Pacific Coast…factory mentality?

A simplification, of sorts, that came to mind while reading last night. The analogy for which was provided by Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are you indispensable:

Imagine a stack of 400 quarters. Each quarter represents 250 years of human culture, and the entire stack signifies the 100,000 years we’ve had organized human tribes. Take the top quarter off the stack. This one quarter represents how many years our society has revolved around factories and the jobs and the world as we see it. The other 399 coins stand for a very different view of commerce, economy and culture. Our current view might be the normal, but the old normal was around for a very long time.

Telling your family that you had a “job” and were moving away to go work in a factory of some sort was unheard of. Five or six generations ago, when it actually started happening, it was a social upheaval of huge proportions. It changed the world.

Having a factory job is not a natural state. It wasn’t at the heart of being a human until recently. We’ve been culturally brainwashed to believe that accepting the hierarchy and lack of responsibility that come with a factory job is the one way, the only way, the best way.

Take that same quarter and get some change — a couple of dimes and a nickel. The two dimes represent the approximate time of colonialism beginning on the British Columbia coast. Add the nickel and maybe a few pennies and this approximates the time of early Russian ships hunting sea otters to extinction.

In the period of less than a dime (early to late 1800s) the coastal “economy” went from: “when the tide is out the table is set”  – a Haida saying I often heard growing up.

From, cultures largely-based on reciprocity (for example, potlatches where everything was given away) and trade. From cultures that relied largely on inshore and river fisheries and seashore food gathering.

To, primary financial objectives of business to maximize financial value. Salmon canneries popped up all over the coast like hives on a bad rash.

At least during the rash break-out, opportunities for satisfying family businesses arose; for example, owning and operating a fishing boat. There was a period — about a nickel’s worth — where fishing boats were largely “mom-and-pop” operations and boats and licenses could be successfully handed down to kids. I was raised in the tail end of this time — a couple of pennies worth.

Up and down the Pacific coast, salmon fishing boats could be kept in a family and a decent living made — more importantly, a deeply satisfying lifestyle choice for many.

During this time — entrepreneur — was not really an “in” term. I can remember in the early 1980s, my mom working on projects that called many small businesses “cottage industries”. Wikipedia suggests:

A cottage industry is an industry—primarily manufacturing—which includes many producers, working from their homes, typically part time… Cottage industries were the precursor to the factories that would characterize the Industrial Revolution.

Aside from the canneries and the beginning of the logging boom, the coast was largely a collection of cottage industries. Yet, the canneries and boom in logging companies represent the take over of factory thinking and factory economies.

The invention of larger fishing boats, trawlers, and factory trawlers that process everything without even going to shore — also represent the transition to a factory economy.

And now — apparently, even running a small business requires factory thinking. One of the best selling books on small business is Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth” (Entrepreneurial Myth). Initially published in the mid-1980s, the book and thought process has taken on further iterations. I have a copy of E-Myth Mastery put out in 2005:

The primary financial objective of your business is to maximize financial value… view your company as a financial input-output device, a ‘black box’ of sorts, that takes money in, adds value through its business systems, and puts money out… The most important idea is that of ‘company value’ and the financial benefits to the owner of increasing company value.

Sadly, Gerber compares the small business to the Wall Street mantra of increasing “shareholder value”.

When it comes to salmon, and fisheries in general, on the Pacific coast — the reciprocity economy, to cottage industry economy, to factory economy has changed the relationship; has changed the tools; has changed the values; and most definitely changed how we attempt to measure.

In this day in age: millions of dollars are spent trying to develop computer simulations, models and equations to predict salmon run sizes — work once done by actual people, feet in the streams and on the banks, boats in the actual inlets and bays.

People with actual relationships to places some for thousands of years; people who care deeply about places; people who care about healthy stream and healthy salmon runs.

If we could develop the perfect computer simulation and model — we would no longer need people for fisheries management, or at least not as many. That’s adding business value…

Just ask bank tellers replaced by bank machines; Telus operators replaced by that lovely (and ever-helpful) computer voice; and pilots in commercial jet liners that are only really required for take-off and landing (especially when silly Canada Geese get in the way and the runway becomes a river).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *