Why MG Taylor is a Business
...and not a foundation, a part of an university or government, a non-profit
or... a philosophical movement
I am not a businessman and so...
I “run” a business
I am often told that I am no businessman. I readily agree. I am often told that I am the worst problem that MG Taylor has. The implication of which is that if I would get out of the way that MG Taylor would become successful - which means to most people, profitable. “You are MG Taylor’s problem” is how it is usually put. Although, I am looking forward to the day that I will be able to step out of MG Taylor and become a user of this capability, I disagree with this assessment. This Paper, the first of the 2006 Papers [link: papers 2006 index], explains why the assessment that I am wrong for MG Taylor, at this moment in its history, is an incorrect judgment.
I am not a businessman and I have no interest in becoming one. I understand the process of business and have mentored and facilitated many complex businesses through difficult transitions - and, I have great respect for those few, true business persons I have read about and met. The reason why I have undertaken a business role has many facets: I have not found the person who has the passion for business that I have for architecture and the MG Taylor Method and who can take the development of this on in a way that protects its integrity; we have found, though experience, that the failure rate of “good” business people coming from outside into our organization is very high - so, we are growing our leadership internally; I disagree with many of the assumptions by which modern businesses operate - both practical and moral/ethical. However, I do not see this resolvable by a theoretical debate. It is necessary to demonstrate that it is possible to create a successful business which runs by a different set of rules and to higher standard. Otherwise the pragmatic (in the negative sense of the term) argument wins by default and goes on and on like the Energizer Bunny. You see, I want to change business. I want to change it at its core. And, I think it is vitally important to do so. Business is unquestionably one of the greatest creative forces in the world today. It has been, and can remain, a great liberator of the human condition and expression of the human sprit. Yet, the sum of business activities - as they are conducted today - will, unchanged over another generation, destroy the world.
There is an old adage: if you want someone to fundamentally change a field, get someone from outside of it. This is what I am doing and, since I am not an academic or consultant, I am doing it from inside. I am not merely criticizing and advising - I am doing. Architecture - true architecture - requires the integration of art, engineering, manufacturing, building, craft and business. Architecture, in the sense of making environments, thrives only when this integration is accomplished. Architecture, shelters, organizes and expresses human life. My interest in fields of human endeavor, aside from architecture, is still from an architect’s perspective. How does the structure of things determine their outcome? How can design be employed to arrive at eloquent solutions that transcend the mundane and low quality half-solutions we see so much of? How can a humanist perspective be practiced in the realm of everyday business transactions? How can the integrity that art requires be employed in the making of large complex systems and industrial organizations? How can a long term perspective be made consistent with the demands of investment, profit and market success? How can philosophical and religious ideals be an uncompromising part of every aspect of how business is conceived and practiced? How can business be the armature and technology of truly creative work - the full expression of human potential? How can the ideals of democracy be fully realized in the marketplace and within the business organizations that make it up? How can all life be served not just a truncated definition of it which is some humans in opposition to other humans and most of all other life forms? How can business be demanding, challenging and fun for all who engage in it - not just for the elites who hold prized (and rare) positions and those who “own” it? How can business systems and markets make up a sustainable ecology in concert with our planetary ecology? Find the answers to these questions and practice them and you have a true FREE ENTERPRISE system - which is something that we do not have today [link: capitalism for the rest of us].
Realizing the answer to these questions in practice is what I have set out to do. Doing this, will help make a market in which my architecture may find opportunity. If I can help makes such a market and if I can build as an expression of this way of working and living, I will consider myself successful and a happy man. I have no interest in less. I rather fail at this ambition and leave a clear, documented legacy for those who will come accept the challenge and carry on the work someday than to “succeed” by the typical terms of today’s standards.
I know many, many honorable business people who see things otherwise. I do not judge nor condemn them. They have their reasoning and life experiences. I have mine. This web site is an autobiographical work. Its purpose is to document, as well as I can, what experiences - “good” and “bad” have brought me to where I am today. If my practice persuades - then fine. If not, then this is the judgment of the free market of ideas. All have a fundamental right to choose and we each, individually and collectively, will reap what we sow. Life is about choice - and consequences - as obscure as they sometimes may appear.
