I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the eCampaigning Forum in Oxford on April 11, 2014, describing how social media can act as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for the constructive subversion of organisational bureaucracy. Here’s the video to prove it.
…If you’re not yet convinced that you want to commit 28 minutes of your life to watching me talk, here are a couple of teasers:
I describe ‘three stages of organisational social media embrace’: ‘the new fax machine,’ ‘the social engineering project,’ and ‘the more like people organisation.’ Most organisations are stuck at the second stage, but the real magic happens at the third stage.
You’ll get to see silly image macros that involve the Hulk, the boss from Office Space and a bunch of wanky pics that come up when you search ‘professional’ in Google Images.
I explain constructive subversion, as a way of changing your organisation, without expecting the turkeys (senior management) to vote for Christmas (flatter, more democratic, transparent and trusting organisations).
I’m especially keen to hear peoples’ thoughts on this one, and if they have been able to put any of the ideas into practice in their own workplaces.
May your subversions be constructive!
EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who really don’t have time for the video, here is the ‘3 stages of social media embrace’ I recently described on the ECF list. They are admittedly crude and no org will fall 100% into one of them, but I think they provide a bit of a sense of a trajectory for getting the fullest potential from online campaigning tools.
1. The new fax machine – it’s a tool that gets given to a low-ranking member of staff to handle, with little-to-no autonomy or recognition of its significance. ‘One Tweet per week’ kinda thing. Where lots of orgs were a few years ago, and at least a few still are… The point tends to be to keep up with the Jonses, cause others are doing it. Nothing more.
2. The social engineering project – highly specialised digital teams that add up lots of metrics and then conflate them with campaign success or failure. This tends to involve lots of assumptions about the people who support us, boxing them into demographic groups and feeding them lowest-common-denominator (clicktivist) actions based on those assumptions. The point to this approach tends to be bigger numbers, and that more=better. (This is obviously true in many situations, but can be a misleading metric of success in many others, if it is a kind of involvement that minimises what people feel they are able to offer to a cause, to give people something that is likely to boost total figures).
3. The more like people organisation – everyone who wants to, tweets, blogs, shares, etc. The tone is less managed, the line between staff, members, beneficiaries, supporters, etc is blurred as freer conversations emerge within and around the organisation. There is an honesty and openness rarely found in many more trad orgs. These conversations lead to freer collaborations and faster responsiveness, as important information tends to travel where it needs to more effectively through networks than hierarchies. The point becomes about nurturing stronger relationships, which lead to more resilient networks. This stuff is far harder to measure, but comes from a deep belief that if we aren’t building stronger networks amongst those who care about our work, we are making ourselves very vulnerable to a range of outside shocks that might make top-down campaigning models more difficult or impossible (laws, tech changes, natural disasters, etc). It also recognises that there is vast untapped potential within and around organisations, that our structures prevent us from realising, and which social media has the potential to open-up, through freer connections between people, ideas, and those needed to make them happen.
This last one is much closer to how social movements tend to organise, and I’d argue that it offers the most potential significance and impact for organisations, because it can start to model new ways of organising that move beyond the Industrial-era hierarchies most of our orgs have ended up adopting over the course of several decades, which have come at massive cost to the people and causes we champion.
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 order it here.
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!
There’s an old political tradition (that probably never had a parallel in the world of management theory) of pamphlet-printing; producing 10-20 pages about a specific theme and selling them as cheaply as you can to encourage the spread of the ideas.
Lovingly hand-folded and stapled by anarchists 🙂
The pamphlet tradition lives on in anarchist circles, while havingbeen mostly forgotten by others in the age of the internet. Some could argue that this is just nostalgic, but there’s also something about the ability to physically pass something around. Something cheap enough to give away to a specific person, at a specific moment, without much thought, that doesn’t require you to both be on the same online platform, or to even remember to send a link after a face-to-face conversation.
Having written a book already, I wanted to distil a couple of key elements from it in a more radical, but also more physically shareable format. So I wrote ‘The constructive subversive’s guide to organisational change,’ Steve Lafler did some illustrations, and Active Distribution printed it and are selling it for £0.77 (+shipping).
You can read the first draft on ROAR Magazine, or the second draft on openDemocracy, and then order a physical copy (or three…) from Active if you’re so inclined.
Alternatively, if you haven’t got the book yet (or want another one for some reason), order one of the last 10 copies from the first edition print run, and I’ll throw in a copy of the pamphlet for free when I send it out.
Good ideas should be passed around. And sometimes the internet just isn’t the right way to do it…
Last month I did a talk at the Open for Change conference in Amsterdam. It was called ‘Open is a gateway drug.’ (You’ll have to watch it to find out what it is a gateway to, though). It was a great event and I reckon there were at least a few more self-identifying anarchists in the crowd by the end of it. Here’s the video.
