Open Sourcing Modern Acupuncture, Part Three: Hope

Let’s talk about all the good things that could come out of Modern Acupuncture and their amazingly expensive experiment. I’m serious.

For as long as we’ve had the community acupuncture model, people have been doing weird shit with it. That list is long. Here are just a few examples:

community acupuncture as loss leader, as happy hour, as method to create a captive audience for nutrition lectures;

“mobile” community acupuncture, chic but doomed, in shiny Airstream trailers;

community acupuncture with bells, with chanting, with mandatory breathing exercises;

and does anybody else remember the clinic where they tried to schedule the appointments so that they could make the patients meditate as a group during their treatments? These were not people who knew each other and were coming in for group meditation, they were ordinary individual patients trying to get acupuncture for their arthritis or headaches or whatever, but had to meditate with a group of strangers. Yeah, that didn’t last long.

In the past, though, the weird shit has been at the level of individual clinics, each separately weird. Until Modern Acupuncture, nobody tried to do weird shit with the superstructure. It makes sense, given that what the Modern Acupuncture people know is franchises, that they looked at our fractal and they saw a franchise. They saw a movement that they could convert into “movement marketing”. They saw a big idea that they could leverage into a big score.

They might be wrong, or they might not be; regardless, the fascinating thing from my point of view, is that new possibilities open up when you’re no longer at the level of individual clinics. It’s probably obvious that I wasn’t interested in that level for very long, personally. I love WCA Cully like nothing else — in part because there’s nothing else like it, even in the POCAverse — but I love it more because it made itself the Mothership, the gateway to the POCAverse. (I wonder if Modern Acupuncture has a Mothership, and if anybody loves it? Nah, they probably just have corporate headquarters.)

Anyway, thinking about what could happen:

There’s the obvious, which is that Modern Acupuncture goes down in flames. Re-reading that Franchise Times article, it kind of sounds like that’s what the author expects: “It’s the needles, stupid. That’s my answer to the question, what could stop acupuncture from being embraced by the Western masses, as the founders of Modern Acupuncture fervently believe.”  Ouch. Needles are certainly one difference between Modern Acupuncture and its brother franchises, Massage Envy and The Joint; another is the size of the potential workforce. More than 335,000 LMTs in the US for Massage Envy to draw on, some 72,000 DCs for The Joint, and maybe 30,000 L.Acs? (The article that landed on 37,000 didn’t try to account for people with multiple state licenses, of whom there are many.) If Modern Acupuncture does go down in flames, it will confirm that there are things that money can’t buy; which in this day and age, is good to remember. Speaking of what money can’t buy, though…

Another thing that could happen is that all or part of Modern Acupuncture could decide to believe their own PR that “the mission of the company is so much bigger than business”   — and could pivot to a social business model. In other words, like any number of POCA clinic owners and employees before them, they could wake up one morning and realize, wow, we’re not making nearly as much money as we hoped we might, but helping so many people with acupuncture feels so amazing, we don’t want to stop!

This seems like a good time to quote Pam Chang’s fabulous blog post on the topic of social business: “social businesses value building “social capital” –reputation and goodwill– more than they value accumulating money profits. Of course, we have to earn enough to pay the rent and salaries, and utilities and supplies, etc, but once the bills are paid, what matters most is growing roots into our community and providing a valued service. Ten years into working at and co-managing Sarana Community Acupuncture, I find myself surrounded by social dividends… in retrospect, I see my prior professional life as socially impoverished…Community Acupuncture demonstrates the pleasure to be had in simple, caring, well-defined social interactions. In a world that can be seen as full of fear, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and polarity, Community Acupuncture helps re-weave the social fabric.”

This could happen to Modern Acupuncture. They could discover that even though their franchise concept didn’t work out the way they thought it would, surprise! they’d rather re-weave the social fabric than make a pile of money. If this happens, it means that the source code they borrowed from us is actually a virus, and we’re all living in a science fiction novel. A cyberpunk science fiction novel kind of like Snow Crash, which involves not only a code-virus and any number of dystopian franchises, but also semi-autonomous cyborg pit bulls. 

I would be 100% OK with that. Particularly if my pit bull got to have an afterlife in which she runs fast enough to break the sound barrier. But I digress.

A possibility that is related or unrelated to the replicating-social-business-virus is that Modern Acupuncture, having sunk a ton of money into a floundering franchise, doesn’t just give up and decides to get serious about addressing the structural problems with the acupuncture profession that are constraining its potential workforce. Despite Modern Acupuncture’s connections with, ahem, certain highly ideological elements of the acupuncture profession, maybe some of the people who bought franchises have some common sense?  Modern Acupuncture can’t pay its employees enough to make it worth it to go to acupuncture school at current prices; with people graduating an average of $109K in debt, it just doesn’t pencil out. Imagine if Modern Acupuncture’s employment struggles led to a new level of demand for reform of both acupuncture education and acupuncture occupational licensing? Praise the fractal!

My point, comrades, is that we don’t know what’s going to happen, so it would be a mistake to only imagine bad things. Modern Acupuncture may be doing weird shit with the systems we love, but let’s not forget that the systems we love are weird shit in their own right. Modern Acupuncture might get more than they bargained for. After all, look what happened to us.

Author: lisafer

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  1. I love thinking about all the possibilities of where this might go; it feels better than fretting that all of our peeps will suddenly make tracks for the ZenDen Tingles and the amazing herbal tea.

    As for the open-source-code *gifts* that the fractal has in store for every Modern Acupuncturist, one large one will be the joyful personnel- bookkeeping- schedule writing-supply chain-learning curve-IT headache-parking nightmare. Which is totally separate from the hiring demand issue you mentioned above. I think that having some corporate hand-holding has the potential to *help* the franchisers, but that all depends on the adeptness of the *executives.* If they’re just there to collect the big money they feel they’re due, it may be that the advice or support they supply won’t be of much help. Of course then they can hire someone else to do business coaching for all the franchisers, thus re-creating the Acupuncture Profession’s source code where the *most successful* people in the profession don’t actually practice acupuncture.

    It will be interesting to watch.

  2. I can’t stop mentioning the day I saw a MA founder tell a room full of Acupuncture “Leaders” that we, as a profession, need to stop fighting dry needling.

    It was the best thing that I heard that entire weekend, other than a text message telling me that West Virginia legislature passed an ADS law.

    Stephen Gubernick was on point that day. He talked about how all acupuncturists stood to gain from all the advertising that Modern Acupuncture is doing to promote acupuncture. He mentioned that more people started getting massage therapy when Massage Envy started opening locations and promoting the benefits of massage.

    Then MA sponsored a happy hour with free beer and wine and falafel. No one turned it down.

    His message is now less on point with the “Let’s Tingle campaign. But, yeah, I really want to see how this all plays out.

  3. Also I agree it will just take time to see how MA pans out in the next 5 to 10 years. I still don’t understand why any acupuncturist would want to put 10s of thousands or even 100 thousand plus (whatever the initial investment is) in to a franchise model with no track record. Seems like a huge leap of faith.

  4. That’s the thing — I think the people doing the investing (most of them can’t be acupuncturists, with that kind of a price tage) think that there IS a track record for this model, and that Massage Envy/the Joint is half of it, and POCA is the other half. I don’t think they would have pushed this so hard, so soon, if they didn’t believe on some level that we had market tested it for them.