There are those in (what is now called) “business” and politics that I do criticize. In my experience, they are the few. They exercise, however, great influence and power way out of proportion to their numbers. Some actually steal, cheat and - in some cases - kill. These are the minority of a minority. The many, in this group, hide behind the skirts of Capitalism (technically, in the US, a coming-into-being Theocratic State Capitalism) and practice a “business” of anything goes - honest, ethical or not - as long it is (barely) legal or as long as they “don’t get caught” or unless they have friends who can work them out of it if they do. They work within a very narrow definition of what is their legitimate focus and concern. This protects their self image, I suppose. They consider themselves “clean” no matter that the third or forth order consequence of their actions, directly frustrates, maims or kills innocent life. I understand that the majority of them do claim to pray on weekends and moments of personal loss. They feel that their first order of responsibility is to protect themselves. The more generous of them extend this, to their family, society, even (rarely) humanity. Whatever their scope, there is always the “others” (real or abstract) who are judged to be dangerous, not fit or worthy and, thus, not granted dignity, rights and, often, even life. To those of this persuasion, peoples who are “other,” animals and the planet itself are nothing more than a commodity to exploit.
My answer to those who hold this view is simply that it is not possible to earn and “succeed” by one standard and be human by another. It is not possible to have personal or group security without working for the security of all life. It is not practical to mix economic, political and religious power - a point often not realized until one falls out of power. It is not possible to be wealthy in a world full of unnecessary, and often deliberately caused, abject poverty. Freedom for elites and not for others is not freedom. Opportunity for your children while repressing and denying it to other children is not opportunity. Neither the systematic plunder nor the welfare state (for the defeated) is practical. Over the centuries, humankind has evolved a set of ideals that seek to bring theory and practice, ideal and practical, individual wealth and commonwealth, personal ethics and group ethics into harmony. While not yet totally consistent or perfect, they are the best we have and a good place to begin. Following these ideals, as absolutely scrupulously as possible - even when it seems to bring immediate, short term disadvantage or pain - is the only practical dictum of life that I know.
To me, BUSINESS is the art of practicing these ideals. A deal won by deceit is a defeat and corruption of the process that makes deal-making possible and good. Cheating the established rules of business, and failure to establish the very best possible level playing field, destroys the basis of business. In a proper competition, even the loser gains if only in the learning of what works. Business is how we make dreams real. Business is the creation of the means to turn abstractions into things. Business is the making of GOODS (not bads). Business is the producer of PROFIT (not merely a margin that can be taken out in the short term dooming the company or economy to future crisis).
My mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, put it this way: “What a man does - that he is!” [my apologies to the ladies for the “man” - please take it as wo-man]. Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Brandon would agree. Ideal and practical cannot be divorced. It is not always easy or possible, at a moment in time, to see the actual connections between them. The diligence of moral integrity is always to be seeking seeking this answer - no matter the answer. To deliberately sacrifice ideal to practical, or practical to ideal, is to practice the soul/body dichotomy and always leads to a bad and often outright evil result. Good design seeks to heal this breach. A powerful, effective and collaborative design process is a requirement of achieving good design when taking on complex technical and social issues. Creating a Method for doing this, and demonstrating it, is the work that MG Taylor took on. We are succeeding in demonstrating the value of this work. The first aspect of our mission [link: mission] is to make this way of working ubiquitous. The next few years will see great advances toward this goal. The second aspect of our mission is to demonstrate, by becoming a successful and profitable business - in a market somewhat hostel to our idea set - that this approach to business practice is practical. We are yet to accomplish this. We will. And that is why I am “running” the business and will do so until the self-governance within it evolves so that MG Taylor can “win” while playing by the new rules - not the old.
