@ PlantetWorks, 2003
“What you see is what you get”

Him I consider architect,
who by sure and wonderful reason and method,
knows how to devise though his own mind and energy,
and to realize by construction,
whatever can most beautifully be fitted out for the noble deeds of man.

Leon Battista Alberti
On the Art of Building

I suppose none of us feel like we are very often understood - we all live - at least partially - in a world of our own creation and seek to bridge the gap to other’s realities. One can never successfully explain oneself; however, it is often worth the effort to do so - to attempt to bridge this ubiquitous abyss between each of our world views and experiences.
The Questions that I answer below are real questions - not abstractions; they are not foils in order for me to stake a position. The answers are honest. The single biggest point to be made does not come from any of the questions nor their answers, directly - the main point is about the underlying assumptions many seem to make about what life is about and my root motives. I find that most people think that I have some complex, “hidden” agenda. The fact is, I do not. What you see is really what you get. As strange as it may seem, what I am saying I am about is really what I am about. There is little more to the story than what has been told and what is not yet told is simply the factor of resources and time. This web site, as of January 2004, exceeds 5,000 pages of personal notebook materials generated over a 25 year period. Much of this material is blunt and intimate. The relationship between motive, intent, action and results (which are often surprising) is well documented.
I am an idealist and a humanist - I think one of the few left; whatever my flaws and short comings, I work very hard to govern my actions according to my principles. I will stay true to these even when it seems not to be to my short term interest to do so. I also adhere to my goals. Certainly, like anyone, I modify these goals as I learn - more often that not this means reordering them in time as my understanding grows rather than abandoning them altogether. I define success in terms of actually accomplishing these goals - or helping others accomplish them. It matters less to me who does these things as long as they get done. I simply have no interest in any success defined independently of these goals being accomplished. Money and fame does not move me - doing what I set out to do does [link]. To obtain financial rewards from this and a degree of recognition will be very satisfying - but rewards without the substance is not an attraction. And, I am willing to risk a great deal to see them done. In this regard, I am a social entrepreneur not a business person.
I find that most people define a certain personal threshold of wealth, security and social position and then do what they can to accomplish their life-work (if they think of it at all) within this context and existing socially acceptable limits. They remain serious about their work as long as doing it does not threaten what they consider to be their base-line social standing. This is, of course, what I do not do and I find this to be the primary source of conflict between myself and others. Because most cannot believe I mean it when I describe what I am about and why, they believe I must have some hidden agenda that is somehow related to my narrow self-interest in the typical social definition of the term. They suspect a deep dishonesty when I say “not so.” The facts are such that observation, over time and in the varying circumstances of everyday life, will bear me out. Many I have worked with have come to realize this and they always report their discovery to me as a matter of great surprise. I am, of course, surprised at their surprise.
By the way, I understand why people like myself are considered dangerous. The line between a “principled” life and a fanatical one is not very wide and the judgements regarding one and the other not simple. More damage has been done on this Earth by the abuse of lofty goals than by those just following a live-and-let-live life (although, I think we now have to focus more on the moral consequence of actions taken - or not - by voters and consumers). I pay a great deal of this attention to this danger and have become extremely sensitive to the ideology trap and the dangers presented by the fanatical mentality. This has moved me away, over the decades, from some people and causes I was attracted to in my early years. It makes me challenge myself again and again when I think about the projects I have in mind [link] - are they real and useful or the ravings of a mind totally cut off from reality? This is a serious question yet I always come back to their logic and the next question: “if something like this is not done - then what?” If I do not see it being done, can I walk away if there is a chance that I can accomplish it?
I am also aware that what I say and what I do can be an affront to many. If I am correct in my path it does imply that a great many are “wrong.” I do not like this concept of right and wrong because it rejects personal circumstance and traps people in hard positions that makes movement more difficult than it should be. Nevertheless, my agenda is a sweeping one and it has buried in it a great deal of criticism of the existing order. There is very little about our present social construct I find moral, esthetically pleasing or economically/ecologically sustainable. This is a problem, no doubt; but I do not mean it in an ego-centric or personal way. If I am wrong or have over stated things in regards some of my positions (although I have been diligent about my facts) there seems to me to be little risk and harm in paying more attention to these areas - and acting where advisable. If I am right and we do not act, the harmful consequences can be great and not easily undone. Since action has to come, in many of the areas I have interest about, before absolute proof is available - this makes a dilemma. The really interesting and important issues do not come nicely wrapped up with the instructions duly attached. I have tried to create a method that deals with this circumstance. Systemic issues, as I have stated, are not to be solved in traditional ways.