Today I sat down with David Wilcox, one of the UK voluntary sector social media and network thinking veterans… and he interviewed me about the book! You can see more of David’s work at http://socialreporter.com/, but here’s the interview we did today:
*I’ll probably need some money, as well as the invite to take you up on your invitation… but I can be flexible about it 🙂
Here’s the blurb from the eventbrite page:
more like people co-founder, Liam Barrington-Bush, went to Oaxaca, Mexico in May 2012 to begin weaving together stories from grassroots social movements, online uprisings and forward-thinking businesses, to paint a picture of what it might mean for an organisation to be ‘more like people’. The result is ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ and more like people would like to invite you to join us in London on Weds. Sept. 25th for the book’s official launch and a chance to meet dozens of others around London who are keen to explore new ways of organising our work for social change and environmental justice!
7:00 – Show-up, have a drink and a snack
7:15 – Words from a few supporters (TBC) about why they have backed the book
7:30 – Liam says a few things about the book, the process and what happens next
7:50 – Sharing ideas for new kinds of organisation amongst the group
8:10 – Collect/buy books, along with more drinks, more snacks and more chatting amongst each other
8:30 – Conversation moves to the New Rose pub on Essex Road (TBC)
Social change is changing – but are our social change organisations keeping up?
There are lessons emerging all around us, in the new social movements that have swept the globe, and in the organising patterns found on social media.
Could Twitter and Occupy help our NGOs, charities, trade unions and voluntary organisations to both stay relevant in the times ahead and live our values through the ways that we organise?
‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ is a journey through worker-run factories, Occupy encampments, a spattering of non-violent direct actions and even a few forward-thinking companies, to make the case for helping our organisations ‘to be more like people.’ It asks us to brush away our ‘professional’ assumptions and interact as we do when we don’t have job descriptions or business plans telling us how to change the world. It reminds us of the power each of us has to make change happen, even within the most entrenched of bureaucracies!
The launch will also be a chance for those who supported the succesful crowd-funding campaign to pick-up their copies of the book and avoid paying for shipping.
Covers and titles are very important, but once you’ve convinced someone to pick your book off the shelf, you need to have something compelling on the back that will hopefully make them believe this is a book that will make their life better in some way. So instead of just writing what I’d like to read on the back of a book, I’d like to know from you what 150 or so words you think should be on the back of Anarchists in the Boardroom. I’ve put one option below and would appreciate any feedback as to the right words to help make you want this book. Thanks!
Change how we organise. Change the world.
Social change is changing – but are our social change organisations keeping up?
Our Industrial Era structures and the ‘professionalism’ so many began to adopt in the 1980s have not lived up to their promise, actually doing considerable harm to the passion and purpose that has traditionally driven our efforts to make the world a fairer and more just place for all.
Meanwhile, the organising approaches found on social media and in recent social movements are proving better suited for the emergent realities of the 21st Century, and more closely aligned with the values our NGOs, charities, trade unions and voluntary organisations have long espoused.
This book is a journey through worker-run factories, Occupy encampments, a spattering of non-violent direct actions and even a few forward-thinking companies, to make the case for helping our organisations ‘to be more like people,’ brushing away our ‘professional’ assumptions and organising as we do when we don’t have a job description or a business plan telling us how to change the world.
Feel free to add any variations to the comments section below.
…The title is why I’ve written Anarchists in the Boardroom and have started the crowd-funding campaign to have it published today. In the last 12 or so years of varying combinations of activism and organisational development work, I really believe this to be true. The old ways are holding us back, limiting our collective potential to create change in the world and driving wedges between people who should be working together for something better. If we change how we do what we do, our time, effort and energy may go infinitely further than the old hierarchies could ever have imagined…
The ends do not justify the means. In the name of this slogan, many injustices have been spawned, from large scale atrocities, to out-of-touch campaigns and services, no longer serving those they began operating in the names of.
Dehumanising management systems and practices – even when they are well-intentioned – exemplify ‘ends-justify-the-means’ thinking every day, sucking the life out of the people who should be most committed to their organisations’ work.
The essence of management, as we know it, lies in the belief that ‘if we don’t tell others what to do, they’ll probably get it wrong.’ But it’s this belief that is wrong, yet most of our organisational structures are built upon it.
If we truly believe in equality, we need to organise ourselves with a clear sense of equality, ensuring that all of those involved have an equal voice in shaping what we do.
If we truly believe in human potential, we need to give it the space to reveal itself, not boxing it into a pre-set job title, or measurable outcome, but allowing it to find its own path to greatness.
