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Crowd-sourcing ‘The Accidental Anarchist’

So as some of you may have picked up elsewhere, I have an exciting new piece of work researching content for the upcoming documentary ‘The Accidental Anarchist’ with Carne Ross. As with most of my work, I thought, ‘why not ask everyone else what they’d include in this film?’

Want to submit a story idea now? Fill this form.

The Accidental Anarchist

The Accidental Anarchist

Some background

I read Carne’s book, The Leaderless Revolution, in late 2012. In it, he tells the story of his transition from high-flying UK diplomat, to anarchist. While many of Carne’s insights felt familiar to me, his journey was unique. If someone in his position, so deeply aware of and invested in systems of government and top-down solutions, can undertake this kind of transformation, it offers hope for countless others to find similar paths, looking beyond current realities to imagine a better world.

As I read the book I began tweeting Carne; insights the book offered, thoughts it raised for me, parallels with parts of my own work. Specifically, I related to the ‘side door anarchism’ approach, bringing ideas of radical equality, non-hierarchy and autonomy into places where they’re least expected (and thus perhaps a little more digestible for some than countless more cliched images and symbols). We started to chat.

Since then, we’ve spoken at two events together in New York, I interviewed Carne for the Guardian, and he read a final draft of my book, offering a nice comment which helped with the promotion. So when I saw the post for research help with the film, it looked like a great opportunity to work more closely together and to help bring ideas of autonomy and self-organisation to a wider audience.

Remarkably, Carne agreed and asked me to help.

What is The Accidental Anarchist?

While the film will be framed by Carne’s personal journey, the majority of screen time will be spent exploring examples of radical, non-hierarchical organisation from around the world. This could mean worker coops or social movements; communes or community groups; autonomous Indigenous communities or worker-run factories. The point is to highlight what people are capable of, without the imposed coercion of a boss, a leader or a ruler.

Also – to be clear – we are using the idea of ‘anarchism’ in its loosest sense; as a very crude catch-all for a number of autonomous organising practices that have a) pre-dated the European notion of anarchism, b) emerged far more recently, and c) existed in parallel for decades and centuries. This is not an exercise in deciding what is and isn’t ‘true’ anarchism. It is an attempt to draw together a range of interconnected threads in the ongoing story of human organisation that are typically ignored, overshadowed or misrepresented by history, politics and the media. While anarchism is neither the first nor the last of these threads, it provides a lens from which to start a more nuanced conversation about how we organise ourselves in ways that reflect our shared values.

Crowd-sourcing stories

My first task is to create a long-list of potential stories this film might tell. This is where you come in. Rather than rely on my own knowledge and experience, I wanted to ask you about your favorite examples of autonomous self-organisation and self-governance, to start from a more complete list than I could ever develop on my own.

In particular – due to my own experiences and interests, my examples are mostly from the following countries:

  • Mexico
  • US
  • Canada
  • Spain
  • UK
  • Argentina
  • Brazil

So if you have stories from beyond Europe, North and South America, they would be particularly helpful!

Due to relatively tight timelines, this is only going to be open for a few days. Some time next week (after September 15), Carne, myself and the producers will look over the options and highlight a shorter list that may make sense to explore in the film. (Keep in mind it is only likely to be a handful of the countless potential stories that will make it into the film, due to both time and budget).

Submit a story

If you have an example you’d like to include, it would be great if you could add it to this form.

Check the current list

If you’d like to see what others have submitted so far, you can check it out here.

And if you have any wider questions or suggestions about the film, feel free to add a comment at the bottom of this post, or drop me an email on liam AT morelikepeople.org

Excited to have you involved!

Liam

PS – feel free to share this post around with anyone you think might have a story they’d like to include. Thanks!






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The first 500 copies!

Having just received the 2nd print run this week, I thought it would be a good chance to look back at the 1st 500 copies of Anarchists in the Boardroom and see what others have said about it so far…

Due to ordering more books, the new books being slightly lighter, and the upfront costs being covered, I’ve been able to drop the price on the 2nd print run considerably! £12 is now the registered retail price, but you can order books on the website for:

  • £11 including shipping within the UK (instead of £15)
  • £14 including shipping within the EU (instead of £18)
  • £16 including shipping to the Americas, Asia and Africa (instead of £20)
  • £17 including shipping to Australia and New Zealand (instead of £23)

In the meantime, I wanted to reflect with this brief Storify story, as to some of the things that others have been saying about the book. It’s nothing like a complete list, but it gives some sense of the community that has begun to emerge around the book and the things they are doing with it.