This last point leads to another problem and that is in a world of over-specialization someone like me is automatically suspect - “how can you know so much?” is the charge. Well, I have spent a lifetime looking at the connections between things and tracking how my design assumptions have played out over very long periods of time - and, because I have not lived a typical modern life with all its distractions, I simply have worked longer and harder at it than most. A Matt Taylor week is literally several “normal” work weeks. My life in this regard is fairly well documented and stands on its own. I actually believe I am more “traditional” in this regard then modern - how did the those before us get so much done in primitive circumstances without modern conveniences and tooling? Think about this. One of our modern conceits is about our productivity. A simple reading of history shows the fallacy of this. What we are good at today is scaling - building lots and lots of something when we decide we want more of it.
By average modern social standards, I am not a nice guy; nor, am I the kind of public figure - so typical today - who rides polemics and causes to some personal political-economic end. As in many areas, I don’t fit either mold. I am aware of this misfit-ness and I am hyper sensitive to the un-comfort and damage that one like myself can cause. I cannot, however, disclaim or ignore what my experience has taught me nor am I willing to give up my art simply because it is controversial - which all new art always is. I am not, however, willing to live a deliberately aggressive and controversial life of conflict - this deeply contradicts what it is I am trying to do. Therefore, I move as gently as I can and as patiently as I can while staying true to that which I believe is my mission [link] and what value I can bring to society. This thin line between public muckraking and private antinomy is not a easy path to discern. I do not - and the MG Taylor companies do not - promote this work. It is done and left on its own to speak for itself. Each opportunity we get comes to us. We then take that opportunity as far as it can go.
While I am greatly committed to collaborative processes and means, and to the principles of democracy, I do not believe that great ideas and innovations come about unless individuals take on the task of offering them up to the world as options. To do so is not often an easy task and it is not undertaken without some conflict, and at times, considerable risk. Innovation is rarely appreciated in the beginning and it it not often consistent with a life of ease and pleasure as normally defined. The measure, I think, should not be the conflict - or even pain - involved. The measure should be the grace that all (advocate and opponent alike) bring to the process. Each of us has the role we must play. Success is in how well we play it and the humor we bring to our appointed tasks.
Much of this, many find difficult to believe, or accept - I do not blame them. Below are my answers to a lifetime of questions - it is for you to judge their veracity and if my life is consistent with their spirit. It is for you to decide if any of this need apply to you. If you choose to have a relationship with me, however, be prudent - the label of warning by the surgeon general is duly attached.
If you are so smart why aren’t you rich?
In a society where the dollar is almighty, I hear this question often. It is a good question and an interesting one. It is often asked with a great deal of anger and rarely by someone who is rich - which is also revealing and interesting. Anyone who has real money, that they directly earned by their own effort, I expect already knows the answer.
Well, I think I deserve to be rich. It is easily documented that I have been instrumental in helping many make millions and several organizations, billions of dollars. And, someday I believe I will be more than comfortable, financially. The short answer is I have never worked to be wealthy. The long answer is a bit more complex.
There are several aspects to this question. In the first place actually making money is not easy. After trying it one can appreciate what any successful business person has accomplished. In the second place, making money honestly is becoming more difficult in our society as the economy turns ever more to crass exploitation as the short cut to riches. The third point is more subtitle: how much is enough? I have lived a solid middle class life all my life. This means I have enjoyed a standard of living in the top few percentage points of the world’s population. My idea of wealth is something to use to do great projects, not for personal consumption. And, what happens to people as they gain economic power? Have we actually, as a society, answered this question? There are a great many wealthy people and I know some of them. There are few happy people, today, from any economic class. The pursuit of wealth and things is endless in our society - is it adding up to human benefit, to culture, to health - is this pursuit sustainable?
What does it mean to actually MAKE money? I like Rand’s point about this [link]. I actually make a great deal of money and I have shared it along the path. A bit too much on the negative side? Perhaps. A bit more balance needed? Yes, a little - not a great deal. Can I make it honestly, doing little harm and use it well when I have it? I think so. But many have failed at this - it is not a simple issue. I believe the means and ends are on.