If we truly believe in accountability, we need to be transparent in all that we do, making sure our work leaves nothing to be ashamed of, rather than simply trying to hide away the parts of it that might embarrass us.
There is no reason why we should have to undermine the things we believe in, in order to make the world a better place. Quite the opposite! In fact, doing so is usually a good indication that we won’t get where we think we’re going.
The adoption of industrial organising models has not brought the promise to social change organisations that it did for the manufacturing process. The kinds of social transformation most of us want to see are not made on assembly lines, but emerge through the countless autonomous actions of those who care, living their values in every stage of the change process, bringing about something new through their many individual choices to do things differently.
But I believe there is a path from the institutions of yesterday, to the unknown organising patterns of tomorrow. I’ve chosen to look to social media and new social movements for hope, but I’m sure others will find it in other unexpected sources of inspiration.
I’ve written this book as my first significant contribution to what will be a varied, messy, and unpredictable process of collective change, from professionalism to humanity; hierarchy to network; control to trust.
There’s no reason the same principles that can change our organisations can’t also change our world. Think of your organisation as one-of-many test grounds for something much bigger.
When we let go of our obsessive attempts to control complex groups of people (whether organisations, or societies), we open up new possibilities and human potentials in every realm.
But like the transition I describe, this book will not be published just because I want it to be. Others will have to want it to, if it is going to get beyond my laptop.
…Which is why today is the start of the crowd-funding campaign on StartSomeGood.com to publish ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom.’ You can visit the campaign page here to pledge, or read a snippet from the book if you’re still looking to be convinced.
Pledge for a book, pledge for a bit of my time, pledge for a few copies for the office and use them to spark discussions amongst colleagues as to how you can all start living your values in the ways you work to bring about a bit of good in the world each day…
And if you’re not in a position to pledge right now, feel free to share it with anyone else you think would be interested in reading the book.
I am deeply appreciative for whatever you can do to help make this happen and wherever we take the conversations from here!
Below is the first published snippet of ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom: How social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people.’ The crowd-funding campaign for the book will launch this Friday on StartSomeGood.com. Join the email list for updates.
'Does anyone have the authority to sign-off on this?' (Collin David Anderson, used under Creative Commons)
Imagine the first strategy meeting amongst an imaginary coalition of NGOs involved in ‘strategising’ for the delivery of the ‘Arab Spring 2011’ program. Probably in about April 2002:
“Our vision is: ‘A series of mostly peaceful revolts across the Middle East and North Africa in the spring of 2011, overthrowing longstanding dictatorships and kicking-off a process of bottom-up democratisation throughout the region.’”
“Great. What are our targets gonna be? Have we identified strategic partners in each of the countries? What will we accept as a ‘democratic’ victory? Do we have a system of risk management? How will we measure the impact?…”
If they had somehow managed what we now know was achieved by less strategic or coordinated means, think for a minute how the follow-up meetings might have gone:
“Do we have a figure on ‘total persons liberated’ yet?”
“What if that figure goes up after the funding period is over? Think we could fudge it a bit to boost the numbers?”
“We’re probably gonna want to avoid mentioning too much about Syria in the final report… Bahrain too.”
“We’ll have to talk about Libya, but is there a way we can avoid giving NATO too much credit on that one? If we make it look like they were the critical success factor, they’ll get all the funding in the next round.”
“Can we reshape the vision statement to reflect Tunisia and Egypt more strongly? If we were aiming to liberate the whole region and only two dictators were ousted, it’ll be easy to say the programme was a failure. What if we said it was something about ‘supporting peaceful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt’? Then we can credit the other stuff as unexpected fringe benefits of our interventions… maybe we can build the next funding app around some of the other countries that have been ‘prepared’ for future peaceful revolutions?…”
There were of course many organisations that played roles within the various uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East in early 2011, but there was no organisation that could effectively or meaningfully take credit for what took place in any single country, let alone the entire region.
Organisations (clearly structured institutions) have, throughout history played important roles in countless social movements (looser, larger, emergent and wholly autonomous masses of people), yet have repeatedly failed to understand the differences between the two forms.
The organising principles which underpin organisations and movements are almost diametrically opposed to one another, even if from the outside (and generally through the condensed lens of history) their aims and beliefs appear perfectly aligned.
An organisation in a movement is too often like the friend-of-a-friend at a high school house party who hasn’t grasped the etiquette of the group they’ve stumbled into. They do inappropriate things, hit on people they should know not to hit on, say things they shouldn’t say… and ultimately end up too drunk for their own good, being looked after by some sympathetic stranger who wants to keep them from getting beat-up or seriously damaging the furniture.
