New Yorker - Article Response
The New Yorker just published an article about us (see article below). While it's an honor to be featured in the New Yorker, I have received emails which indicate confusion about our complex program, so I would like to clarify a few misconceptions that may be inferred from this article. Please read on:
- Title - the title should refer to our core goal of accelerating innovation towards solving pressing world issues via open collaboration. Instead, it focuses on self-sufficient communities, which are only one instance of the numerous applications of our work.
- Failed Communes Bias - The pervasive thread of 'failed communes' is a detrimental association to our work. We are not a commune. We are a nonprofit organization whose goal is to build a research and development center for open innovation, starting with open source hardware.
- Luddite Critique - We are not Luddites. Our core philosophy is founded precisely on analyzing and starting with proven industry standards, and building upon them. This point addresses not throwing out the baby with the bath water - not letting idealism prevent us from achieving our goals. We think that tools are power - and it is one's wisdom that allows one to use powerful tools with responsibility. Our approach is one of a systems perspective that results in responsibility.
- Organizational Hierarchy - Any significant program of technical development requires a high level of coordination. In successful open source objects, the concept of a ‘benevolent dictator for life' is common, and that title is earned by merit. Part of our challenge is figuring out the organizational structures and governance model for an open hardware project that intends to scale. We are basing our work on the lessons from open source software, while adapting them to the much greater complexity required in an open hardware project.
- Integrated Development - We are innovating on the technical, social, economic, educational, and governance fronts at the same time - so our solutions will appear different than what people are used to. This complexity must be considered to avoid misinterpretation of our work.
- Big Hairy Audacious Goal - Any BHAG will be accompanied by turmoil. I am calling out average people like myself to rise to heroic deeds through measured discipline. We insist on a life-work balance, with a 40 hour work week for our DPVs. As a startup, the leaders of course work much longer hours - of their own will.
- Financial Bootstrapping - When funding is limited, we have to make hard choices between core mission of machine development and 'nice to have.' As we are evolving, our next year will focus on making our site much more pleasant, including building out a recreation center. This is just part of the evolution of our work - form a raw piece of land to a working facility. It is important for people coming here to recognize that the place is improving constantly - but typically, the month-long visitors don't get to see how the place evolves with time. Instead of celebrating accomplishments, for which they have no evidence unless they know the history of our place - new people typically point to the inadequacies. But, we are using more of our own equipment in buildout of our campus, learning at a deeper level what it will take to make our work virally replicable to other locations. We are like a spaceship that has taken off for the stars: some people will see the debris scattered everywhere around the launch pad, others will see a bright light moving towards the stars. Those who can see the latter thrive at Factor e Farm. Those who return to Factor e Farm year after year are amazed at the level of progress that has happened. Complaints shift constantly to a higher level - such as from "why is there no running water" to "why is the shower head too low".
- Self-Funding Operation - Funding will come and go. We are indebted to our True Fans as a core base level of funding - and next year - we are shifting to Production Workshops as a means of revenue that will fund our growth. This model involves a double revenue stream of both a product sale and an immersion education workshops. This allows us to include development and documentation as part of the workshop model. This relies on our extreme manufacturing techniques of rapid production (see video of our milestones from 2013 - https://vimeo.com/81154935). This model allows us to achieve our critical milestone - documentation - while funding the process to make it both sustainable and scalable. Our plan is to take the Tractor, Brick Press, Microhouse, 3D Printer in collaboration with #Lulzbot, and also Laser Cutter in collaboration with #Lasersaur - to the status of a fully documented product, including open-sourcing the enterprise model for the workshop itself. We are testing the scalability of the one-off production workshop model (via replication) as a model that can compete with mass production of common goods such as houses, cars, tractors, or 3D printers.
The key to that is optimizing production to One Day of build time, which is more efficient than current industrial production, while involving a non-alienating social and learning process. This to me is groundbreaking news, and we invite economics/industrial design specialists to collaborate with us on an in-depth study to document these efficiencies.
There is a deliberate theory underlying our work - but the end effect is clear: radically efficient, distributed production as a new way of carrying out the human enterprise - while allowing for human evolution to a world in which people are free to pursue autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
To sum up - I am proposing a much more optimistic representation of our work than the social melodrama that the article appears to emphasize. We are achieving milestones of distributed, collaborative production that indicate that our thinking is correct. At the same time, we are an experiment - and we don't know what the outcome will be. I am confident to say that without addressing material security at a fundamental level - forget about the end of war, environmental justice, or peace on earth. For higher ideals, solving artificial material scarcity via open source, distributed production is critical. I'm not saying that we will have the end of all ills - but I am saying that we will have a chance to begin a meaningful process by which such ills are addressed.
Marcin Jakubowski, Ph.D.
December 29, 2013