MG Taylor took on an extraordinarily difficult task when we undertook this venture. Of course, 25 years ago we did not know the full scope of the challenge we created for ourselves - one never does at the beginning of the journey. Inventing the Method, itself, was an extremely challenging task - making it into a business, another. There was no market for it when we started. So, we had to create a new kind of product and a market. The Method is useful only if practiced and the nature of it is that it must sold in a way faithful to it. This means that the business of MG Taylor has to be run by the Method. This means that MG Taylor has to operate as a ValueWeb. This means that MG Taylor cannot engage in numerous actions that, in the world of business today, are considered, (and by industrial-age paradigm standards many actually are) appropriate, beneficial, ethical and moral. To do so would corrupt the Method and discount the future that this capacity is designed to facilitate and help design. We support Transition Managers. In the broad sense, we are Transition Managers - present stewards of a means to facilitate human and planetary transformation. To be this, we have to operate in two worlds with one foot in each. We have to be competent in business as it is and we have to act as business “should and aught to be.” We have to function by a standard appropriate to a sustainable, global, knowledge-based, network structured, creative economy.
The scope of MG Taylor’s activities is very broad - way too broad for “good” business as it is presently understood. We are constantly told to “focus” on a few of the things that presently make up our portfolio. There is great temptation to do this, of course, as it would make immediate profitability far easier. I resist this because it is the role of our ValueWeb partners to do this - as many have done successfully. Our role is to create the opportunity; to prove out the environments tools, practices and operating processes; to demonstrate their efficacy. Our job is not to determine the market, attempt to control it or exploit it. Ours is to offer it options and to back the play that is chosen at any given time. This is the genesis of the MG Taylor Business Model. Admittedly, it is an unusual model although no longer totally unique. It is not one that makes an easy path to profitability. Our task is not to change the legitimate (mission driven) model to make profit easier - it is to be smart enough to earn a profit by properly and successfully putting the Model to work. We are learning.
Our focus is laser-like: we are architects of a new way of working. We build and demonstrate the tools, environments and processes that support this way. This task includes proofing out the economic viability of each product/service. We keep the organic capacity to do this and continually lead the market with new solutions. This is the practice of Bucky’s anticipatory design science. We transfer our capability to our partners as aggressively and swiftly as possible. They scale. We weave a ValueWeb so that the incremental capacity of each partner will be able to function as a total system when circumstances dictate that this is necessary. It is a foundation belief of MG Taylor Corporation that the large scale, systemic challenges, that we, and others, forecast 25 years ago, would pose an overwhelming circumstance for humankind unless a new system of response was put in place. There is nothing, today, that makes us change our mind. The only difference is, that now, the word “future” must be taken out of the proposition. We are here, now, and the next quarter century will be the most challenging, interesting and fateful period in humanity’s known history. Humankind finally faces a worthy adversary: ourselves.
I put quotes around “run” in the sub-title of this Paper because, in fact, I do not run MG Taylor - and that is the crux of the matter. One of the reasons I am here is to prevent someone from trying to do that instead of allowing the enterprise to develop organically. The Method, the business of MG Taylor, and the ValueWeb have to co-evolve together. This requires greater variety and disciple than a direct hands on management can provide. After 25 years, we are on the threshold of the critical mass necessary for this to happen. The Taylor Method is an Operating System. When we work with partner clients and providers, we “install” this OS in their organization - from “mind” to system to physical infrastructure. The internal management task at MG Taylor is to complete the installation of the OS in our own organization and inner clam shell ValueWeb networks. I mean this technically and literally - not as a metaphor.
MG Taylor is in iteration6 of seven anticipated organizational transformations [link: iteration 6]. iteration6 is the shift from a company architecture to a true ValueWeb architecture. This is, perhaps the most difficult and critical step in our evolution. I believe that getting through this iteration will both allow and require my transition out as “manager” to user of the system. This, and the rewards that will come with a successful venture, will allow me to “start” the architectural practice I set out to make nearly 50 years ago.
Most likely, if I - and the rest of us who are undertaking this specific task - fail to assist MG Taylor, and its nascent ValueWeb through this transition, the conventional wisdom will declare what a lousy business person I am. Conversely, if we succeed - given the star-focus of our society - I will be celebrated as some sort of entrepreneurial genius. Both assessments are likely to be equally wrong. A test case of one is hardly the basis of evaluating what is, in fact, a radical organizational and management theory. The true evaluation will have to come in the future that, if successful, will rewire the entire economy. It has to be based on the performance of the theory and practice across a broad set of cases and extended period of time. Stating the success or failure of MG Taylor, in the time of my watch, is a temporal judgment at best.
