My fourth profession was as a sales rep selling mostly greeting cards and gifts to shops and chains in the Chicago area. I’d tried to make it as a girdle and bra factory executive (family business), free lance illustrator and graphic designer and as a publisher of greeting cards (mostly my own illustrations). The selling of other people’s greeting cards evolved to become a healthy repping firm with several employees covering over a thousand stores across the state.
My undergraduate degree was mostly devoted to fine arts with an emphasis on psychology. Most of my rep colleagues were about making money, with one exception.
Leo Burke eventually quit repping to eventually become an academic at Notre Dame specializing in alternative business models after having achieved success at humanizing Motorola as an executive specializing in executive interpersonal relations. A colleague of Ken Wilber, Leo has used his life to offer integrative business models, influenced by Eastern practices of honor and deep appreciation. Before all that Leo was a sales rep selling greeting cards.
Back in the 1980s, Leo and I were both running repping firms, often both of us selling mildly competing fine arts, post-hippie, new age or aesthetic-driven product lines. Leo had a gift for finding and repping beautiful greeting card lines. I pretty much represented anything that would sell, but I did carry some beautiful things. We both represented a particular repping paradigm.
There were enough unique stores in the Chicago area that neither of us felt compelled to sell anything to any shop. In addition, we didn’t believe in selling products to a store that we didn’t think would succeed. We were sales reps with a conscience. This was possible because we sold unique products in a thriving commercial community, one with few geographic limitations.
The other paradigm was characterized by reps seeking to make the most money that they could from the territory that they represented, often a geographically limited territory, which forced them to make profits from a relatively small area.
Whereas Leo and I would evaluate quickly whether the store we were visiting could profit from our wares, leaving if we estimated it could not, reps with small, limited territories might stay and pursue a possible sale, working the hard and soft sell paradigms to get that sale, spending the time it took to close. The behemoth of Leo and my industry was Recycled Paper Products.
Over time, RPP made smaller and smaller territories for their reps, forcing them to place their greeting cards in more and more locations. Recycled’s take-no-prisoners placement practices were loathed by many in the industry. If reps did not quickly perform, they were fired.
Recycled was a large, hierarchical company with many reps with tiny territories with rep incentives to sell to every store they could. Leo and I represented many companies and had large territories with incentives to sell only to those stores that could profit handsomely over time.
The two salesmen paradigms have relevance in an area perhaps not obvious until examined from an alternative point of view. The web has the potential to become a vast, horizontal economic engine distributing wealth to huge numbers, an alternative to free markets that create stratification and the congregation of wealth with a relative few. The difference in the two paradigms can be examined in the context of the two kinds of salesmen.
With the web, anyone on the planet with a computer, or now a cell phone, can easily find another person with similar interests and can email an invitation to collaborate. With unlimited access, sharing becomes the default. With the web, resources naturally seek wide audiences with barriers having disappeared. This is in direct contrast to resources congregating in the hands of the few at the top of hierarchies.
This is all about geography. A rep in a small territory is forced to behave in only his or her best interest when resources are limited in a confined space. A rep in a large territory loses the incentive to spend time convincing a marginal potential customer to behave in a way that may not be in the potential customer’s best interest.
With an unlimited territory and access to information on who is in that territory there is no incentive to behave in any other way than in each party’s best interests. Taking time to form relationships that can potentially end sooner than later is a waste of time.
The astonishing transformation we are in the middle of now hasn’t really started to take effect. We are in a transitional phase where limping, large firms are selling consumer products to wounded consumers. It can soon be time for very small firms or individuals to be selling unique content to users across the planet.
Back when Leo and I were reps, I worked for Andrews & McMeel, syndicator and publisher of The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes products. I was also a comic artist, published a local comic monthly and attended comic strip and panel conferences. At one of those conferences I talked with Scott McCloud, wunderkind of the comic industry, a philosopher and engineer of the context and mechanics of the comic arts.
One of the things we talked about was how the emerging web (this was in the 1990s) could create the opportunity for a tidal wave of creativity by rewarding artist sites with micropayments for traffic to those sites. The comic industry could support thousands instead of maybe 50 comic artists in the U.S. if all the comic artists producing work would have access to their audience in a way that the users could without effort reimburse the creator with a penny for every minute on the site.
This is the Leo model of repping, with an unlimited territory encouraging a large, loyal audience dispersed over a vast plane. The environment would be characterized by sharing and mutual respect. No conditions accompany the exchange of assets, other than the presence of the user. There is no hierarchy, no classic consumer, just the user and content producer sharing space and time.
Consider this model applied to aesthetic productions across the web: educational pieces, journalistic stories, music, music video, comic art and lectures.
Who would disperse these pennies to get the system started, to prime the pump of the Aesthetic Economy? What would it take to connect creators and users across the planet in a way that our economy could remarkably transform and people would be employed, manifesting the productions of their imagination?
Begin with government funding. Get the system up and running. Perhaps tax nonsustainable goods and services to reimburse the emerging global, integrative, horizontal Aesthetic Economy.
Consider the emergence of an unlimited online geography characterized by universal micropayment commercial access.
When geography disappears, equality becomes not just possible, but ubiquitous.
Andrew Lehman, a regular contributor to The Public Record, operates Andrew Lehman Design, Ltd., a web firm with over 400 clients specializing in local businesses and non profits. He is co-director and founder of the 1100 organization, Peace, Justice and Environment Project. Andrew is on the board of directors of In These Times. He blogs daily at neoteny.org and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
"[DNC Chair Tom Perez] has gotten instructions from Bill Clinton not to let the party go to the Bernie Sanders folks." - Jonathan Allen, co-author of Shattered, revealing new material in the upcoming paperback release pic.twitter.com/dLEnwl7kIc— HootHootBerns 🌹🐦 (@HootHootBerns) May 3, 2018