As I write this, MG Taylor has about $5,000,000 in debt [link]. I take this seriously. This money is the net negative cash flow resulting from everything we have discovered, built, invented and the opportunity and value given to others. I think this is an incredible value and economic accomplishment. The net negative - a small number in regards the entire value exchanged - and the 50 plus million revenues we have accomplished, however, is a measure of unbalance. This is the “mark” missed. My immediate goal is to reach balance and tip the scale a bit to the profit side. This will quickly fulfill all obligations to those who have invested in MG Taylor and it will bring a measure of social credibility to what we are doing - and this is important. It will take little beyond this to satisfy me, personally. Just enough to be able to pursue my projects with a measure of comfort seems like utopia from the vantage point of the first 48 years of innovation. Too much money is when it becomes a goal or something to protect - or to fight over.
The work method that I co-created is being practice all over the world every day. At present, we are working on a dozen challenging architectural projects [link] that are pushing the state of the art of what is considered a work and learning habitat. We are close to signing enough work that will allow MGT to meet it’s financial obligations for several years out and perform the level of R&D necessary for us to continue to advance our art. When I am am home I live in a little wood and glass house in in an Ecotopian redwood forest by the sea [link]. I travel and work in environments of our design transferring what we have learned about organizational transformation and knowledge-work. I work with a young team of dedicated, creative designers intent on forging a new and better future. Perfect?Not yet. Demanding, yes. fragile? So far. Dull? Rarely. Important? yes, it is important [link].
You see, I am already rich [link].
What if you are wrong?
A very good question and one that must be addressed on the grand scale of a life’s investment as well as on the increment of each project and its parts.
“Seek to do no harm” has to be the ruling principle.
The tools, processes and environments that I work to bring into reality are designed to be self-adjusting, learning systems. They “pay” their way by effectively dealing with commonly recognized real-world issues. They do this in a way that opens the door to transformation and the ability to redesign systemic systems of great complexity. I do not believe our society is addressing these large-scale, complex issues. I believe that ignoring them is to take a great risk. I believe that we should get at it sooner - not later. I believe we can “pay as we go” if we start now. I believe you don’t wait for a someday future of ideal circumstances to make art. You make art, now, with what you have and the pursuit of such art is a social good. It is the opposite for chasing after “bads.”
If I am wrong about these thing I think the world will just be a little cleaner, more beautiful and based on a more sustainable economy as little sooner. If I am right, we will have avoided some very bad times.
On a personal level if I am wrong it may be argued I wasted time and resources that could have been invested better in other ways. This is not serious risk, however. Because I do not deferr the making of art to a someday fantasy future in never to be land, the odds are in favor that the art will be produced in any event. My art, being architectural and demanding large resources, will not be created without a high level of social acceptance. If I am right about my assumptions, then will have helped solve these problems and paved the way for the kind of society and economy/ecology that will embrace the kind architecture I want to build. I will have been able “to realize by construction, whatever can most beautifully be fitted out for the noble deeds of man.
Not too shabby, perhaps.
There is another way to be “wrong” in all of this that has some interesting implications. It can happen that everything I want to do will be rejected by our present society. If some things were to continue at their present vector this certainly could be the case. This would mean that I had failed to find the intersection between my view of the world and what the majority decides is the best path. I have been, of course, seeking this “sweet spot” for all of my adult life. Where, without compromise, can I find the place to begin? I was told when I started work that I would never build [link]. I was told this not because older architects disagreed, in principle, with me but because they deemed it impractical. I replied then as I would today: “so be it.” These were brave words for a 17 year old boy and I have to admit that the many years since have often been painful and frustrating - there are times when the words ring hollow. But, that is my problem. One of the fundamental decisions we all have to make in life is about what we want to do and the terms by which we will do it - or not. In reaching this clarity, one is deciding all the things that are “out” - not to be pursued. Life is simpler after this point. I have never had occasion to doubt my fundamental stand. This had forced me - because I did want to succeed - to seek ways to bring value that are consistent with by values [link]. MG Taylor is one consequence of this. With MG Taylor I have built the tool that I need as much as I think society does [link].
Still, this also may come down in ruins. It does not seem so, but it might - what then? We come, then, one of the major reasons for this web site. The STORY will be told and published. Humankind cannot be forced to embrace the world that I see and I would never want that under any circumstance. If the world goes another way, I will continue on, building what I can, facilitating such change as I can and publishing what I am learning. This is satisfaction in this and maybe some long term value [link].
I have been very careful building this edifice on which I have bet my life-time. I am, at the heart of it, an engineer and a careful one. I do not think I am wrong in a fundamental way and I have worked to remove all the errors of implementation. I think that the real risk is that I may not be able to live up to the challenges when the opportunities do come. No question they will be demanding. I have tried to get ready but still have a long way to go. It is a race between the opportunity development, training and still having the time and energy to do the work - when will these curves intersect? Will I be ready? Will MG Taylor and the ValueWeb be ready? I think a lot about this.