Once again, I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who’s brought the book to this point! It’s been exhausting at times, but it’s been an amazing journey so far! Thanks for helping shape it!

Liam

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It’s time for the non-profit trade press to go Onion!

Someone suggested to me today that their charity had been unwilling to adopt more democratic, participatory, transparent organising structures, in significant part due to the perceived ‘reputational risk’ associated with doing so. Without pointing at that organisation, more than any other, this is my Third Sector-goes-Onion response to the idea that a more democratic structure could be seen as a reputational risk. It is the ongoing story that doesn’t make sector press ‘news’ each day.

“Charity maintains undemocratic Industrial-era management in 2013!”

Welcome to the Aid Assembly Line! (CC synapticism on Flickr)

Welcome to the Aid Factory! (CC synapticism on Flickr)

Today, a leaked report from AidHope International, one of the world’s biggest development charities, revealed that the organisation employed a management structure designed in the late 1700s to maximise the number of pins that a pin factory could produce.

In a confidential document entitled, ‘The Way Forward: Relearning the Lessons of Taylorism,’ the organisation describes its approach as “a blueprint for treating a group of passionate people as cogs in a poverty and corruption-ending machine. And then replicating that machine wherever we can get funding to do so.”

Their management structure centralises decisions with those furthest from the ground, offers minimal opportunity for those affected by the organisation’s work to have their voices heard, and crushes anything in the way of creative or innovative thinking, though endless sign-off processes. The practices used by AidHope – which advocates for more transparent, participatory and democratic forms of government in Africa – is based on a few key principles:

1) Only those furthest from the action are qualified to make decisions that affect it,
2) Solutions can be copy-and-pasted from any situation to any other situation that seems kinda the same,
3) White men just seem better than anyone else at all the stuff that pays really well…

Under ‘The Way Forward’ document, lower-level managers were made to feel just a little bit more important than the people they managed. However, they were also made to feel deeply insecure about their position, because of the assumption they were meant to know everything that each of the people they manage know, and work on directly.

The document suggests that managers should pass blame down to their most junior employees, while credit for their subordinates’ work should be hoarded, until their own manager becomes aware of it and decides to take it for themselves.

Decades after such methods began to be discredited in management circles, AidHope has clung to them, drawing fierce criticism from key stakeholders for the seeming hypocrisy of its dated and deeply undemocratic internal practices.

John Eggleton, a Departmental Oversight Controller at the Office for Aid Transparency, expressed shock at the revelation, stating, “It is deeply regrettable that AidHope have brought their good name into disgrace, by demonstrating such a massive gulf between what they tell others to do and what they do themselves.” When asked what he felt could repair the damage done to the organisation’s reputation, Eggleton said his salary grade did not give him clearance to offer solutions, only to feign outrage on behalf of his superiors.

Similarly, when David Luffbottom, Chief Executive of fellow aid organisation, CrossHelp, was asked about the AidHope International situation, he was equally indignant; “Clearly, AidHope haven’t been doing a very good job – I mean, there’s no way anyone who might ever consider leaking a document of this magnitude should have even known it existed!”

Meanwhile, at AidHope, the press team scrambled to prepare a response, telling this reporter that the charity would have an official statement prepared by early next week, once the appropriate directors (one of whom was on annual leave until Monday) had signed-off on it.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one AidHope senior manager disclosed that the organisation’s board had “thought about changing, but came to the conclusion that no one else within or around the organisation would do things as well as they did.”

Making reference to some of the alternatives to the management structures employed by his organisation, the manager said: “I once heard a senior colleague refer to participatory budgeting, or flat management structures, or consensus-based decision making at a reception at the [House of] Lords, but he was seriously sauced at the time and was probably just taking the piss to get a laugh out of the Peer who was hosting us.”

“Ultimately,” explained the insider, “we realised how hard it would be to justify our own jobs if we began to practice anything that might resemble real democracy, and so decided to just keep doing what we’d always done. Just like everyone else.”

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I wrote a book called ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom: How social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people.’ You can buy the paperback or ebook (PWYC) here.







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Self publishing… minus the burnout?

Self-publishing is both possible and in many ways, fun. But it’s also really exhausting. And I’m wondering if we can find a way to avoid going to a publisher for the next Anarchists in the Boardroom print run, without also burning me out… What do you think?

Me talking about the book at the Open Development Camp, Amsterdam

So it’s been just over 2 months since we self-published Anarchists in the Boardroom!

It’s been an amazing experience, and have made it down to the last 50 copies already!