…Maybe that last bit pushed the metaphor a bit, but anyone who has participated in a movement without their organisational hat on knows the tension that emerges when an institution tries to impose hierarchy on something for which there are simultaneously no leaders and an ever-changing plethora of leaders coming-and-going, depending on the specifics of the situation.
This tension might be sparked by unannounced organisational recruitment drives at broader movement events or actions. It might be in the domination of organising meetings with particular agendas and aims. It could be the prevalence of a particular organisational face in media coverage or publicity, taking disproportionate credit for something which has in fact been a much broader effort.
This is not to say that people who work for organisations cannot bring just as much value, resource and experience to a movement as any of the rest of us, but that too often this requires their aims as individual activists to trump their aims as employees of an institution.
The desires to build brand recognition, to secure funding, to promote awareness of a particular agenda or individual name are practically speaking at odds with actually working towards a better world. They distract from the tasks at hand. We began by explaining them to ourselves as ‘necessary evils’ in the world of organising, until they gradually assumed a considerable bulk of our work. The tail is wagging the dog.
We have put the ‘cart before the horse’ when the structures created to help achieve change, become the institution’s primary reasons for being. Over time, almost without fail those ‘helpful’ structures end up practically at odds with the change they were meant to support – often at the point of engagement between the organisation itself, and the bigger movement that it is a part of.
Our organisations need to be more sensitive to their environments, and accept that we are guests in broader movements for change, rather than the stars of the show, as so much organisational campaigning, publicity and fundraising efforts have pushed us to try to be over the years.
Becoming aware of the ways our organisational hats might be at odds with the aims of a movement, is a critical step towards making a positive difference in this emergent world. If we want to be meaningful and constructive contributors, we need to understand the principles that help movements to thrive, even if they seem immediately at odds with the principles that have driven our organisations for so long.
As you read this, there are countless emergent social movements that could benefit from the people, experience and resources that our organisations have within their walls. Finding ways to work constructively – rather than antagonistically – with these looser networks will be a defining distinction of established organisations that remain important in the movements of the not-so-distant future.
But doing so means learning to take on some of the qualities of these looser networks…
This was taken from Chapter 3: ‘The myth of hierarchical necessity and what we can do for ourselves.’ To read more, this book will need to be crowd-funded. Join the email list, ‘like’ the Facebook page, or sign-up to the Facebook crowd-funding event, to make sure you get the updates when the campaign goes live on Friday! Big advance thank you hugs for helping to make this possible! 🙂
Anarchists in the Boardroom cover, by Steve Lafler
Here’s the deal:
In less than two weeks, I’ll be launching a crowd-funding page on StartSomeGood.com. This is like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, but specifically for projects with some kind of social benefit.
We need to raise about $7,600 (£4,700 GBP) over the following month. This will cover the 1st 500 copies of the print book, as well as editing, building a website, designing the cover and a few nifty bits of on-and-offline promo materials. (You can see the budget here, if GoogleDoc spreadsheets are your bag).
The main things will be (initially):
A critical mass of keen supporters making immediate pledges when things kick-off, and
Those supporters getting the word out to their personal and work networks right away.
This is why this book needs you!
The campaign will need a number of things from those who are interested enough to support it. A few key ones include:
Early contributors and early sharers: If you have some cash you can throw into the process, great! If you don’t, but want to spread the word to those you think might, greatl! A well-targeted or well-timed Tweet, Facebook link, or email, can be far more valuable than a cash contribution, so don’t let being broke stop you from getting involved.
Bloggers who want to make their own cases for funding the book: I can talk about this stuff all day, but it’s a lot more powerful if you tell the world why you want this book to be published. Drop me a line if there’s anything I can do to help you write a blog to post just after the campaign gets started.
Organisational backing: If you work in a non-profit, voluntary sector, social enterprise or campaigning organisation, do you think you could leverage a bit of cash from a ‘professional development’ or ‘continuing staff education’ budget, to commit to 5 or 10 copies of the book for your office? Or to bring me in for a talk, a workshop, or some consultancy, once the book has been circulating amongst staff? A few organisational contributions and endorsements will go a long way towards making this book happen.
But don’t stop at this list! If there’s anything you can think of to support the crowd-funding process, I’m keen to see where you take it! I hope this campaign can be living proof of some of the ideas in the book, showing what can be done when lots of people have the space to support a cause in the ways they feel inspired to, not relying on a traditional institution make it happen.
Let’s do this together!
Liam (liam @ morelikepeople.org / @hackofalltrades / ‘the guy who moderates the comments below’)
PS – what kinds of rewards would you like to see for different levels of contributions?