Launched in 1982, Noren Institute was a Briarpatch business school founded by Briars Michael Phillips, Claude Whitmyer, Andora Freeman, Salli Rasberry, Shali Parsons, and Charmian Anderson.

In Japanese culture a “noren” is the flag or curtain a business hangs in its doorway when it is open and ready for clientele.

Japanese Noren
A Japanese Noren

In Briarpatch, a pair of our core values is honesty and openness. We advocate for open books, open management, and, therefore, open business.

We chose the Noren as part of our school’s brand to symbolize a play on the words “open for business.” You might also say “it’s an ‘open’ business.”

In our minds, then, using “Noren” as our business name and brand, we wanted to represent both:

  • Openness as a value
  • Having our “doors” open to do business

Noren was the first Briarpatch business school (or maybe “unschool” would better describe it). We taught courses but in the context of visiting exemplary businesses and learning from owners as teachers. From this two-way street, we significantly grew our knowledge base of strategies and tactics for Briarpatch-style success.

Noren/Briarpatch office over Blooms on 18th Street
Noren/Briarpatch office over Bloom's Saloon on 18th Street, San Francisco
Briarpatch/Noren offices over Bloom's Saloon.
A Noren Class meets in the Briarpatch/Noren offices.

After the first year, Shali moved to Hawaii, Charmian Anderson joined only briefly and Salli Rasberry came on board.

Noren offered courses twice a year until 1988, including classics such as:

Content from the latter two courses became best-selling handbooks of the same titles. (Click the title links to learn more.)

Noren Visits Briar Jake Warner at Nolo Press
A Noren class visits Briar Jake Warner founder of Nolo Press.
Briars visit Green's Restaurant
A Noren class visits Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason (J.B. Blank Redwood sculpture in foreground).

The Noren Institute advertised “Hands-on Business Learning.” We made site visits to member businesses and the business owners themselves acted as our guest teachers.

We aimed to offer courses twice a year and to take advantage of San Francisco and Wine Country as an additional motivation to attract “students.” Mostly small business owners themselves, they came from all over the world.

As with the “Business as Service” course offered by the Uncommon Courtesy School and taught by Stewart Brand, Paul Hawken, and Michael Phillips, we loaded participants into a passenger van and headed out for several site visits to study exemplary Briarpatch businesses. We had coffee breaks, of course, and stopped for lunch at one or another of our Briarpatch (or just plain great) San Francisco eateries. With a couple of hours remaining in the day, we processed the day’s learning in our classroom back at our offices over Bloom’s Saloon on Potrero Hill.

Noren had nearly 300 alumni by the end of its five-year lifespan.

Much of what we learned and documented was later incorporated into the training programs at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Program and the Master of Arts in Business program at California Institute of Integral Studies.