Leading Equity: Collective Intelligence in the Age of Collaboration

Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici

Cinema, it has been said, distills truth 24 times per second. It renders the dream visible. And I have always had such grand dreams, dictated by Disney, then remixed by the anarchy in my head until I can’t quite tell Hook from crook, as crocodiles eat the sun and Edmond Dantés conducts Tchaikovsky’s overture to the dying gasps of Madame Justice.

So falls blind faith.

‘What utter nonsense’, the collaborator-in-my-head remarks. I only speak the truth though, is that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free.

‘Ah, the truth’, my collaborator scoffs. ‘You should’ve been a comedian.’

Fine. No truths. No lies. No literary conceits or intertextual references to revolutionary films. Just information. Because we are building a space where sharing information carries real value, both for individuals and for the communities of which they choose to be a part.

. . .

Leadership in the Age of Distributed Collaborative Organisations

1) Your idea needs to be tangible, credible, inclusive, and epic.

All collaborative efforts are a matter of quantity. Quantity of people. Like army ants in the Amazon rainforest, it is a matter of overpowering your opponents with sheer biomass through superior organizational skill and the ability to channel volunteer energy. If you start talking about abstract concepts, you’ll just have yawns among your prospective volunteers.

You must be able to break your idea down into some very simple math. How many people engaged at a minimum level, equivalent to voting, buying a product, or signing a petition, do you need to succeed?

A traditional method might involve an advertising campaign to generate interest. Working swarmwise, though, two words apply to the idea of an advertising campaign: forget it. If your idea doesn’t generate enthusiasm on its own, no amount of corporate polish is going to create the grassroots activism that you need to form a DCO.

Tangible: You need to post an outline of the goals you intend to meet, when, and how.

Credible: After having presented your daring goal, you need to present it as totally doable. Bonus points if nobody has done it before.

Inclusive: There must be room for participation by every spectator who finds it interesting, and they need to realize this on hearing about the project.

Epic: Finally, you must set out to change the entire world for the better — or at least make a major improvement for a lot of people.

The idea doesn’t need to be polished. The important thing is to put that stake in the ground, start attracting people, and get working on your way to the goal.

2) Focus in any collaborative organisation is always on what everybody CAN DO.

A DCO is a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers that looks like a hierarchical, traditional organization from the outside, but behaves very differently internally. It is built by a small core of people that construct a scaffolding of go-to people, enabling a large number of volunteers to cooperate on a common goal in quantities of people not possible before the net was around.

The first thing to do is release control of your brand and its messages. This need not mean letting your brand go entirely, just developing and realising it in different ways. You need to understand that you can use creative individuals to progress communal goals. Open source enthusiasts are often more advanced than the people regulating and supposedly ‘innovating’ almost any given industry. 

You therefore also need to delegate authority to the point where anybody can make almost any decision for the entire organization. You need to accept and embrace that people in the organization will do exactly as they please, and the only way to lead is to inspire them to want to go where you want the organization as a whole to go. 

3) Collaboration is all about TRANSPARENCY and TRUST

A key aspect of the DCO is that it is open to all people who want to share in the workload. Actually, it is more than open — everybody in the whole world is encouraged to pick work items off a public list, without asking anybody’s permission, and just start doing them.

 Do you see how the platform allows that sentence to enact itself? When I first joined, I knew next to nothing about swarms and swarming. I’m still learning more every day and have little to no idea if this is what Joel Dietz, the founder, actually wants me to write. I have no idea if it is in line with his initial vision for the swarm DCO. I am certain that you might be able to find my vision somewhere in the mess, but I simply read that sentence in Swarmwise, copy-pasted it here and built an article around it to convince the swarm DCO that I can add value to the overall marketing project.

Perception is reality, happy people.

4) A DCO optimizes for speed, trust, and scalability.

The advantage of collaboration is that resources aren’t spent keeping people out, but are spent getting people in to it. Moreover, if you know anything about bitcoin and the blockchain, you’ll know that the parameters of these networks allow for trust between complete strangers on opposite ends of the globe. It is, perhaps, the single most defining feature of Satoshi’s code. Combine a computing environment which is premised upon trust networks with the power of collective intelligence and suddenly changing the world becomes only extremely difficult, not impossible.

Furthermore, everything is transparent by default. Financial records are transparent for all to see. Discussions about strategies and tactics are transparent for all to see (and open for all to participate in). Conflicts are transparent for all to see. This is because all discussions happen in places where everyone CAN see them. Since everybody can see all the information and all the discussions in the entire organization, it provides a very powerful sense of trust and inclusion.

To harness the sense of inclusion, the DCO’s very first task will be to self-organize, and it is you who must set the initial tasks needed to do so. In order to attract the people needed to build your organizational structure, there needs to be something to be done right away with a potential incentive scheme that is clear for all to follow.

Whatever this may be, it needs to be a task that looks challenging but is doable for about one hundred people; it needs to be a task where you can provide for internal competition between the thirty-or-so subdivisions that have already been created; and it needs to be a task where everybody can see the clear benefit to the DCO and the larger swarm.fund project upon its completion.

5) OK, how – precisely – should I set up such a task and organisation?

A DCO is all about people who know other people and who choose to work together. Therefore, getting people to know other people should be an overarching goal of your activities at this point.

While the effective DCO consists almost entirely of loosely knit activists, there is a core of people — the scaffolding — that requires a more formal organization.

Its role and value is not in directing, but rather in SUPPORTING the other 95 percent of the organization — the swarm — which makes its own decisions based on the values you communicate and looks to the scaffolding only when assistance, support, or information are needed.

