclusive and limited convention of mainstream design applications.

(2) Exposing students to inclusive participatory design empathy methodology.

(3) Identifying and creating design concepts for the product environment and interior space that facilitates one’s ability to access and manipulate the active learning and recreational environment at home, or at school.

This approach to data collection and design is available to busy and to “under-resourced” food organizers through resources and trainings available for purchase, and in online and in-person individual and group trainings.  The two companies that I usually send people to are Luma Institute for their wonderful resources on how to use this process (I also took their in-person course, thanks to FMC and the Knight Foundation) and Ideo, which has influenced some food system funders, like Ford Foundation. Both offer online individual and group courses.

I would suggest that this sort of professional development is exactly what can be included in grants or even sponsored by neighboring businesses of a market to undertake as a team. This approach is similar to the methods that are either included (or will be) in the Farmers Market Metrics program,  in tools such as the Marketshare section of Market Umbrella’s site and in the Farmers Market Toolkit instruments on the British Columbia Farmers Market site.

The final newsletter  includes  findings from these two projects:

Students Design Shopping Cart for Elderly Community

Supermarket carts are solid enough to lean on, but collapsible “granny carts” often used at urban farmer’s markets do not provide appropriate support for people with mobility issues, Fisher explained. “The idea of a cart is not exotic, but (it’s) important to my life,” Fisher said.

After conducting multiple interviews in the aging community, Lopez and Renard realized the need for a supportive personal cart is widespread. Renard said existing carts are generally constructed with weak materials with little attention to aesthetic.

“People put a little bit of thought and design into (portable carts), but they just paint (them) that nasty old-person beige,” Renard said. “Just because people are aging, they don’t want ugly products. They want something that fits their needs but is also stylish – (a product) they aren’t embarrassed to use.”

They credit their inspiration to Dr. June Fisher, an 82-year-old occupational health physician and Bay Area product design lecturer who worked closely with the duo throughout production.

She said she looks forward to having a CityCart of her own, something supportive enough to navigate a farmers market and pick up a few heirloom veggies without relying on someone else.

“The design came from a particular person’s need – my need,” Fisher said.

Designing a Better Shopping Experience with a Holistic Approach to Aging in Place

Several methods were employed such as group and individual in-depth interviews, immersive observations, shadowing and experience mapping session. By means of these methods it was conceived that elderly face several physical challenges while shopping.

These challenges are mostly due to their physical decline, are mainly coherent with the existing literature most of which have not been responded for many years. The main areas of concern were the large size of food packages, standing in long checkout lines, reading the labels, using the carts and baskets, size and layout of stores, shelves and location of products.

The study showed a very social aspect to shopping experience. Participants found shopping to be an experience than can be fun and social. The nostalgia from old ages and existing cultures around the world were two main sources of comparison for the elders. Elders showed to be very perceptive of personal social interactions of them as customers with the seller or store staff. They desired to personally know the staff and be known by them. They liked the staff to remember them and their preferences. They looked for a personal relationship with the staff; one that helps building trust in both parties. They also liked to make conversations and take advice from them on which food to buy or how to cook a special dish with the food and more. Talking of advice was always hand in hand with ‘trust’.

Findings showed that the seniors associated the personal familiarity with the seller and making regular conversations with him to sense of trust towards the seller. The general view of shopping environment was an environment for shopping, having fun and social interactions. They were specifically enthusiastic about communicating with the younger generation and truly appreciated the young people’s patience when they needed more time to learn.

The participants liked to be specially treated, not in a manner  that suggests they are not capable of doing it themselves or that they are old, but a special care based on friendly relationships,

One of the prominent findings of the research was elders’ discomfort when standing in long lines. Some had to physically strain while standing, finding leaning on the carts to be the only option to alleviate the hardship. Also, over the course of study a few times people brought up the idea of a resting area where they could sit for a while and take a breath. The combination of these findings led the researcher to design a service to address the mentioned issues. The service is called, “Valet Checkout”.

These methods can reduce the learning curve for markets and increase the likelihood of success in the final design.