There is one form of failure, however, that I will do everything in my power to prevent and that is a financial loss for those who invested time, resources and money into MG Taylor. I have been offered several opportunities to wipe the slate clean and start over without the burden of old liabilities. Even though the obligations of the enterprise are minute in relationship to its potential, I am told that “we will not invest into debt.” I am reminded that often a new idea fails more than once and that investment is always a risk that everybody understands. As a matter of fact, it is my refusal to allow this that constitutes, easily, 80% of the criticism of my business sense and lack thereof. Many reasonable and practical arguments have been offered on the behalf of reorganizing MG Taylor, paying stakeholders five cents on the dollar, and then - free of present constraints - actualizing the true financial potential of the enterprise. It is a tempting scenario, totally justified except the following:
I gave my word that this would not happen as long as I had the ability to earn. I am an old fashioned businessman in one way: I came from the era when one’s word was one’s bond. I grew up in a military community where failure to do this could cost lives [link: 1947] . I think that this is a very good practice - a practice that is essential in a knowledge-base, design focused, ad-hoc, global network economy. (In all due respect to the legal profession, business is beginning to collapse under the weight of its own self-created complexity). I can - but will not - divorce my personal financial future from that of MG Taylor until these two economies can legitimately be separated. Alive, we will prosper together. If I were die before the enterprise is at least obligation neutral, the key man insurance will bring all back to zero (including my own estate, by the way, as I am one of the single largest creditors). Another factor is this: MG Taylor grew and continued through a number of episodes that would have terminated the vast majority of businesses. Many who are owed something therefore were not willing, qualified investors who knowingly took a deliberate business risk. The paid in capital of the corporation is, at best, a few hundred thousand. No, it is sweat equity and the debt from periodic disasters that make the obligation. I believe that these circumstance impose a higher obligation on leadership than a formal, at risk, investment.
If MG Taylor was a “normal” enterprise - even if a radical one - and a creature of the existing social-political economy, I would have no objection to this kind of reorganization. We would have done it years ago and would now be long beyond our present circumstance. If we were a creature of the “new” economy (whenever it actually arrives) and had been constituted based on whatever those rules turn out to be - I would have no problem in following the best business practices of this system. MG Taylor is neither the old or the new. We cannot be the old and we do not know what the new will be. And, there is no legal system that supports the new - which is the major reason why the new economy has not yet arrived. We are a transition enterprise. We are helping with the creation of the new. We, as managers of the enterprise, have a Transition Manager’s duty and the Creed is specific in this regard and has been long published. It is a Creed that all who are providers of the MG Taylor Method are bound to [link: the transition managers creed].
It is difficult to get investment and supportive banking for any enterprise in any area of work in any era. For cutting edge ideas, beneficial and benevolent financing approaches the impossible. As it is, the entire financing system is one of the greatest impediments to the creation of sustainable enterprises. For an investment as outrageous, crazy, long term and socially focused as MG Taylor, the circumstance is beyond common reason. MG Taylor represents a set of very important ideas. Ideas that I believe are important in some way - no mater how they ultimately succeed - to our collective future. I see no economy in discrediting these ideas for the sake of a few million dollars which represent just two years profits at our late 90s revenue rate. I think it is far more practical to, at minimum, pay the debt and return the capital even under the unlikely circumstance that this particular effort can never - for whatever reason - become a financial success in its present iteration and form.
MG Taylor is already a network organization. It has already outsourced not only a great amount of its work but its revenue streams. This network is financially successful. A few hundred make a very good living from this work. Several corporations have saved and made millions - and some billions - as a direct consequence of this work. The effort that remains is to adjust the revenue share of the core system integrator function of the ENTERPISE. In terms of our revenue history, this would be about a 5% margin of the total. In terms of our licensed providers revenue base, this would be a fraction of a percent. In terms of the end user benefit, the number would be too small to measure. This is a minute out-of-balance situation and an issue of tuning the terms of agreement between the ValueWeb members. This is a technical task. For all we know, it may already be accomplished and only a factor of time before the benefit is realized. It is certainly not worth putting at risk, or even temporarily disrupting, the capacity that this enterprise can field just at the time that the recognition of the need is souring. To me, this would be very poor mis-management and totally irresponsible.
