Interview: Signals of Transformation and How to Read Them

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I was interviewed about How To Thrive by Sarah Dorkenwald for a new book, Visionen Gestalten, which will be published next week. The original English transcript is below. The German text is HERE.

SD: What is your vision of the next economy about?

JT: My book is for people who fear that there no escape from an economy that devours nature in the name of endless growth. I argue that another world is not just possible – it is already happening: a world in we value all of life, not just human life; a word in which progress is measured by Read More »

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Making as Reconnecting: Crafts In The Next Economy

The following is an edited version of my keynote talk, delivered by video to the Craft Reveals conference at the Chiang Mai Vocational School in December 2016. The conference was hosted (and my talk commissioned) by the British Council Thailand.

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Around the world, a new economy is being shaped by a “leave things better” story about the meaning of progress and development. In a million projects, people are growing food, restoring soils and rivers, designing homes, generating energy,  journeying, caring for each other, and learning, in new ways.

These activities are incredibly diverse, but a green thread connects them: the regeneration of local living economies. Growth, in this story, takes on a new meaning as the improved health of soils, rivers, plants, animals – and people. Production is re-imagined as a source of equipment for the local system: from greenhouses and water tanks, to solar panels and mesh networks.

At the same time, new tools and business models are transforming relationships between makers and users: Sharing and Peer-to-Peer; Community Ownership; Platform Co-ops; Fair Trade; The Maker Movement; Civic Ecology; Circular Economy; Food and Fibersheds; Transition Towns; Bioregions.

Traditional craft communities, which so often embody healthy relationships between people, place, and living systems, can be important partners for learning and innovation in this new economy. What kinds of relationship, in this context, are most promising?

Maker economies

The rapid emergence of maker spaces, distributed manufacturing, new distribution channels, and disruptive business models, is blurring the distinction between developed and undeveloped, ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Craft producers in the South are just as much actors in a making economy as are the Fab Labs, makerspaces and microfactories that are blooming in the North.

The rediscovery of rust-belt production resources – “tractor factories”  as they call them in Bilbao – is further broadening the range of options for local production. In the forgotten industrial zones of many rustbelt cities, hundreds of local factories, workshops and makers are hidden away, and just about hanging on – but still viable.

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The MakeWorks ‘factory finding’ platform launched in Scotland (see above) is a great example; their platform is now starting up in Bristol and Birmingham, too. Another great example, Farm Hack (see below) was born in the US but has now been launched in Scotland, too.

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Digital platforms are a means to an end in this context. They make it easier for creative professionals to source local fabricators, material suppliers and open-access workshop facilities.

Documenting these resources is a creative activity in itself. It involves extensive research, mapping, filming and photography of factories, makers and manufacturers.

A number of web-based platforms have emerged as an online marketplace for makers — including OpenDesk, Etsy, Shapeways, Ponoko, Quirky, Kickstarter, and The Grommet.

But according to Will Holman, the economics of making things in a makerspace, and selling them through web-based platforms, are as tough for a designer selling on Etsy as its is for an artisan in Thailand. Most makers in the the US online marketplace earn less than the U.S. median wage.

A purely transactional maker economy, based only on selling things, is unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term.

If it’s just about the thing,
someone will soon find a way to source a similar thing,
but cheaper.

Rather than focus only on selling products as the core measure of progress, it makes more sense to focus on the resources and connections needed for a regional economy to thrive.

Foodsheds



In agriculture,  the healthiest food  systems and landscapes have been created, shaped and maintained by Read More »

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Book launch in India

Amid the spectacular setting created by my hosts at (above) my talk was miraculously summarised on a single page by the talented @ragasy

There followed a #ThackaraThrive book launch in Mumbai at the Indian School of Design & Innovation / Parsons Mumbai  With many thanks to @isdimumbai @RoliBooks and @thamesandhudson

 

 

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Interview with Experimenta (Spain)

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On the occasion of the publication of  #ThackaraThrive in Spanish, I did an interview for Experimenta with Dr. Eugenio Vega Pindado. Here below is the English version.


Q1: This is one of the first interviews with John Thackara in a Spanish magazine. What do you tell to our readers about the main motivation for your approach of the problems discussed in this book? 