It’s been a really successful experiment in what can be done without traditional institutions, though it has had some limitations.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I can keep up with the work involved in self-publishing. It’s been seriously exhausting and has at some level made it harder to enjoy the many amazing conversations that the book has opened up.

There are so many aspects to the work a publisher and their partners traditionally do, even after the book is printed: store distribution, individual book distribution, speaking tour bookings, web selling software, arranging reviews and interviews and finding publications for guest blogs and editorials…

I’m a big fan of DIY – when I was 17 I started a hip-hop promotion company to give myself stages to play on, and had self-produced a vinyl 12” on my own a few years later. I co-founded an international youth exchange without an organisation when I was 20. I really, really enjoy the learning process of taking on a whole new project, and figuring out the skills I need to make it happen along the way.

But this book is proving a massive task. And the time I’m spending with a range of the tasks involved is keeping me from a) doing the stuff in the process I know I’m actually good at and enjoy, and b) doing the paid work needed to pay rent.

It’s also been a significant part of my 60-80 hour work weeks for the past two months.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you!

Having sold almost 500 copies in the first two months, without institutional backing, I reckon odds are pretty good that I could go to a traditional publisher with this and see if they’d like to take it on. This would free up a lot of my time and hopefully provide a bit of institutional backing for some of the logistics of the process.

But it would also mean less control over the process.

Alternatively, I could not print any more and leave it as a Pay What You Feel It’s Worth ebook, and see where it goes in exclusively digital format. This wouldn’t address doing any of the publicity, but would take care of some of the practical and administrative logistics. It’s the lowest effort option, and one that would leave the book’s future in the hands of the universe and see what people do with it…

The other option is more collaborative: what if we collectively became ‘the publisher’?

Basically, what if we figured out all the things that needed to happen to keep this book growing (logistics, publicity, distribution, etc) and shared some of the jobs around?

If there were a small crew of people who wanted to get involved in helping with these things, I would happily share book income around accordingly (though wouldn’t expect this to be a massive amount).

I’m open to ideas, but wanted to avoid a totally traditional division of labour, instead seeing who might be up for sharing a bit of the various tasks involved.

Anyway… I’m just tossing ideas around, but wanted to see what others thought about the 3 possibilities I’ve put forward – or suggesting a new one, if you can think of an option that I haven’t. Here, once again, are the options as I see them:

1. Approach a publisher – lose some freedom, gain some time; get some publicity and distribution support
2. Offer the ebook only going forward – save time on logistics, still have to do publicity work, and miss out on having something to sell at events
3. ‘Collectively self-publish the next batch’ – share the load, may involve extra coordination, maintains freedom about the process, addresses some of the questions of scalability of self-publishing.

Anyway, I haven’t totally thought the details of the 3rd option though, but I’m keen to discuss if you’d like to add ideas to the comments below.

Thanks so much for being a part of the journey!

Liam

PS – if you order one of the last 50 copies, I’ll inscribe something personal in it, either for you, or the lucky recipient you choose to give it to for a gift this holiday season 🙂

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Guerilla gardening for the whole family

Julian Dobson has written what will hopefully be the first of many guest posts here about a phenomena in which a local community has constructively subverted their local institutions to create something far better than what was there before. You can help to crowd-fund the book about the Incredible Edible community/guerilla gardening project here.

Incredible Edibles Todmorden

After five years of austerity and with more to come, the need to rethink local economies is more pressing than ever. Governments are not going to do it for us. The big society has evaporated as a political idea. Many of the new private sector jobs are precarious, low-wage roles with few prospects, barely keeping body and soul together.

No wonder people are looking at new approaches to local economies and better ways of doing society – ways that reflect many of the ‘more like people’ principles promoted here.

For six years now one of these experiments has been taking place at the back end of a neglected Yorkshire valley. Frequently dismissed as just another community growing scheme, Incredible Edible Todmorden is serious about rethinking the local economy. But it recognises that economies start with people.

Incredible Edible has come a long way since its co-founder, Pam Warhurst, came back from a conference inspired to take action in her community; since community worker Mary Clear dug up her rose garden and planted vegetables with a big sign saying ‘help yourself’; and since ‘propaganda planter’ Nick Green turned the derelict medical centre where mass murderer Harold Shipman used to practice into a free feast for passers-by.

So here are ten tips for an incredible edible community, neighbourhood or town.

1 Start with what you have. Get out there and do stuff – see Pam Warhurst’s TED talk.

2 Don’t write a strategy document. Council officers are useful – see Nick’s 17-ish tips for activists. But don’t wait for them to set the pace.

