Walmart and Old Glory

Our largest customer for the communities hammocks business is an internet vendor called Hayneedle.  They run the top search ranked site (a domain we of course wish we had had the foresight to purchase 20 years ago).  While i was on vacation they sent us a notice saying they were opening a secondary internet vendor sites and reselling our hammocks.  I came back from the Erie Canal with a small fire storm brewing in the community that our hammocks were on sale at

I wrote Hayneedle and told them they needed to be taken down and they quickly agreed (tho at this writing they are still in place).  Besides the commonly known reasons for not wanting to be associated with Walmart, terrible employee practices, predatory pricing, destruction of local retail infrastructure, capital flight, etc, we have our own reasons not to want to sell thru them.  Our hammocks business is a strange boutique outfit.  Because all the labor comes from within the community, we cant simply expand our production facilities and hire more people to make more hammocks (or tofu or additional book indexing, etc).  Because Hayneedle is such a large customer, they have negotiated very good prices with us.  These compress our margins while, because of their size, also stretch our capacity.  If they started reselling thru Walmart, we could end up not having enuf hammock to sell to our other customers are much better margins for us.  And we promise our brick and mortar stores we will not sell at big box stores which compete with them.

More tricky is the Candy Cane hammock we developed for the recent trade show.  We wanted new offerings for the show, we have miles of surplus red rope from a previous management purchasing error and a thin red and white stripped hammock with a navy blue pillow look something like a flag.  So we decided we would pitch it.  We told the community about it and a couple of people complained on our O&I board (our internal communication center) but no one challenged the decision (through our override process) and it seemed like there was not much upset about it.

A month after the show my friend Red came to my quite upset about the flag hammock.  Here again the politics are clear, the US is responsible for 3 wars currently, from that guy who got the Nobel Peace Prize (tho he inherited 1.5 of them).  Why would our progressive commune profiteer from patriotism.  I had never been excited about the flag hammock, but others were and there did not seem to be community objection when we brought it up, so i let it go.  It was in fact my choice (as marketing manager) to stop it or let it happen.  As if the fates wanted this to be a bigger questions, immediately after Red left me upset with my answers about the flag hammock, a buyer from a high end chain we had met at the show called and said they were interested in featuring our flag hammock in their spring catalog and this would mean hundreds of hammocks.

It is one thing to roll of a few handfuls of candy cane hammocks, it is something totally different to have hundreds of flag hammocks comin ut of our show.  I could easily imagine a worker walk out (which is of course super easy at Twin Oaks, because it is all volunteer work).  We have already been joking about Occupy Twin Oaks (demands of early seconds at the steam table line have been considered).  Without more active community approval this could easily go badly.

The problem is we have a broken decision making model. It is a testament to what is great about Twin Oaks, that it survives, even thrives with this failed decision system.  When Twin Oaks was founded we thought collectively we could do better than voting, but the feminists had not polished the consensus technique they had borrowed from the Quakers, so we did not believe we could get unanimous agreement.  So we settled for something in the middle, where we worked problems until we had a dynamic super majority of people in favor of a solution.

Sounds clever, no?  It’s isn’t.  There are a myriad of problems with this approach, the very first of which is that you often dont know when your process is complete.  What if 4 people are strongly against the notion of flag hammocks and many more think it is a good idea, then if we are unable to come up with a compromise that works between the majority and this handful of people, then we are, sometimes, stuck.  Because the super majority is flexible, it means a small minority of highly vocal individuals can force the status quo rather than permitting the change they dont want.  And then it starts getting really complicated, because how seriously this minority gets taken depends in part on who the people are, how long they have contributed to the community and their general respectability.  None of these are quantified of course, but they definitely matter.

In the case of the flag hammock, i am almost certain we will shoot the idea down.  In part because some people are honstly quite upset about it (which i understand), but more importantly, the flag had no defenders in the community.  Very few people will step up and say “this is a good idea, it solves several of our problems. {surplus red rope, he desire to make woven hx, increases our silly low $/hour, and the market seems to like them).  But none of this matters, it is easy to say “no” to the flag, so we quite likely will.

a better flag