In this regard, it is vital that no more than 7 people work closely with one another in a given, narrow context. We can set up larger groups of 30, in which people can still know a fair amount about each other and work loosely together, but 7 is the ideal size for productive collaboration. It doesn’t matter that this inevitably results in some duplication – big data is all about utilising the power of iteration to find the most successful solution and progress from there. For the literary critics out there, Derrida was made for this kind of organizational structure.

The largest group-size is 150. There is no relationship between these numbers. The number 7 appears to come from a practical limit to the effort spent on maintaining relationships within a group. The more elusive number 150 appears to be a limit hardwired into our brains, also known as the Dunbar Limit. It is no mistake that 7, 30 and 150 correspond to the size of squads, platoons, and companies, or that 150 is the limiting number for most tribes, including the modern-day Amish. From the best military commanders to out-of-touch communities, to the sharpest marketing and political minds of our day, comes the same message: you need to know that groups above 150 people in size will lose the social bonding required for efficiency and, well, the fun.

6) So this isn’t even that new or revolutionary then?

Perhaps not, we have only ever hoped to remove a few blindfolds.

However, seeing as you asked, the new part is the entire DCO around the scaffolding, and the role that these officers — these geographical and functional leaders — must take in order to support it. One key insight is that the responsibility of the DCO leaders is not so much managerial as it is janitorial. Nobody answers to them, and their task is to make sure that the DCO has everything it needs to self-organize and work its miracles.

Remember, a DCO can’t compete on resources — but it is absolutely unbeatable on speed, reaction time, and cost efficiency. As ever, the old legal dictum (as related by a close friend) always applies: “if you can’t convince them, confuse them”.

7) Leadership is not an appointed position, like management; leadership is a state of group psychology.

Along with trust, this is THE key mechanism in DCO organizations. You cannot and should not try to tell anybody in the DCO what to do. Rather, your role is to set goals and ambitions; ambitions that don’t stop short of changing the entire world for the better.

The correct motivation for the DCO’s mission is going to be key in making this happen. You need constantly to show your passion for the end goal, and those who see and pick up on your drive will seek out things they can do to further it — all on their own.

A DCO grows by way of people talking to their friends and communities. You don’t have the luxury of putting out ads, but your passion and desire to change the world for the better (along with a complete denial of what other people would call the impossibility of the task) make people talk among one another. This is how your DCO grows: one conversation at a time, one person at a time.

In a rather profound sense, DCOs make possible a world where perception is reality, where the way that reality shapes our perceptions can be used to mould a new perception of our different, divergent, often contradictory and paradoxical worlds, which can nevertheless complement each other in interesting and generative ways.

Evey: All this riot and uproar, V… is this Anarchy? Is this the Land of Do-As-You-Please?

V: No. This is only the land of take-what-you-want. Anarchy means “without leaders”, not “without order”. With anarchy comes an age of ordnung, of true order, which is to say voluntary order… This age of ordnung will begin when the mad and incoherent cycle of verwirrung that these bulletins reveal has run its course… This is not anarchy, Evey. This is chaos.”

8) Damn, sorry. No revolutionary movies. ‘Ideals caricatured and beliefs betrayed; that is the definition of revolutionary success” wrote no less a writer then Conrad, after all. 

Ah, Joseph. Things fell apart and the heart of darkness has since written back to overturn your cynical world. All you need to do now is embrace it.

Leading by doing is necessary here, but not sufficient. You need to repeat periodically that one of the core values of the DCO is that we trust each other to work for the DCO in our own unique ways. One of the things that makes DCOs so outstanding in terms of efficiency and scalability is their diversity. People come from all walks of life, and once they realize they have a full mandate to work for the DCO in the ways that they can, they will do just so. Just like I am doing right now…

Usually, we go with the three activist rule, which simply states that should any three activists agree on a given course of action, then they should immediately take it.

The takeaway here is that authority and accountability must always follow each other in the concept of responsibility. Your DCO’s leaders will not have much of either, though, to be honest. They may get responsibility for a small budget as your DCO progresses, matures, and grows, but as we recall, they never get to tell anybody what to do — nobody does.

Ultimately, the trick is to ignore completely the stuff you feel does not advance your DCO’s goals and focus only on the stuff that does. Given the scale and nature of these sorts of organizations, there are enough iterations of any given solution to a problem that you can lead your swarm in the direction you want it to go by simply paying attention to the stuff you like.

Attention is reward. Unexpected attention is great reward – try and respond to your activists as often and positively as possible, picking out and focussing on the aspects of their work you feel most valuable. They will naturally learn the rest. Leadership is psychology, and has very little to do with a paycheck and much more to do with deeply ingrained social wiring in human beings. The trick, then, is how to communicate your vision. If I had to give a short answer to that question, it would be this:

You need to be positively radiant with your desire to change the world for the better, and, above all, communicate three values: 

— We can do this.

— We are going to change the world for the better.

— This is going to be hard work for us, but totally worth it.

. . .

“You’re in a prison, Evey. You were born in a prison. You’ve been in a prison so long, you no longer believe there’s a world outside. That’s because you’re afraid, Evey. You’re afraid because you can feel freedom closing in upon you. You’re afraid because freedom is terrifying. Don’t back away from it, Evey. Part of you understands the truth even as part pretends not to. You were in a cell, Evey. They offered you a choice between the death of your principles and the death of your body. You said you’d rather die. You faced the fear of your own death and you were calm and still.


The door of the cage is open, Evey. All that you feel is the wind from outside.”

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