I certainly am looking forward to the day that MG Taylor will be free of the costs (which were over 95% self-funded) of its development and startup. I look forward to the day that I will be able to earn a fair salary, have money to advance architecture, and enjoy, at a modest scale, the fruits of a great deal of invention, work and good service. These are all important values and also, in themselves, a measure of success and credibility for an idea. After all, what good is an idea if it requires 50 years of effort and no economic reward? All, in good time. Everything has a season. One of the most difficult periods in enterprise development is that time just before success. Are we there, yet? Is it another five years? Are we fools? Will we come out whole? Have we wasted tremendous time and treasure? Will it be fair to all who contributed? Does it provide a foundation for a viable future? Did we accomplish what we set out to do? These are always the questions asked. The exit strategy for an entrepreneur is equally difficult to get right. Few, even the ones who made millions - even billions - look back on this process with fond memories. Too often, they see their efforts a financial success but their intent and idea compromised - even destroyed. How it is all done is the measure of the total success of the venture - and, the long term social impact is also a part of that measure.
Having been part of “the world’s longest startup,” I have had ample opportunity to think about all of these things. I decided long ago that I wanted success in terms of the world that I wished to live in not the world I found myself born into. Not to succeed in this way, for me, is to fail. To “succeed,” by standards and terms that I do not agree with, is also to fail. I am willing to “fail,” if necessary, in the attempt to help bring about a world of my liking with products in it of my design. I do wish to succeed and I happen to believe that succeeding this way is actually a positive sign for our common future. This may merely be an error in judgment or a conceit, however. Nevertheless, I have given the best thought that I am capable of to these matters. Given the sum of my entire experience, much of which is described on this web site, I cannot act differently and be who I am. One’s greatest creative act is the making of who they are out of the circumstances of their life and given what talents they naturally have. We all will error and we all have blind spots but I have given this effort great attention, diligence and self-examination. I am reporting it as best I can. Given the variety of life, we will all come out differently on the matters discussed here. I have a very different sense of risk because of specific experiences of my youth, than most so this certainly propells me to an uncommon place with many issues. How we all deal with these primary issues of life and being is a demonstration - the greatest gift we can give one another. We all play the game of life differently and the synergy of it all makes the reality of our species and the potential of the future.
There is one more thing that I wish to say on this matter. There are two kinds of efforts in enterprise. Both are equally valuable and necessary. Most enterprises produce non critical products and services. They are important, they make life better (if they are well designed and do no harm) and they make life fun. They can engage, entertain, teach and even inspire. However, if a non critical idea or product is born, or not, succeeds or fails - it really does not matter. A critical product and enterprise, by definition, is different. It is for higher stakes. It changes things on a fundamental level and operates at a greater scale. In some circumstances, it may make the margin for a person, a community, state or even a planet. Circumstances - more often then intent or design - determine which product or business turns out to be critical or not. Life is prolific so even a critical failure is usually covered by one or more other efforts. Not always. Enterprises and civilizations do fail. And, if you read Collapse, you will discover that the reason for failure connected with the loss of many such civilizations are precisely those that the MG Taylor Method is designed to address. I am not claiming any distinction for this. We did forecast, 30 years ago, many of the circumstances of this time and we did deliberately create a tool designed to facilitate better choices. It is not a given that our work will grow to the scale required to have the impact we intended. As in any enterprise there are many factors that will determine this. We do know - from direct experience - that, in principle, it is able to make the kind of contribution it was designed to do. In this, there is an obligation on my part that is greater than just keeping a single business idea alive.
The VENTURE is profitable. The remaining task - which is not rival nor immense either - is to make the core nucleus of this venture, which is MG Taylor, profitable on a sustainable basis.
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Matt Taylor
October 10, 2005


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posted: October 10, 2005

revised: November 13, 2005
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Copyright© Matt Taylor 2005