3 Don’t ask for permission. Hope starts with action. See Joanna Dobson’s post about this.

4 Make it easy. If you eat, you’re in. That’s why the Incredible Edible ethos is spreading around the world.

5 Propaganda planting starts conversations. See my 10 brilliant reasons why you should plant veg in public places.

6 Make connections through kindness. Here’s why.

7 Start now, but think two generations ahead. That’s why learning is at the heart of Incredible Edible actions. See this story on Todmorden high school’s new aquaponics centre.

8 Rediscover lost skills – especially the art of wasting nothing.

9 Reconnect businesses with their customers. Local food is about local business and jobs. Have a look at Incredible Farm which is selling fruit trees and salads and providing classes and workshops for young people.

10 Redesign your town. See the Green Route in Todmorden that links the town up with edible veg beds and bee-friendly plants. And then think about how the whole town can be different.

And if you like the sound of these, support our Kickstarter campaign to help spread the word and tell the Incredible Edible story. We have just two over weeks to make it happen, so if you’d like to support it, please join us.

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No, I won’t shut up about privilege! …Will you?

Disclaimer: As I write this, I am livid. I’m sick and tired of seeing my friends experience the costs of other friends’ inability to challenge our own privileged status in our organisations. And no, I won’t stop shouting about it!

White people: Available in positions of power everywhere!

White people: still pretty shit at recognising our own privilege. [CC Boston Public Library]

Before I begin, I’d like to suggest reading Sue’s ‘Open Letter to the Movement,’ Nishma’s ‘Inclusive movement: A call to action,’ Guppi’s ‘On Posh White Blokes in NGOs,’ and if you want to really delve deeper, Andrea Smith’s piece on ‘The Problem with Privilege.’

…Think of this as one angry person of traditional privilege’s open letter to all of the people who also hold traditional privilege in environmental and social justice organisations.

We all hold privilege in particular situations, but some of us experience it as the norm, rather than the exception in our lives. We are usually, but not exclusively, white, male, straight and at least semi-affluent. And whether we pay attention to it or not, traditional power structures have been built in our image.

I use the verb ‘hold’ quite deliberately in relation to privilege. I increasingly feel it is less passive an action than I used to think. Traditional privilege is held by those who’ve always had it, by continuing to pursue the status quo, as others are excluded and silenced by it. When we aren’t actively challenging privilege, we may well be perpetuating it, regardless of what other worthy work our organisations are doing.

Very few unions, NGOs, voluntary or non-profit organisations I work with have bucked this trend.

Discrimination: Still going strong

We’ve had information about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. available to us for a long time now. We’ve seen lunch counter sit-ins and riots, and declared ourselves to be friends of those who have struggled – and often given their lives – to create a world that treats them as human beings.

Most of us will acknowledge many of the ways that discrimination still takes place in the world: police violence, pay gaps, media portrayals…

But there are plenty of ways we still don’t acknowledge discrimination.

  • Do we acknowledge the ways that only posting our new jobs on job websites frequented primarily by others with considerable privilege is likely to mean we continue to look like the same organisation we have since the 1950s?
  • Do we know how much more difficult it is for someone who has grown up in a home that speaks another language, or even dialect, to feel comfortable enough to claim ‘excellent written and spoken English’ when they see it as a constant requirement in all our job descriptions?
  • Do we look at the ways that the dismissal of visceral, spiritual, traditional forms of knowledge that are core to so many other cultures, can make it far harder for others to feel comfortable in meetings, or working relationships more widely?
  • Do we ask ourselves how it might feel to attend yet another panel filled with white men, given yet another space to tell a wider audience what various white men have to say about a topic?

While it’s not to say there aren’t specific – and at times valid – reasons for each of the above, continuing to assume that their occasional validity makes them universally ok, means we are constantly closing and dead-bolting our doors to others who should be free to help shape the organisations and movements we are a part of.

Maybe some people with less in the way of traditional privilege really won’t want to engage, preferring to create alternative spaces that work for their communities. But even if this is the case, there is a level of responsibility on those of us who hold traditional privileges to make sure that is not the only option on the table.

As a white male, I won’t pretend I understand all of the ways in which lots of people struggle with discrimination in work places. But I’m also doing my best to accept what I’m being told about so many other peoples’ experiences of organisational cultures, rather than trying to judge them through my own lenses. When one story after another corroborate very similar feelings of dismissal and exclusion in social change organisations, I have to assume that I’ve got it wrong, and that my lack of understanding is the result of a blind spot afforded by so many layers of privilege I bring into my work.

