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Reprinted from The Permaculture Activist

Change Insurgency In A Shamrock World

by Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky
Founders and Research Directors, Sohodojo

Note: Published in The Permaculture Activist journal in the Making Changes theme issue, #48 Aug/Sep 2002.

Abstract: Changing our own hearts, minds and behaviors is step one in the bloodless war on the Culture of Maximum Harm. To be truly effective in lengthening the flight of Spaceship Earth, we'll have to engage and affect the trajectory of mainstream institutions and individuals. At Sohodojo, we practice a form of social activism called change insurgency. No invasion is necessary. In today's Shamrock organizations, we are invited guests. As former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich reminds us, our job is no longer just that of doing our prescribed or contracted duties. We vision-driven opportunists have to help organizations change and adapt to a world moving at warp speed. In this article we'll tell you about Sohodojo's active change insurgency fronts and open up a new one as we invite the Permaculture community to collaborate with us on Plan B: The Business Beyond Civilization Project.

Robert Reich says 'Your Job Is Change'

Fast Company issue featuring Robert Reich's cover story, 'Your Job is Change'.

Perhaps you've read Robert Reich's cover story, 'Your Job Is Change' [1], in the October 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine. What does a former Clinton administration cabinet member turned Brandeis University professor and most recently candidate for governor of Massachusetts know about the pace and nature of change in today's Internet-Speed New Economy companies? A lot actually, judging by the 'insights per inch' ratio of his article.

Reich coins the term change insurgency to denote the attitude and tactics to be adopted and practiced by workers at all levels in today's enterprises and organizations if these institutions are to remain competitive or meet their mission objectives. Granted, an underlying assumption of Reich is that he is addressing prospective change insurgents within 'Big is Good' corporate enterprises. He is, after all, speaking to the demographic mean of the Fast Company readership.

But the editorial focus doesn't negate the value of Reich's insights and recommendations for our purposes. Reich's perspective and tactics are even more applicable on the 'Small is Good' side of the New Economy. [2] We've found his insights so appropriate and applicable that we've adopted Reich's term, change insurgency, to describe our approach to entrepreneurial social action at Sohodojo.

Sohodojo - 'War College' of the Small Is Good Business Revolution

Sohodojo ( is an independent, non-profit applied research and development laboratory supporting solo and family-based entrepreneurs -- the building blocks of Small is Good Business Webs [3] or what Daniel Quinn, in Beyond Civilization [4], calls New Tribal Ventures. [5,6] Our domains of social action are rural and distressed urban communities seeking sustainable futures.

Sohodojo serves its community through the development of innovative business models and associated Open Source software technologies consistent with Small is Good organizing principles. Sohodojo's most elementary constituency is the nanocorp (the entrepreneurial free agent). [7]

This article's authors, Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky, founded Sohodojo in 1998 as a nexus for our entrepreneurial social actions and as the home for a growing community of similarly-minded social venturists. Our initial activities were self-funded as we 'downshifted' away from executive consultant Road Warrior lives working for a multinational high technology corporation. [8]

With incorporation as a North Carolina non-profit, Sohodojo's growing reputation and our network of collaborators are allowing us to transition our research and development funding from our largely depleted personal resources to grants and tax-deductible donations. To achieve this mission-based sustainability, however, we had to become effective change insurgents.

Change Insurgency and Shamrock Organizations

Diagram of the Shamrock organization model

In the past, a marketplace or service area was typically populated by a few large, pyramid-like organizations, where change could only be accomplished by boundary level subordinates [9] who put themselves at risk by working hard for change. But today's world is full of what Charles Handy calls Shamrock organizations. [10,11] This organization model consists of three interrelated 'leaves'-- a small managerial/technical core leaf, an outsourced business-to-business relations leaf, and the contract and temporary contingency workforce leaf.

In a globalized world running at hyperspeed and increasingly filled with Shamrock organizations, roles are no longer tightly bounded and job tasks are much more 'fuzzy'. In this world, contract workers and small business service providers of the outsourced and contingency workforces are in a unique position to play dual roles. We provide our contracted service of course, but more importantly, we can serve as idea infection points that effectively change the strategic or tactical trajectories of the contracting organization.

Revolutionaries in the Court, Not Barbarians at the Gate

Reich tells us, our job is change. In today's world, change agents are the adaptive interface mechanism that keep organizations in a mutually-beneficial relationship with their ever-shifting external environment; they need us to stay competitive. As a free agent or small business service provider you can be a contract 'plug and play' lemming doing someone else's bidding, or you can shake things up -- take on the challenge, become a change insurgent -- make things change.

