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Engine of More: Utopian Hackerspace

Engine of More: Utopian Hackerspace

The Wabi-Sabi Workshop Handbook: would be a made up workshop/members handbook for a utopian imagined workshop (i.e. one that exists only in my mind) I’ve been toying with the idea of opening a new type of Hackerspace for a while and have labeled that project the Wabi-Sabi Workshop because I like the ideals of the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic and its implications for a makerspace culture. It would be heavily influenced by works like Tom Sach’s 10 Bullets and would form a utopian trope like “Utopia” by More or “A Modern Utopia” by Wells where an ideal is described without having to actually prove it works.

On Friday I wrote about 4 book ideas, yesterday I explored the 1st of those ideas, today I will explore the 2nd. One of my anxieties about writing a book about Hackerspaces is this. If I write about what happened at the Nottingham Hackspace I stand a high chance of misremembering what we did and why, conflating ideas that were my own with ideas I stole and vice-versa, getting things wrong, being annoyed by things that we compromises or that I think don’t work that do work or that I think do work that don’t work. Generally I fear annoying a few people or being seen as negative or unable to see the value of what was achieve, all of these criticisms would be perfectly valid and I see myself in them all. At the same time, I feel I have something useful to say about Hackerspaces and some ideas I want to share, for general discussion and reflection.

All the fear stuff aside, the idea of the utopian book is simply this, it’s a pure sandbox. To be clear, a utopia describes an ideal, as I would see it, it would be a matter of opinion set out using my own subjective ideas of what is “good” or “bad”. This happens to be my own favourite of the options I wrote down and has also been the best received by those giving me feedback on the post.

I call it the “Wabi-Sabi Workshop Handbook” because the Wabi-Sabi Workshop is a place holder name I have for an ideal, new hackerspace I’d like to create in real life. Wabi-Sabi is a concept around appreciating the aesthetic of wear and damage an object has. I first started thinking seriously about this with a wheelbarrow that Daniel Martin found in the collection at then Derby Silk Museum we chose this object for a Museum of Making at the Derby Mini Maker Faire in 2015 as its age was indeterminate, but it had been repairs over and over again and had a wonderful amount of story, just by looking at it, though it’s real story was unknown.

I feel strongly that Wabi-Sabi is not only a story about objects and buildings but also a key to accepting ageing, something that I’ll admit I’ve struggled with a lot these last few years. Wabi-Sabi helps us to think about repairing rather than replacing and respecting about respecting age and experience, about accepting what we have and seeing the beauty in it.

Possibly the most influential writer and speaker in my life is Seth Godin, Godin talks about Wabi-Sabi in Series 1 episode 8 of his Akimbo Podcast. You can listen to the episode below or you can find it in all the usual places. The show notes are here.

Another aspect commonly associated with Wabi-Sabi is Kintsugi, a Japanese term that I think translates to “Golden Repair”, the idea of this is something that feel familiar to me as an aesthetic idea. Picture a tea bowl (maybe from a tea ceremony) mended with gold between the cracks and you’ll have a picture in your mind of kintsugi. I did something very similar with Sugru and a Staffordshire Chef Ware milk jug once.

Anyway all that is beside the point. I'm not sure if I’d lay the book out as if it was a guide for new members coming to the workshop. I imagine it being something like an employee handbook, an example of which is the Valve Handbook for New Employees or Working to Code Tom Sach’s Studio Manual (aka 10 Bullets and the Studio series by Tom Sachs and Van Neistat).

I like the simple direct format of 10 Bullets and the “bricolage” style movie edits of Van Neistat, the 10 bullets themselves are aspirational and don’t necessarily reflect the behaviours in The Studio, if my experience attending a gallery evening with run by the Studio Core is anything to go by. Essentially 10 Bullets is a zine or a bit of art, art is also how I’d pitch my utopian Wabi-Sabi Workshop handbook.

Helpfully in the comments to an earlier blog post, I was reminded of the book Makers by Cory Doctorow (2009) which is essentially a business parable. I kind of like business parables, notably books like The One Minute Manager, Who Moved My Cheese and Fish! which I suspect many people scoff at as basic or even cliched, personally I love those books and as a young manager they helped me a lot and certainly formed the basis of my outlook today.

For those who don’t know, I am a strong believer in the idea that really there aren’t many bad workers, only bad processes. I’ll say this again, but another way, there are really no truly bad members in a Hackerspace, only poor systems and behaviours that allow members to do the wrong thing or encourage members with the wrong attitude to hijack or persist inside the group. I spent many weeks (over a few years) training to be a yellow belt, then green belt in Six Sigma (no not a real marshal art), a form of process improvement that lends heavily from W. Edwards Deming that took strategies to Japan help rebuild industry after WWII. From Deming we get Lean Manufacturing and TPS (Toyota Production System), notions like improvement (Kaizen), development (Kanban) and targeting of waste in a process (muda, muri, mura), there are other principles like 5S that fit neatly into my Lean and my own philosophy on Hackerspaces. In other words I am not really seeking to reinvent anything at all. I know when I’ve talked about more process or process improvement, folks tend to switch off. They tend to associate the word process with a notion of pain. But I truly believe that, like good design, good process is 99% invisible. In conclusion, things go wrong in Hackerspaces because of an unwillingness to create and continually improve good processes. To go further I feel strongly we can improve workshops and shared workspaces. Don’t even get me started on Poke-Yoke!

Another aspect of the book could be a lean approach to project management tailored for volunteers in a flat organisation, as many hackerspaces are. There tends to be little shortage of folks eager to volunteer, but volunteers are tricky. Flaking in a hackerspace on a task you volunteered for is a problem, if you’re involved with nearly any organisation, you know what I mean. I’ve done it, you’ve done it and we’ve all seen it, lets be honest. We need to have a process that makes it okay for everyone to take a task away from some one, and not just to give it to the first person who raises their hand. We need better methods of providing scope, oversight and goals to volunteers, giving people authority, the ability to gain enrolment and empowerment and permission to really make decisions. Most of all we need to give people a deadline and the option to say… I can’t do this please help. In any task we need to give people a way out that allows them to save face and some dignity.

Wow, I’m really getting off topic today. I hope you get the idea. This post does in some ways illustrate my problem. I’m so excited about the subject I just have everything to say and no real direction to hose it out. As usual I’d be very happy to have some feedback. If any women (or anyone who isn’t a white middle aged man like me) are reading this and I hope they are, I’d love to hear some thoughts and suggestions.

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