I know that several of my good friends have become deeply depressed, and even suicidal, in large part due to their inability to be heard or have their concerns addressed within the largely white, patriarchal structure of our organisations.

Too often, when they have reached this point, their issues have been dismissed as unrelated mental health issues, absolving the people and organisations’ of any culpability for what has happened, de-legitimising peoples’ own perspectives on their lived experiences.

This is why I’m so angry. These stories are avoidable, if we actually took on the realities of the harm we are causing our friends, and to the causes that are losing their efforts and perspectives, each day.

From intellectual to visceral change

My gradual process of accepting the judgements of others about their experiences of our organisations, comes from a visceral acknowledgement of the issues, not just an intellectual one.

One way that organisation’s perpetuate certain demographics and dynamics is through the notion of professionalism that tries to keep everything work-related within the realm of intellect. This is European Enlightenment thinking (which feels incredibly foreign in much of the world), dominating our organisations. Many other cultures see more visceral, emotional understandings, to be just as important as one’s intellectual, rational point of view.

The empathy we need to find is not going to be found via intellectual understanding of someone else’s struggles, but through a visceral sense of empathy and human connection, and a clear sense that what they are experiencing is fundamentally wrong. When we try to relegate these conversations to the intellectual, we can easily make the rational case for why we continue to do what we’ve always done. When we feel some sense of connection with what someone else is feeling though, it’s far harder to ‘mansplain’ (or ‘whitesplain’) it away.

Privilege as wallpaper

I’ve written before, as have others, about the invisible nature of privilege when you have it; that the same things that exclude some, make others feel at home (or at least not too far from it).

But when we feel at home, we often de-prioritise the need for change. Everything else comes to be more immediately important, even when we intellectually recognise that all is not right.

Every time we de-prioritise asking the questions about making our organisations truly welcoming places for people who haven’t had very similar life experiences to our own, we reinforce our power and privilege. Privilege is making the choice to continue to inflict hardship on others, because doing so is easier than digging into a realm of very difficult questions, about ourselves, about our organisations, about the ways we relate to one another and on whose terms. Privilege is also simply being ‘too busy’ to open this can of worms. Without much effort, I can choose to put privilege on the backburner again and again, but that doesn’t give someone experiencing its flipside the ability to stop experiencing it until ‘other things settle down a bit.’

Is privilege our priority? No.

Addressing this stuff is HARD. But not nearly as hard as it is to be on the receiving end of it, day after day. That’s why all of us, when we find ourselves in positions of privilege, need to push it to the forefront – shout about it wherever we can.

Maybe a starting point for those who haven’t begun to make an effort in this area, is to acknowledge – even to ourselves – that it is not as high a priority as we claim it is.

If we acknowledge that, how do we feel about that acknowledgement? Are we comfortable with knowing that when we choose not to prioritise looking at the individual and institutional forms of oppression we are a part of, we are assuming they are less-important than the wider social and environmental justice aims of our organisations? We are accepting the depression and the resentment of people we consider our friends as an acceptable cost of our work?

I’ll leave that with each of you to answer for yourselves. It’s not that any of us can change all the ways that privilege affects people’s lives, but we can be more conscious of it, along with the many ways we benefit in different situations. We can also change specific parts of our work or our behaviours to open up new spaces for others to be able to shape some of these critical conversations.

But here’s the simplest starting point, highlighted by Guppi in her ‘On Posh White Blokes in NGOs‘ post: listen to what others are telling us and don’t try to explain it away. If we can’t do that, we won’t be part of any solution.

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Chapter 4 of Anarchists in the Boardroom delves into the questions of power and privilege in social change organisations. Feel free to order a copy.

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Ha Ha: An experiment in self-organised social impact

Last Thursday I took part in an experiment. The idea was this: What is the greatest social impact that a group of relative strangers on the internet can commit to creating over the next week, with only 1 hour together and $10 each in the pot?

Harvest chard
Harvest chard

I have my friend David Pinto to thank for inviting me to take part in his latest brainchild. I was one of about a dozen who attended the 2nd ‘Ha-Ha’ (Happening Hangout), with little idea what to expect, beyond the slight chaos integral to getting something previously unimagined off the ground.

This was a hack version of what the process could be with proper technical development: a live-streamed Google Hangout of the hosts of the event, alongside a Quora question that everyone involved could post one answer to, but edit freely and comment on the answers posted by others, voting for the answers they liked best.

While messy due to most of the participants’ technological teething period at the start of the hour, the process worked. Not in a ‘my mind has been completely blown’ kinda way, but it worked, in that we reached agreement and had a clear sense of what was needed to take the idea forward.

