[permaculture] NAPC: Scarcity?

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Sat Aug 9 03:28:12 EDT 2014

On Aug 8, 2014, at 8:40 AM, loren luyendyk <loren at sborganics.com> wrote:

>   Every system has a limit, and to bring it back to the design of the NAPC pricing schedule, this limit (price of tix) is defined by what the market will bear- meaning "what will people pay to join a convergence"?  We could price it at $10K per ticket, but nobody would show.  The market will not bear it.  The price of a ticket is only worth what people will pay.  This is a limit set by this system, which could change over time but as it is now it may represent the reality of the capacity of the system- ie the disposable income in the pocketbooks of our fellow permies.

Okay, a lesson in systems thinking here.

I've been trying, over and over, to point out a teaching moment on design, to get people to stop focusing on "what is the right price for the tickets?" but we keep going there. 

It's obvious that the ticket price could set a limit to many resources: income, number of attendees, quality of venue, all kinds of things. It's a potential choke point. So it is essential to design so that it is not. That should stand out instantly to any designer.

Unfortunately, because numbers seem important, and we've all got issues around money, we're led to think that the ticket price is the place to focus. 

But we should quickly see that changing the ticket price will not reduce the number of problems. Make it lower and it causes problems, like cash flow, burnout, crappy venue, and too few workers; make it higher and it causes other problems: too expensive for many, only the rich attend, angry constituents, right? And we don't know for sure what price will have exactly what effect.

Thus, a single-price ticket isn't a good solution. There is no optimum, only tradeoffs. Focusing on price actually creates the choke point, it makes a problem where none need be. 

The ticket price is what systems thinker Donella Meadows calls "tinkering with the numbers," like twiddling the faucets on a touchy shower when the problem is at the level of the pipe diameter, the water heater, or the length of pipe run. In her article "12 places to intervene in a system," (required reading!!!!) she places tinkering with the numbers as #12, the weakest strategy. Change the rules, change the strength of the feedback loops, change the information flows, change the system structure, change the paradigm; change anything else, but stop focusing on the ticket price as the place where there is a solution. It's not. 

That's why I've suggested (and it sounds like some of this was considered but there wasn't time or staff to agree or do it) multiple tiers of ticket prices, finding donors a la Pc Voices, crowdsource, sell merchandise to raise money, and 20 other possible ways to do what we know we need to do: make the ticket price a non-issue. One way is to create other resource flows. We must design so that ticket price, the obvious deal killer, does not limit multiple key resource flows. Design an event to take advantage of abundant resources, not so it is dictated by constrictions like how much money the average permie has.

The level to be thinking on is "how do we find the resources to run a great event?" not "how low a price can we charge?" There is enough money and labor in North America to provide for an event like this, right? We can make ticket price the choke point, but that proves that the biggest limit is our imaginations. 
Design it so that ticket price is not very important; a minor part of a multi-level solution. 

This is a design issue, not a ticket-price issue. We created a limit where one did not need to be. This specific issue offers us a general lesson in design that I think not everyone is getting. Substitute for "ticket price" any numerical parameter for a flow-limiting point in a system: annual rainfall, cation exchange, watt-hours, and it's probably easier to see. Don't let annual rainfall be the limit to yield. Make it so that a small amount is plenty. Design not to create choke points that starve multiple, critical functions. Money brings such a charge with it that we miss designing for it the way we would for rainfall or nutrients.

I don't know how to say this--that the ticket price, in a good design, barely matters--any more clearly. I've seen it done. If someone else (Jason?) can say this in a way that more people grasp it, I'd be grateful.


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