The best change insurgent is a vision-driven opportunist. The vision -- social, economic, environmental changes you want to see in the world -- drives the opportunities you seek, your preferred involvements, and the web of strategic relations that you nurture and develop. This web is elastic, nimble, and most importantly, it can be brought to bear on achieving your vision-driven change. [12] Collaboration, not ownership and authority, holds the web together. Change Insurgents 'Ride the wave, don't own it' and 'Live better through partnerships'.

In the past, without the power and resources of the 'Big is Good' Culture of Maximum Harm, it took the critical mass of many activists to achieve significant social change. Today, even one person can be an effective change insurgent in mainstream organizations in which he/she participates. And Reich's article gives some important insights. Mine his recommendations for affecting change in your organizations and go on out there and shake things up.

Change Insurgency Fronts at Sohodojo

Sohodojo, as our case in point, has four interrelated change insurgency 'fronts' active in the Small Is Good Business Revolution. [13] The purpose of all our insurgencies is to be constructive community contributors while exerting whatever change-insurgent influence we can to affect the trajectory of the organizations with which we are involved. Our focus of interest is economic sustainability.

With this article, we're opening up a fifth front and inviting you, the Permaculture community, to join the Small Is Good Business Revolution that will take business, in Quinn's sense, beyond civilization.

U.S. Graduate Schools of Business

Just as the United States was caught off-guard by the September 11th asymmetrical attack on our homeland, so too will tomorrow's business leaders be caught off-guard if they don't stretch their thinking about innovative approaches to business organization, competition, and dynamic network-based partnering.

Sohodojo's role on this change insurgency front is to shake up student, faculty, and researcher thinking in our nation's business schools. These folks need to understand that 'Small Is Good' does not mean inconsequential and non-threatening. They need to understand that entrepreneurs embracing the Small Is Good Business Revolution will either be their best friends or their worst nightmares.

Some schools get it, many don't. Strategically, we're working to encourage changes in our business schools' curricula and research interests. Tactically, we're soliciting involvement of student members from the Net Impact organization ( to become involved in Sohodojo internships and web-enabled open practicum projects. [14] This association of current and former MBA students interested in socially and environmentally responsible business is a prime candidate for 'trajectory nudging' to encourage its members' contribution to the Small Is Good Business Revolution.

National Federation of Independent Business

The National Federation of Independent Business ( is the largest and most powerful lobby representing the interests of small and independent business at both the state and Federal level in the United States. The NFIB is well-known as an extremely conservative organization.

Some would think that 'new kids on the block' like Sohodojo would find little attraction in membership within such a staid mainstream organization. Heck no! We're there to let NFIB leadership know that there is an entirely new and emerging membership constituency that this active and effective group needs to incorporate into its advocacy activities.

So, how are we insurging into this huge organization? We first used our web site development skills as volunteers and produced a web site in support of North Carolina state elections. [15] We then attended the 2000 Congressional Small Business Summit and supplied a participant/observer report [16] to our on-line content partner (another insurgency). In recognition of our insights and activism, Sohodojo Timlynn was invited to join the North Carolina NFIB State Leadership Council and Sohodojo Jim was appointed to the NFIB's Federal Technology Advisory Board. From these new vantage points, we are able to increasingly inject new ideas into NFIB policies and campaigns.

Open Source Software Developers Community

Too much of the valuable energy of the Open Source Software Developer Community is focused on technology for its own sake, mistaking means for ends. The pursuit of technology as an end in itself leads nowhere. Know-how must be tightly coupled with know-why.

The why is obvious from our perspective. The Big Is Good World of global enterprises has spawned a class of software technologies that serves its purpose of hierarchical command and control. The dynamic, social network-based nature of Small Is Good Business Webs (New Tribal Ventures in Quinn's sense) will require a new generation of web-enabled software technologies that simply do not yet exist. Why, then, do we need Sohodojo's research and development vision? Because the development labs funded by and for the Big Is Good world simply won't create what our constituency of emerging new tribal business webs need for sustainable success.

Linked bookcover

The Sohodojo TechSIG (Technical Special Interest Group) is focused on creating breakthrough web technologies that will harness and amplify the dynamic, social network [17] nature of the decentralized and distributed value chains underlying Small Is Good Business Webs. We'll be creating free Open Source software technologies that will enable the application of advanced software simulation technologies as a platform for the development of Small Is Good Business Webs.

