Jerry Ash: The Disruptive Professor

Mother Jones Made Me Do It

I’ve decided to turn capitalism upside down and economics right side up. And Mother Jones made me do it.

Mother Jones, now all but forgotten, literally fought on the battlefields of the American Industrial Revolution for the rights of working men, women and children from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression. She was a glorious champion for economic justice in an era where greed first blossomed. But in the end, she had won very few battles and she lost the war.

Associated Press feature writer Strat Douthat and I were recruited in 1976 to write a coffee table book, West Virginia USA, to help the state celebrate the country’s bicentennial. Strat was assigned the chapter titled Fussin’ and Feudin’.

That’s the way I became acquainted with Mother Jones.

Strat’s story made such an impression on me that I began reading everything I could get my hands on regarding the woman described by the unrestrained capitalists and crooked politicians of her era as “The Most Dangerous Woman on Earth.”

To that end I decided the complete story of Mother Jones had never been told. To fill in the blanks and reveal the humanity of Mary Harris Jones, I chose historical fiction in 2013 and titled my book Hellraiser: Mother Jones — An Historical Novel.

Still I was troubled by the failure of Mother Jones’ life story to make a difference in how capitalism and economics works.

The only difference between the environment in which she fought 150 years ago and the one we live in today is a matter of scale.

We needed another Mother Jones and the modern Mother Jones needed to change the game. I wrote another novel titled MoJo: Getting on the Right Side.  (Publication scheduled for 2020.)

A writer can engage in disruptive thinking and be as innovative as he wants when writing a novel. I gave MoJo (short for Molly Jones), a back story similar to the historic Mother Jones, placed her in a contemporary setting and set her to work creating an alternative business model that allowed those who produced the profits to keep it for themselves and re-circulating in the community.

It was easy in a small town that had been exploited by capitalists for more than 100 years and where there was no way but up.

Not so easy in real life.

MoJo has been ready for publication for some time but I’ve delayed her release, thinking all the while about how the book is like everything else in the world of economic unhappiness . . . all talk. The best MoJo would be able to do is get people to thinking differently. But then what? Another Mother Jones bites the dust?

Before I published MoJo, I had to think about what comes next.

My mind was off in a new direction. I dusted off my professor’s cap and began developing a private online course I titled NotMyEconomics (NME).

First I wrote a series of essays in lieu of lectures explaining how capitalism ended up upside down and economics wrong side up. I explained how the solution to the dark side of economics would not be found in the board room or the caucus room no matter how hard we try to get greedy capitalists and crooked politicians to change their ways.

We would have to take matters into our own hands.

In my class essays I began to encourage people to change their mindsets, think differently about themselves, morph from drudges to indie entrepreneurs at the grassroots level. Change the game from the ground up.

But how could they do such a thing in the hostile economic environment where they work? The typical employer looks at employees as liabilities, as costs on the balance sheet. And employees see themselves as overworked and underpaid with an eye on the time clock.

Even worse, nearly half of the workers in America are no longer employed by an employer. They have been commoditized by employment agencies and rented out on an as need basis.

They might as well declare their independence. They have already been cut loose! And a vast majority (up to 70 percent) of workers are dissatisfied.

Some may look at that as hitting bottom. I see it as the place for a new beginning. Stop complaining about our economic condition and start looking for the opportunities.

Time for us to pick ourselves up, take advantage of our plight and our newly imposed independence. It’s high time we reject our unwanted positions as commodities and become independent Companies of One.

I like the company of one idea because I used it 20 years ago when I encouraged workers in the then-developing new strategy of corporate knowledge management (KM). In KM, employees were to think of themselves as companies of ones and corporations were to see the employees as assets — partners, not peons.

But in the corporate setting, it was difficult to get management or labor to think in a spirit of mutuality. Management couldn’t grasp the need to make the work environment a safe place for knowledge sharing. And labor couldn’t let loose of the notion that hoarding knowledge was power.

The problem wasn’t the people. It was the system.

For centuries the business model had been organized as a vertical line chart with command and control at the top and monkeys on a string at the bottom. People were motivated either by greed or self-preservation. We have reached the chaotic conclusion.

Knowing this, I approached my NME online course knowing my students would be working in a broken capitalistic system that would soon self-destruct.

But instead of bidding it good riddance, we would save it.

Although capitalists have given capitalism a bad name, it remains the greatest producer of wealth on earth.

The problem is the purposes for which it has been used.

In the midst of the wreckage we have the opportunity to reinvent the way capitalism and economics works. Get on the right side, as MoJo would say. We’ll start as independent entrepreneurs and we’ll change the way capitalism and economics works for us. We’ll start where we live and work.

I think I do a fairly good job in the course of helping indie entrepreneurs work within the system. But as I’ve worked my way through essays on personal strategic planning, I’ve come to realize that solo companies of one would be as limited in opportunity as solo employees. With only so many hours in a day and added responsibilities as an indie entrepreneur, it’s tough to get ahead.

Being independent is a stretch!

I began to realize if I were to change the way economics works, I would have to do more than change the way workers work. I would have to change the way capitalism works.

So, with my NotMyEconomics course beneath my fingers, I thought the time was right to develop a new business model that would make more sense in the workplace and address the problems my indie entrepreneurs would face.

A revolutionary new business model appeared on my computer screen. A socially responsible, self-managed, profit-sharing organization.

That led me to the development of the Company of Ones. And I’m using the franchise model to develop a network of workplaces where some indie entrepreneurs can scale up as owners while others have a place where they can own their own work and earn a fair share of the profits they help create.

Everyone in the Companies of One and its franchises will remain independent Companies of One entrepreneurs while benefiting from the knowledge, experience and power of a company of many.

I am looking for up to six seasoned professionals to work with me in the development of the parent company Company of Ones while at the same time developing their own Company of Ones franchises in their particular fields.

They will manage their share of the Companies of Ones as contractors in the fields of human, intellectual and organizational capital, technology, marketing, fulfillment and finance. At the same time they will be growing their own  franchises by adding as many other clients to their own businesses as their teams can handle.

Meanwhile, these developments are generating limitless topics and issues for the NME Blog. I’ll share my thoughts regularly.

Thank you for stopping by. NME is for everyone. You’re invited!


Learn more about the Company of Ones

The NotMyEconomics online course is free and open to the public.

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Not My EconomicsMother Jones Made Me Do It