How can you be sure you are right?
I cannot - and nobody can. This is, in fact, the point. Being “right” is overrated - BEING is very important. Being means being involved, taking a stand, doing something, testing your ideas in the real world, pushing the limits to find the new and useful. This is the only way you can “know.”
This is not, of course, an argument for sloppy thinking and careless fact-finding. It is, in fact, an argument for fearless attention to the totality of what our civilization is doing. Most live “happily” in their made-up world of self-restricted viewpoints and conventional wisdom. This is a comfortable place to be because there is little challenge in it - until the house falls down which, in time, it surly will.
Nor, am I into crusades. I find what most people argue about extremely boring and evasive. For example, you can argue for 20 years about all the ins and outs of US foreign policy over the last 60 years and not once embrace the simple fact of how many millions of completely innocent people have died in the name peace and democracy. The details are arguable but surly something is wrong when the most powerful nation in the world can seek no other options. Lets get down to it and look the dead straight in the eye. Why wrapped it up in flag and slogans and blame it all on the “bad guys” many of whom we actually put in power. This is not about statistical tables, the economy and elections; this is not about simple right and wrong; this is a moral issue and it is aboutthe way our basic, unchallenged, assumptions play out in the world.
Judgements can be difficult but taking resonsibility for the consequences is not too obscure a point. Lets embrace reality and learn from what happened so we can do it better. Lets put everyone in the boat called Humanity. And, while we are at it, lets include all life in our concept of what should be protected and nurtured.
It is about finding the right problems to solve and then not running away when it gets a little tough. It is about turning problems into the opportunity to do art. It is about making it better for all life [link].
How do you do this and live a normal life?
I don’t live a typical life or an average one. As for the idea of normalcy, I am not yet ready to give that idea up. What is NORMAL? I hope that the way work is divorced from life today is not your answer. Nor, spending 500 hours a year in a car to get to and from work. Nor, working in a personality driven hierarchy where politics are more important than knowledge and competency. I have lived the life of a knowledge-worker all my life and watched as this life-work style has gone from the strange to the touted cutting edge.
Given that, I am not yet ready to say that I have achieved anything like what I would consider “normal” in my life-work style.
Why do you take such risks?
To me, they are not risks. I see the alternatives too clearly. I also have a low respect for the illusions that most call safety.
There is no such thing as social security. One would think that the last century would have convinced everyone of that. It is not that I have a malevolent view of the universe - just the opposite. However, what we consider as socially safe has proven again and again to be not so. The old adage “live like you are going to live forever and every day like it is the last” is actually very good advise. Your life could end tomorrow, and, no matter how old you are you could be alive a hundred years from now. How do you deal with this?
The job you spent 20 years securing can be gone in a day, your social position with the ink of one newspaper piece. Yet, what you make of yourself can never be taken away and the community you build around you will remain surprisingly true. Your QUEST [link], if you can find it, is uniquely yours and no one else can have it. What you create remains - if only in the memory of our species. Each Era presents its singular opportunity and challenge. Our is the destiny of a planet. This is the game we play if we recognize it or not. Life is about being a player - not a spectator. You can watch it all on TV - and that is what I call a bad risk.
Each of us has to design our life and finance it - there are no exceptions. Each of us has to deal with our times and the society we are born into - there are no exemptions. How we do this is totally our individual choice and no one can really judge the other on this issue.
For me, that I am aware of, there were two strategies that I could follow and remain consistent to my values and quest. One, was to live a quite life of contemplation, in some community, while building whatever few buildings of true architecture that this community wanted and could afford. The other was to take the system on and transform it from end-to-end. I choose the later - but with two caveats: that I would not seek public notoriety and conflict in this transformational task and that someday I would find my community to build wonderful human habitats. You see, I wanted it all.
You may conclude from these (in combination) totally over-ambitiousobjectives that I came from some completely bizarre, broken background (and this is true [link]) but no matter. It is what it is and the decision is far behind me. You use the hand you are dealt to make a silk purse (to mix metaphors). I experienced what I did and I will not deny it - I seek to build a world that is different. I was abused as a child, saw my sister killed in front of my eyes (defending me), came from a broken home and walked through a city where a hundred thousand died in one night of deliberate fire-bombing - all before reaching the fourth grade. After my class mates were blown up by land mines, after experiencing their pain finding out their father was not coming home, I read about US trade with Germany during WWII. Welcome to the modern world. I would not trade this background for anything. When most people (in the isolated, pampered Western society upper classes) talk about risk, they do not have a clue.