In addition to engaging the creative minds of the Open Source software community, we've established trajectory-affecting beachheads at key research universities including the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida, the Argonne National Labs at the University of Chicago and the Center for Coordination Sciences at MIT, among others. [18]

Grassroots Community Organizations

Among our change insurgency fronts, helping to establish and further the missions of a number of rural grassroots community organizations has been our most successful and personally fulfilling activity since founding Sohodojo. Rather than revel in the joy of playing with expensive and complex Internet technologies, we've concentrated on learning how to get more from less, both in the application of free Open Source software and in the creative use of freely available web services such as,, and [19]

Our most successful collaboration to date has been in helping the good folks of Havre, Montana and Montana State University-Northern to found the North American Rural Futures Institute ( By building a credible web presence for NARFI, we stimulated a 'Field of Dreams' belief among Havre's community organizations. This led them to work together to successfully secure a two-year Federal appropriation to advance their efforts to become leaders in envisioning the future of rural life and rural small business.

Our NARFI activity was made possible by our evolving a tribal-like, mutually beneficial and mutually respectful working relationship with two prominent grassroots community organizers, Rick Smyre and Andrew Cohill. Through our evolving collaboration, Sohodojo has created web site platforms for the Center for Communities of the Future, The Global Rural Network Project, The Knowledge Economy Project, The Tartan Transformation Project and the Potter County Process Leadership Institute. [20]

In true Shamrock organization-based change insurgency, we subsume our agenda to first function as contract workers in the creation of the community organization's web platform. Then, when a comfort zone is established following the initial site deployment, our new prospective collaborators are happy to learn more about us, our research agenda and our social action vision. This 'give a little, get a little' collaboration pattern has helped us to evolve working relationships that will prove to be significant win-wins for us and our growing network of partners and their sponsors.

Plan B, The Business Beyond Civilization Project

As we approached the New Millenium, the neighborhood we have lived in for ten years in an unincorporated area of Wake County near Raleigh, North Carolina, came under attack. The "Pleasantville" Town of Cary set its sights on our neighborhood as its next victim of "smart growth," a euphemistic term meaning full-tilt immersion into the consumerist Culture of Maximum Harm.

Helped by the shield of North Carolina's disgraceful and unconstitutional laws allowing forced annexation, Cary is intent on destroying our neighborhood's quality of life. We, along with others in the neighborhood, girded ourselves against this unwanted invasion, fought back, and for the moment, have achieved a temporary reprieve. [21] But, it's just a matter of time before our lives are forever changed by the "opportunity" to become Cary citizens.

We immediately started a search for a new place to live, a place that was everything that Cary is not. Our search took us into the growing world of intentional communities where we found kindred spirits in the Earthaven Ecovillage [22] of western North Carolina. And it was through Earthaven that we discovered Permaculture.

Discovering Permaculture and Our Place In It

Yes, we appreciate the low-impact agricultural focus of Permaculture. But it is the community design and right livelihood dimensions that intrigue us and seem to be most in need of elaboration. For example, over five hundred pages of Mollison's Permaculture: A Designers' Manual [23] are dedicated to growing food, while a mere fifty pages evoke the requirements and best practices of growing the community that grows the food.

This is not an indictment of the Permaculture community. It is our happy recognition of a contribution that we can help make to the community. Sohodojo's fifth change insurgency front will help catalyze the exploration of business models and associated software technologies that enable the growth of Permaculture-enhanced sustainable communities.

We're already at work on collaborations with Earthaven community members helping to evolve 3RBuilders.Net [24], our Small Is Good Business Web focused on the construction of affordable Green housing in rural and distressed urban communities. Soon, we hope to involve the Earthaven Forestry Coop as a wood supplier to our Small Is Good Business Web. [25]

These neo-tribal business ventures are in their earliest stages of development. 3Rbuilders.Net and are intended to be demonstrations of new business models for rural and distressed urban economic development. They are sandboxes for developing the requirements for, and exercising the prototypes of, the software infrastructure to support neo-tribal Small Is Good Business Webs.

Kicking Off Plan B

Beyond Civilization cover

Plan B, The Business Beyond Civilization Project ( is our way to work with the Permaculture community to explore sustainable enterprise in sustainable communities. You, as much as we, will shape this collaboration. To get started, here's a short list of information and resources we'd like your help to gather:

  • Recommendations of relevant print and on-line resources to help us build the Plan B Link and Resources Directory
  • Pointers to successful neo-tribal businesses and sustainable communities with active cottage industry and small business networks
  • Pointers to prospective research and demonstration project funding sources and grant RFPs that fit our domain of interest
  • Your wish list of Internet-based software features that might enhance your abilities to collaborate as free agents and small business clusters
  • Stories of lessons learned and best practices relevant to the neo-tribal, Small Is Good Business Webs perspective
  • Ideas for sub-projects or other collaborations that can further the overall mission of Plan B while more deeply meeting your interests and needs

If you are not already inspired to work with us on Plan B, we encourage you to pick up and read or re-read Daniel Quinn's latest mainstream publication, Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure. Let Quinn's memes infect you, then think of ways you can help us make Plan B successful so that others can simply walk away from the Culture of Maximum Harm.