After an hour, a bunch of people who (mostly) didn’t know each other before the process began, had agreed to donate the full sum of money contributed to Harvest Brighton-Hove, a community food project that helps people grow and source food that is local to the area. Someone (Lesley) volunteered to deliver the funds in person, and to use our combined social networks to promote the work Harvest does in Brighton & Hove (thus, one of the reasons for this blog).

During that hour, there was considerable debate about whether donation of money actually qualified as ‘action,’ about the advantages and disadvantages of being an international group, with a (very) limited budget, about what actually constituted social impact…

None of these questions, however, prevented the group finding enough common ground to do something. Which is inspiring, but also definitely left me with further questions.

My inclination, while a cool experiment, was that this would be a far more effective process of enabling self-organising, if the group began from a higher level of agreement; i.e. – not total strangers without an agreement about even a slightly more specific goal.

I often advocate the opposite – less unity, more autonomy – but this process highlights the importance of *a bit* of agreement. It’s certainly a balancing act, but as much as unity can be oppressive, a minimal baseline helps to unleash our creative potential together.

I’d like to see David’s Ha-Has put to use in an office, but open to those beyond the paid staff group, such as supporters/ members/ activists, who broadly believe in the organisation’s aims, but are not as restricted to voice radical ideas, as staff often can be.

Harvest 'The Big Dig' eventI’m also interested in seeing what could happen if the financial element was de-emphasised, encouraging a range of non-economic transactions to take place and forcing a more creative approach out of necessity.

While Occupy camps and countless indigenous communities have demonstrated that consensus can work in far larger groups than many had previously believed, there is more opportunity to build trust and empathy with those you are deciding with, when you have a) a chance to meet in person, and b) something that already provides a broad basis of unity.

The 3rd of 4 initial Ha-Has will be happening on Thursday (September 19th), 8pm BST, should you be interested in chucking in ten bucks and taking part. I definitely think it is an experiment worth pursuing. Whether it grows into something bigger each week, or whether it splinters off into a range of self-organised groups, there is learning to be had there, in terms of what groups of people can achieve together without the top-down coercion of management structures.

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WE DID IT! (and a weird idea for getting you your books)

What an amazing month! You crowd-funded the book! And then some! Plus, I’ve got a funny idea for ‘more like people’ distribution, that I’d like to hear your thoughts on…

Publishing, without the publishers

Anarchists in the Boadrdoom book cover by Steve Lafler

Anarchists in the Boadrdoom book cover by Steve Lafler

While you may well know my reluctance to place too much faith in numbers, here are a few from the ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ crowd-funding campaign that tell at least part of the story:

  • $8,340 pledged (surpassing the goal of $7,700)
  • 161 donors (73 whom I’ve never met before)
  • 1,154 shares of the campaign page (on Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms)
  • 7 blogs by others about the campaign (see bottom)
  • 8 blogs by me on others’ websites promoting the campaign (see bottom)

I am so thankful to all of you who have made this happen!

It’s the first major validation that a) these ideas are important and haven’t been sufficiently explored yet, and b) the book doesn’t need an institution/publisher to be a success.

Both of these validations are really exciting to me and seem to put us in a great place to start moving towards ‘more like people’ organisations together.

Special thanks are due to Lorna Prescott and Paul Barasi – two of the firmest believers in the importance of what this book represents.

Both of them went so far above-and-beyond what I could ever have asked of either of them, spreading the word on the campaign, that I can’t begin to offer the kind of thanks they deserve. They kept me going during the slow middle weeks of the campaign. (Lorna also did a nice Storify (see below) of her involvement, as part of capturing the story of her day, when the campaign tipped past the goal).

‘more like people’ distribution

So here’s the wacky idea I thought of last night, when I was pondering the logistics of sending out a few hundred copies of the print book, to people around the world.

Shipping to, say, Wellington, New Zealand, is not cheap. Particularly when you’re sending lots of smaller packages. But at least 9  people in Wellington have ordered copies of the book.

What if I sent one big package to one of those nine people (based on someone volunteering to receive the lot) and left them to arrange details with the others for local distribution? (Please don’t tell me you’d be worried that they would steal the extra copies…)

Maybe this could be as simple as ‘Here’s my address, drop by whenever you have a chance,’ but maybe the person I’m shipping to decides to hold court in a cafe or pub for a few hours one evening and encourages everyone else who ordered the book to come along, pick-up their copy/copies and have a chat?