A: To people who fear that there no escape from an economy that devours nature in the name of endless growth, I argue that another world is not just possible – it is already happening. I know this to be true because Read More »

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Entrevista a Experimenta (in Spanish)

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Con motivo de la publicación en lengua castellana de su último libro, John Thackara ha concedido una entrevista a Experimenta. En ella repasa las principales ideas de su pensamiento y los motivos que le han llevado a profundizar en las relaciones entre diseño e innovación social con la mirada puesta en un mundo más sostenible.

Experimenta ha publicado Cómo prosperar en la economía sostenible, diseñar hoy el mundo del mañana la versión española de Read More »

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From Oil Age to Soil Age

The Design Museum in London opens at its new home this week with, as its centrepiece, an exhibition called Fear and Love curated by Justin McGuirk. I contributed the following text to the book.

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(Above: Debra Solomon examines nature’s internet at Schumacher College in England)

Why we need a new story

In 1971 a geologist called Earl Cook evaluated the amount of energy ‘captured from the environment’ in different economic systems. Cook discovered then that a modern city dweller needed about 230,000 kilocalories per day to keep body and soul together. This compared starkly to a hunter-gatherer, 10,000 years earlier, who needed about 5,000 kcal per day to get by.

That gap, between simple and complex lives, has widened at an accelerating rate since Cook’s pioneering work. Once all the systems, networks and equipment of modern life are factored in – the cars, planes, factories, buildings, infrastructure, heating, cooling, lighting, food, water, hospitals, the internet of things, cloud computing – well, a New Yorker or Londoner today ‘needs’ about sixty times more energy and resources per person than a hunter-gatherer – Read More »

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On seeing with new eyes

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The last thing we need to see the world with new eyes is a virtual reality headset“. On a recent visit to Milan, I was interviewed for Domus by Stefania Garassini. The Italian version is online here; the English one is here.

(Domus intro) When you hear someone quote Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – there is a temptation to dismiss them as just another utopian, a dreamer who might have inspired ideas but cannot translate these into anything practical. Nothing could be further from the truth if the person in question is John Thackara, a philosopher, writer, event-organiser, thinker ranging across the boundaries between design and economics, and the author of numerous books – his most recent is How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson). Read More »

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A roof, a skill, a market: The multiple dimensions of scale

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“Beware the scale trap”.  In a Letter To Philanthropists Parker Mitchell,  a former CEO of Engineers Without Borders in Canada, advised potential donors that “scale is important, but don’t rush it. Most good ideas take time – to iron out the details, to bring down the costs, to be tested in different environments”. Organic demand-driven scale will happen in time, but it takes patience to find the right elements of a solution.

These lessons are exemplified by The Nubian Vault Association (AVN). With a mission is to serve the one hundred million people living in the Sahel region of West Africa who are either homeless, or live precariously in short-life structures, AVN has spent 16-years, on the ground, developing a multi-dimensional approach that works.

AVN’s pioneering work will be presented this week at the finals of the Place By Design competition at SXSWeco.  Rather than a celebration of the past, it will share a  challenge with the whole social impact community: What’s the best way to grow faster – a lot faster – without wrecking a system that has worked well so far?
Read More »

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“Let’s talk about optimism”

Back in November, on the eve of the US book release launch for How to Thrive in the Next Economy, I sat  down with Core77’s Allan Chochinov to talk about the project.

AC: When did the book project first begin? Is it something that you’ve been working on for a while, or did it have a definite starting point?

JT: OMG, it must be five years.That’s when I did the first formal treatment, at least. I’ve re-written big chunks of it twice since then – and have added in new a stories along the way as I’ve  learned about them.

The whole thing stabilised during 2014 when I had a fixed deadline to meet – and it’s been in production for most of this year so I couldn’t  change it any more. I hope it’s a good sign that I’m still proud of the book a whole year after I stopped writing it!

AC: This is a very different book than In the Bubble—which was a tremendous work, but a pretty “thick” read:) Can you tell us about the transition from one to another from your point of view?

JT: I had five years of feedback to In The Bubble to learn from when I started this project  – and Read More »

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