We don't need a revolution to tear down the world as it is only to replace it with yet another failed attempt at the One Right Way To Live. We need, one-by-one, to find our own ways to squeeze out of our place in the pyramid. We need to stretch our legs and our minds and find a path that works for us. Quinn's right. There is no one right way to live. The important thing is taking those first or further steps to move away from the Culture of Maximum Harm.

Change Insurgency in a Shamrock World, Your Way

On reflection, we worry that this article may smack too much of blowing our own horn. But our intent is nothing of the sort. Quinn reminds us that there is no one right way to live. He reminds us that consistent with the omnipotent laws of natural selection, what is needed now is diversification, exploration and innovation.

Sohodojo started as nothing more than two people, a vision and a meme-pool. So far, it's been our way of walking away from the Culture of Maximum Harm. If you resonate with what Sohodojo is about, you are welcome to share its future with us.

If our path is not aligned with your vision for a future beyond civilization, then we celebrate your trailblazing efforts. If nothing else, we hope you will take heart and insights from our efforts to explore change insurgency and the Small Is Good Business Revolution.

Communication is welcome, especially from those wanting to explore mutually-rewarding collaboration through Plan B, The Business Beyond Civilization Project.. We can be reached by e-mail.

Explore, innovate. There is no time to lose if we want to help lengthen the flight of Spaceship Earth.

--Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky--
Raleigh, NC USA
04 July 2002


  1. Reich, Robert. 'Your Job Is Change', Fast Company, October 2000. URL:
  2. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. The Road Less Traveled and Where It Leads... 'Ruthlessly Small' In A Nanocorp World, The Nanocorp Primer #1, March 2000. URL:
  3. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. Shamrocks and Nanocorps: Business Model and Technology Innovation to Bridge the Digital Divide, 2002 Northern Montana Technology Exposition, Keynote presentation, March 23 2002. URL:
  4. Quinn, Daniel. Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure. Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999. URL:
  5. Quinn, Daniel. New Tribal Ventures, URL:
  6. Quinn, Daniel. The Ishmael Community. URL:
  7. Pink, Daniel. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live, Warner Business Books, May 2001. URL:
  8. Sommer, Mark. Redefining the American Dream: A Interview with Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky, A World of Possibilities radio program, the Mainstream Media Project. URLs: and
  9. Salmons, James F. Petty Innovationism: Theory and Practice of the Boundary-Level Subordinate Change Agent in Substantively Rational Organizations Thesis - Master of Arts, Antioch University, 1976.
  10. Handy, Charles. The Age of Unreason, Harvard Business School Press, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998.
  11. Handy, Charles. The Age of Paradox, Harvard Business School Press, 1994, 1995.
  12. Cohen, Allen R. and Bradford, David L. Influence Without Authority John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1989, 1991.
  13. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. Shamrocks and Nanocorps: Bridging the Digital Divide with Small is Good Business Webs, The Nanocorp Primer #4, September 2000. URL:
  14. Sohodojo Project. The Open MBA Practicum, URL:
  15. Sohodojo Project. The North Carolina Small Business Issues Voter Information Center. URL:
  16. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. A Report on the 2000 Congressional Small Business Summit. URL:
  17. Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. Linked, The New Science of Networks: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life., Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA, 2002.
  18. Sohodojo Resources. For more information about our research and development vision and collaborations, see the following:,, and
  19. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. Open Source Software and Community Collaboration - Options, Considerations and Examples, 2002 Northern Montana Technology Exposition, workshop presentation,, March 2002. URL:
  20. Sohodojo-built Web Sites. Please visit these community organization web sites:,,, and
  21. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. Our Medfield-Kingsbrook neighborhood web site is where we are helping to fight forced annexation. Some of our most bombastic editorial content has been unleashed here!-) URL:
  22. Earthaven Resource. Visit the Earthaven Ecovillage web site for more about this evolving Permaculture-based intentional community. URL:
  23. Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, Tagari Press, 1988.
  24. Sohodojo Web Site. Visit 3RBuilders.Net web site to learn more about our collaboration with Earthaven community members. In particular, you'll find pointers to articles and information about the innovation being explored in reusing industrial shipping pallets in the construction of affordable housing. URL: http://3RBuilders.Net.
  25. Salmons, Jim and Babitsky, Timlynn. Two Small Is Good Business Webs Compared: A Closer Look at 3RBuilders.Net and, April 2002. URL:

© 2002, Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky for The Permaculture Activist and Sohodojo
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