They’ve already got something in common to talk about, maybe something interesting could emerge?

…It also reduces the individual costs each person has to pay for shipping.

Of course some people will prefer the simplicity of a book delivered to their front doors – which I can of course also do – but thought the potential benefits of bringing together a group of people who may-or-may-not already know each other, or each other’s shared interests in new ways of organising ourselves, shouldn’t be passed up!

Maybe they never see each other again, but maybe they learn something, they meet someone of interest, they find someone to talk to next time they’re struggling away with their own bureaucracy…

What do you think? It’ll still be a few months before we’ve edited the manuscript, done the layout and had the hard copies printed, but it would be great to get your thoughts on this idea, and see if you’d be keen to meet others in your city who are also exploring this stuff, and if you’d be willing to coordinate with others in your city, to get them their books, one way or another.

Thanks again! You’ve been amazing and I look forward to all of you being a part of the emergent process that will follow!

Liam

Here’s the blogs I’ve written:

And those others have written:

And here’s Lorna’s good day (the third good thing has to do with the book)

 

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The divisiveness of unity

Causes of all stripes have long-rallied others under the banners of ‘unity’ – united we stand, unified voices, etc. But I’m increasingly unconvinced that unity is something we should aspire towards. Worse, our attempts to create it, both in organisations and in movements, might be undermining the very most basic common ground we already share. Instead, could ‘diversity’ be the key to a range of our aims and struggles?

‘We are the 99%’

Occupy LSX, Day 1, London, photo by Liam

Occupy LSX, Day 1, London, photo by Liam

‘We are the 99%’: The Occupy slogan the world has come to know since a group of frustrated and inspired citizens set-up camp in Zuccotti Park in September 2011 and sparked a global movement.

The slogan has been cause for much criticism by both progressives and the mainstream establishment. ‘It’s too vague,’ they clamber. ‘What do they actually want?’ they ask, condescendingly.

But these sources of criticism may also be the movement’s greatest strength; they leave plenty of room for literally millions of people to assign their own meaning, within an incredibly basic ideological framework that simply says, ‘I want the world to work for the vast majority, not a tiny minority.’

After that, it’s up to each inspired individual to choose what we/they choose to do.

I call this (as of today, at least) ‘baseline unity, practical diversity.’

Encouraging emergence

The result with Occupy is well-documented. People found their own ways to make the movement their own. At times these approaches and actions absolutely contradicted one another, but they also managed to change public discourse on issues many traditional organisations have been struggling against for decades. (Not to mention all the specific Occupy-related projects and campaigns that quietly emerged from the broader movement, tackling everything from internet monopoly to legal definitions of corporate personhood, disaster relief to toxic debt).

The ‘unity’ at the core of Occupy really didn’t extend beyond a slogan. It was diversity that made it what it has been able to be.

The emergent efforts of countless autonomous individuals, with only this basic sense of common ground, unleashed a kind of collective power the world has rarely seen.

In complexity science, emergence refers to the unpredictable and ever-changing results of countless interdependent variables in a system, acting and interacting autonomously. What at first appears as chaos, gradually takes on a coherent order, as each actor becomes aligned with the others, creating something that no individual could have seen coming.

Schools of fish, flocks of birds, and… what do you call a group of ants, walking in a line, all carrying things way bigger than them? Yeah, that. All emergent phenomena. A couple very basic rules, the rest is up to each individual, and voila! You have a remarkably well-ordered system, without the hierarchy or imposition of a singular ‘right way!’

Margaret Wheatley writes extensively about emergence in her first book, ‘Leadership and the New Science.’ I can’t recommend it enough!

So the lesson of emergence, is that to create well-ordered, effective systems, there must be freedom for everyone within the system to find their own best ways of working towards a simple, shared goal.

Yet for countless years the mantra of so many organisations and movements has been based on the idea that ‘we must have unity if we are going to be successful.’

But unity is inherently singular. People are too varied a species to happily give up our autonomy for something we don’t absolutely believe in, as any ‘basis of unity’ will require, when it involves two or more people.

Organisational reliance on far-more unity than most of us are willing to commit to (because of its cost to our own autonomy), means that we end up giving far less of our energy and potential to our work than we might in a less-controlled environment.

What if passionate support for our mission statements was our only requirements of staff and volunteers? What if it was up to them to figure out the rest? What if we accepted that people within our organisations might not all agree with each other, and let them find their own best ways of advancing the cause, connecting with colleagues or others beyond the organisation, when it made sense to do so?

