Reading them the riot act, and other (possible) secrets of artisanal management

How do we manage in the artisanal economy space? Is it “same old, same old” or something new?

Tyson Gersh is co-founder and president of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), a volunteer-based farm in Detroit’s North End.

He’s made himself a leader, especially by helping to express and demonstrate the idea of an “agrihood,” a community that grows its own food.

Crain’s Business Detroit says “Over the past five years, [Gersh has] led 8,000 volunteers to produce 50,000 pounds of food, feeding over 2,000 individual city households.”

We can see Gersh at work in a documentary called Farming Detroit (available for rent on Youtube here).

There’s lots to learn from the documentary but I was especially struck by Gersh’s management style. (And clearly filmmakers Jackson Nguyen and Todd Crites were fascinated by it.)

My assumption has always been that management in the artisanal world tends towards “kinder and gentler.” After all, the people being managed are sometimes working for free. Plus, this world tends to distrust hierarchy and centralized power. Surely, I thought, the artisanal manager is going to be agreeable, solicitous, a paragon of the collaborative.

Not Tyson Gersh! His philosophy appears to be “read them the riot act.” Farming Detroit shows him scolding his volunteers to get on with it…and his volunteers taking this in stride.

Nguyen and Crites interview two neighborhood residents, Candace and Jackson, to get to the bottom of the Tyson phenomenon.

Candace says “Tyson, I don’t know how to explain Tyson.”

Jackson does an imitation of Gersh, “I was very specific about what I asked for!”

Candace: “Tyson is Tyson. If he wants something, he’s not stopping until he gets it.”

Jackson: “God love a hard working man. The neighbors respect him. He’s stabilizing the neighborhood.”

This is a nice rich issue for artisanal managers. I can imagine most people insisting on collaborative niceties. I can see others saying the issues (like stabilizing the neighborhood) are too important to be obscured by ceremony and solicitude.

One of the objectives of research is to take a closer look at this issue, and work out a typology of styles, where and when these work, and who could / should use them. In the meantime, I hope visitors will free to describe their experiences and philosophies.

Grant McCracken

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