It is endemic in our culture that we play hide and seek with ourselves denying what is right in front of our eyes. We have to stop doing this. We now have the power of the gods and it is our choice how we use it. This is a high stakes game with the life of a planet in balance. I know this because I experineced the seed of this era over 59 years ago.
Unacceptable risk is denying what you know and failing what your experience tells you you must do.
I may fail in some part or all of my mission [link] - this is acceptable. Failing to pursue the mission is not.
Why do you use people?
Why are you so critical?
why are you so anti-social?
This is an interesting question and one I often get. From by perspective, I am one of the few that gives a damn about society at all. I often wonder what is really meant by this question.
Will you ever be satisfied?
Most likely, not. I have too large an agenda of works to accomplish to think that I will ever be “done.” I do, at least, have the satisfaction of projects well done and of being on the path to what I am about. This is, perhaps, enough and more than can be reasonably expected.
The idea of satisfaction - of happiness - is actually very complex. I know few who have achieved this ubiquitous human goal which is surprising given how many work so hard at it.
What happens if you become the orthodoxy?
How do you know there isn’t a Second Foundation out there somewhere?
What do you miss most?
I actually miss living in the society that I have in my mind. I miss this deeply, with great passion. I can feel like it would be like to live there. I feel like I once did and that I am an outcaste as punishment for some horrible transgression. This society is more real to me than the one I live in. I keep waiting to be picked up with the message “your time is up.” So far, this has not happened so I keep working to build a piece of it as an example of what can be.
You have to understand how extremely alienated I am. There is no resolution here. This is a total war. However, I have chosen to fight this war by peaceful means. To create - not destroy. To build - not tear down. To love - not hate. This is a discipline. My impulse is one of anger and to strike out. I guard against this and attempt Elliot’s principles of criticism. My decision is to education and facilitate - not attack. Even so, things have to be said and pointed out.
I guard against attacking those that destroyed this world of mine because I believe that people are basically good and intelligent. It is the basic paradigm of our age that needs to be changed. As far as I know, this world I seek has never existed. It is “destroyed” only because attention has turned elsewhere. It is yet to be created in fully communicated idea let alone example. Until this is done, choice is not possible. So, I take this project on at the beginning of the task: to articulate options, design and build examples, provide places of collaboration where people can come together to overcome differences and complexity and get the world they want.
When I was growing up, I listened to the words describing America and its future. I believed what I was told we were fighting a war for. I thought, then, that there was a consensus about what the new world would be. The results have been very different than this dream. I never expected it to be exactly what I had in mind. This is an issue of kind not of detail. In fact, many of the details have come about but entangled in Faustian bargains. Nor have I been alone. Much has been written and many exemplarily examples created - all drowned in spectacular growth and excess.
So what I miss the most is a future that never was, is yet to come and that so far I have failed to create.
What would you do with massive resources?
What are you greatest achievements?
Basically, remaining sane and human. I am very proud of this.
What is your biggest failure?
I do not know if this small adventure into self revelation has met its objective or not - this is, I suppose, more up to you than to me. I gave it a try. There is some relief, however, in thinking that, now, at least some of these questions can be passed on to a URL. I really don’t mind exploring them in dialog but only after the more superficial aspects are dispensed with - there is nothing more de-habilitating than starting at the beginning every time in what is often an accusatory context. These are really good questions but only if one can get to their deeper aspects. Unfortunately, most of what passes for human dialog fails in this regard. We have become a dismally superficial society, that skims the surface of “spin” in an ever more accelerated frenetic manner, looking for easy answers and quick fixes. We could be called a society of information junkies except that there is little information in any of it [link].
I guess the socially unacceptable but blunt answer is this: I am happy to have a serious dialog about these kinds of questions because they cut to the heart of our common social experience and present choices we each have to make in our own way. Choices, the sum of which, really do matter in regards the kind of culture we make. But please do not bore me with the surface viewpoint of these questions - there are no satisfactory answers there and I really don’t have the time for it.
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Matt Taylor
December 29, 2003


SolutionBox voice of this document:



posted December 29, 2003

revised March 7, 2004
• 20031229.301743.mt • 20031230.919914.mt •
• 20040101.333300.mt • 20040221.462987.mt •
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note: this document is about 45% finished


Copyright© Matt Taylor 2003



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