The disclaimer I put out after many blogs like this one (the ones with especially ‘wacky’ ideas), is this: please don’t tell me why ‘this would never work,’ instead, I ask you to ask yourself (and each other, if you feel like commenting), ‘what could make this work?

…And if you haven’t noticed over the last two weeks, I’ve been crowd-funding a book I wrote. You can join nearly 100 others in getting it published on StartSomeGood.com, if you want to help it see the light of day by ordering your copy now.

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‘Are you really calling your book ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’?!?!?!’

The title of my book isn’t for everyone. But it’s important. If references to ‘anarchism’ make you uncomfortable, please let me explain  the book a little better…

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

The initial response to this crowd-funding campaign has been amazing! As I write this, $4,670 has been pledged by 82 different contributors! I’m amazed! We’re almost 2/3 of the way there already!

But something has already come up a few times that I feel the need to address.

It’s the title. Yes, it’s bold. I knew that it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I also felt it was important for what I hope this book will be able to be.

Let me explain.

A fair few of the ideas in ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ have been scattered around a range of forward-thinking management publications before. Some of them are great books! Others, pretty dull ones with some good ideas buried in the rough.

But the vast majority have one thing in common: they were made for managers.

Nothing wrong with that in itself, except that it leaves most people in an organisation out of the conversation about how things get done. Which is a problem when the many individual books are seen as part of a broader trend, alienating most of those affected by their ideas.

I associate this with two main factors:

  • A condescending attitude to those who don’t manage being unfit or uninterested in organising;
  • A sense that all power in an organisation rests with management.

I don’t believe either of these statements.

I wrote this book because I know there are countless people within social change organisations all over the world, who are interested in how we organise ourselves for good. I’ve been meeting them in my workshops and on the internet for several years now. Many of these people often do feel powerless to affect change, but don’t have to be.

I come from the train of thought that says complex systems – like any organisation – don’t change because of top-down directives. Executive decrees can be a part of the transition to something better, but often, even with the best of intentions, end up reinforcing the hierarchies they are trying to break-down.

I also believe, from experience, that people can do amazing things, when there isn’t someone there telling them what to do and how to do it.

These two ideas are deeply troubling to some in the traditional world of management – far more so than my choice of title! They challenge the field’s very reason for being!

But here’s my theory:

The radicals, who feel the most stifled and most unable to express themselves in their organisations will be the first to connect with this book. Some will be managers, many will not be. They are the ones who are mostly supporting the campaign right now.

When they get the book, I hope it will resonate and inspire them.

I also hope they’ll share it, as one friend put it after reading an early draft chapter, ‘like contraband in a prison.’

It will move around, hand-to-hand and Tweet-to-Tweet, from those who’ve been inspired by its messages, to those who they think will be inspired by them.

Through this kind of word-of-mouth endorsement, the title will become far less relevant. Someone you know, who knows you and your beliefs about organisations suggested this book to you. It doesn’t matter what it’s called – you felt their enthusiasm for it and want to explore, even if the title seems a bit out there for your tastes.

…and that’s as far as my theory goes. After that, who knows? Hopefully the conversations it sparks will help people find their own ways to help their own organisations to be more like people. Hopefully it will encourage them to share those experiences (as well as the challenges raised) with others who are doing the same (that’s what morelikepeople.com will be for).

But at first, this book really is for the radicals. They/we need it!

If the title puts you off – as it initially did my mom – focus on the ideas you’ve read about thus far that you do relate to. If you like them enough, help someone you know get past their own kneejerk responses to anarchism by explaining it to them in terms you think they will understand. My mom did this for several of her friends involved in social justice organising efforts, some of whom excitedly contributed, once they’d had her version of what the book is about. She ‘translated’ it for them.

The video below – a conversation with David Graeber, former Yale prof and philosophical lynchpin of the Occupy movement – might help you to do so.

Just because anarchism has developed a bad public reputation, doesn’t mean its ideas should be dismissed. I often describe ‘more like people’ as ‘anarchism for your organisation,’ in the sense that it places the highest faith in people to do amazing things, if they have passion and are not boxed in by constraining structures and beliefs telling them what to do. Not such terrible stuff, is it?

So if the title is bugging you, I ask you to ask yourself ‘why?’ If you’re concerned about what others will think, maybe you could play a role in breaking down their particular prejudices, in ways that only those we know and trust are able to?

Otherwise, I’m left trying to write a book for everyone, which almost inevitably means, ‘a book for no one.’ Maybe we could meet half-way and you could do some ‘translation’ for those who don’t speak quite the same language, but still want to understand the message?

You can still pledge to help the book get published!

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