 

Bob Dylan and Contract Theory

As excited as many are about an American folk/rock singer composer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the economic prize is also worthy of mention here. First though, my favorite song lyrics of Mr. Dylan:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind Pa
She’s sixty eight, but she says she’s fifty four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Many of Dylan’s interpreters suggest this is a criticism of capitalism or of the military industrial complex. That actually leads us to a chat about the economic prize this year, given to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory. (Disclaimer: not only am I not a economist or a lawyer, my understanding of these theories is very casual and centered on my community organizing work. I may over or understate many of these theories and will always edit when better information comes my way. Feel free to add to my knowledge via email as needed.)

Contract theory focuses on the relationship between the parties in a contract, including those which are asymmetrical in terms of information. The world contains scads of examples of information asymmetry: media, police or military, employers, technology providers etc. When one party has access to more information than the other, the fairness of the contract can be questioned. The other issue that is relevant here is what are called incomplete contracts. This covers the likelihood that a contract in present time cannot always cover every possible outcome and so often must be renegotiated at some time; in that case it is possible that renegotiation can off the rails because of lack of trust.

In many ways, this describes much of our alternative food and farming movement impetus. Certainly, the desire for fairness and trust for both producers and for eaters has led to transparency being one our chief indicators.  The heart of our movement is direct marketing  which offers straightforward ways to create fairness between its agents. But even within those models, there can be an information asymmetry. For example, some farmers markets have created systems where information only flows from vendor to market and not the other way around. In others, vendors cling to systems that ask little of them as far as information sharing with the market. One way to gauge whether this is an unequal contract is at the time that the agreement is being changed by starting to ask for sales data or to request changes in other rules over time. The difficulty in negotiating that update may signal the need for a more detailed market agreement that outlines the requirements and benefits for the market and its vendors.

Still, the very nature of the mutual dependency and face to face nature of farmers markets and their vendors can correct any imbalance. Same goes for other type of direct marketing contracts, especially CSAs which began as a elegantly simple contractual relationship between producers and eaters for a single season and a single farm. Now,  when there is an imbalance it often benefits the shopper and not the farmer because many CSA farmers move outside of the implied agreement in the desire to build consecutive-season relationships. An example of this is when a farmer offers a credit for lost crops, even when the contract in a CSA explicitly states that the shopper loses their investment if the crop fails. Or, when a CSA farmer begins to morph into an aggregator of goods from nearby farms and cottage industry producers without creating a updated contract with their shoppers that outlines the new rules of bringing those goods to the shopper.

However, the concern over unfair contracts really “scales up” for me when systems move into intermediate (back door or bin sales) and wholesale (middle-man or pallet sales) contracts. We certainly hope that restaurant owners and wholesale buyers will build contracts with our producers with the same transparency and information sharing as those in the direct marketing sector, but often that has not been the case.

The key to mutually beneficial agreements on all levels of our food work relies on building contextual contracts and incentivizing them for all  involved. What are the main benefits for a producer to sell at a  lower cost to a chef? Well, two might be consecutive sales and the ease in delivery, and yet rarely are these benefits described in agreements for most of our producers when they sell at these levels. What is the main benefit for the buyer? Often it is either the quality of the product or the name recognition of the producer attached to the goods and yet rarely are those benefits understood and outlined in these agreements.

One way to incentivize the fairness of the contract in these situation may be to create a shared asset owned by all of the parties. Another way to make them contextual might be to have an external party monitoring the agreement. Maybe this is where farmers market leaders can grow their influence?

And of course, markets managing transactions through card technology has led  to lopsided contracts with processors. Markets scramble to understand these complex agreements which exist over different eras of management and open markets  to many new layers of liability.  Another issue is that the energy that markets must reserve for reaching and encouraging benefit program shoppers is often wasted by the lack of good information about the client lists from local or federal government authorities. Too many markets I talk to have no idea how and where to reach these shoppers in their area and when you take in the short time that the majority of these shoppers remain on these programs at any one time (also not shared by most government entities), successful outreach becomes even more unlikely. The vendor in this situation is also underrepresented in a fair contract, as most markets – or the processors working directly with farmers – use boilerplate agreements about card processing with their vendors.

So, one can see from just these few examples that center around direct marketing and intermediate farmers how many contract issues arise. So maybe before the alternative food system becomes another one of Maggie’s farms, let’s spend some time on increasing transparency and incentives for everyone’s benefit.