*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.
Capulalpam de Méndez is one of a small but growing number of Mexican towns that have succeeded in kicking mining companies off their lands. Many activists have tried to understand their success, where so many others have failed, and while varied, the answer usually has something to do with ‘community.’ This doesn’t translate very well into either a ‘best practice,’ or a ‘scalable strategy,’ but does hold some critical thinking points for those of us trying to make some part of the world a little bit better than it is.
Procession from Capulalpam. Creative Commons 3.0.
Jen and I woke-up before 7am on Saturday, met up with our friend Yeyo and took a series of overcrowded forms of public transportation to the cold and rainy village of Capulalpam, in the Sierra Juárez mountains.
We joined a couple dozen others in the town’s church, heard some prayers, burned some incense, and headed off, picking up others as we walked from the cathedral, to the dirt road that led out of town on a steep incline. We were young and old, grandparents, toddlers and plenty in-between, walking through a mountainous forest, en route to a meeting point where our procession would connect with similar gatherings from two neighbouring towns.
These three villages were celebrating the 3rd anniversary of their collective decision to issue a 100 year moratorium on any mining projects within their territories. The decisions had been reached using traditional Zapotec assemblies, in which consensus emerges through collective community dialogue. The event was equal parts religious ceremony, political rally, community feast and intergenerational dance. One municipal president rejected the imposition of global capitalism on their traditional way of life and the head of the regional tourism network declared that, “any development that is not sustainable, is not development!”
Prayers were said, food was served, mescal sipped and dances had (the rain had trickled-out by this point and temperature had risen, as the march had descended to a lower plateau). Kids played on a swing set looking out across the mountain range, while friends reconnected with friends and bands from each of the three communities set the mood with different styles of local music. Sometime that afternoon it became crystal clear to me: THIS was why mining companies – with all the financial and political power they wield – had been unable to maintain their operations in this little corner of the world.
In Capulalpam, activism is not the fringe activity of a relative few (which often separates us from many of our own friends and families). It is also not something that exists in a bubble, independent of other important and meaningful activities – activism is simply a part of life. And say what you will about the specifics of this approach, but it has meant that in the face of deeply corrupt state and federal authorities, and a Canadian mining firm bent on sucking the last ounces of gold and silver from the surrounding mountains, the community has won and has no intention of giving in. Instead, they have opted for a mix of eco-tourism, locally bottled water and small-scale building projects, supplemented by the ‘techio,’ an indigenous custom in which all members of the town take on a range of responsibilities for countless public services, for free.
In Capulalpam, resistance is an integrated part of life and something that is as associated with community, celebration, relationships and nature, as it is with the political mobilisations we often associate it with in culturally Northern/ Western countries.
The other end of the spectrum
As far as a spectrum of social change approaches might look, our organisations are basically teetering off the other end of the line, in relation to the scene I’ve just described. Firstly, they are professional – they are deliberately separate from the personal lives, the communities, and the natural world that they are a part of. Secondly, they have taken this separation a step further, compartmentalising their professional notion of social change into so many teams, departments and specialist divisions, discouraging anything that might resemble a holistic and integrated approach to changing the world.
Let’s look at this as two parts: internal change and external change. How could we break down the barriers between those of us who are working within an organisation? And how can we break down the barriers between our organisations, and the world that exists beyond them?
The meeting point. Creative Commons 3.0
Now let’s stop looking at this as two parts and acknowledge that the continuum of relationships that are involved in our organisations’ work aren’t really confined to the little boxes we try to pack them into, including the mythical ‘internal/external’ divide. Our organisations (whether we admit it or not), are part of various broader movements for social, political and environmental change.
What do we do that gets in the way of these relationships? What do we do that blocks the energy of people who have a mutual interest in achieving a certain kind of change, from working together, from getting to know each other, from caring about each other?
This is the where ‘more like people’ comes from. Our organisations, as they stand, get in the way of relationships, trust, empathy, communication and more. For example:
Capulalpam de Méndez – a community of roughly 1,500 people, have succeeded where so many campaign strategies have failed. It is hard to imagine most of our organisations moving towards a more integrated approach to social change. But I’d like to challenge all of us to find something we can do to unpack the arbitrary and limiting boxes that our work is so often confined to, and see what happens if we cease to be simply staff with job titles, situated somewhere within the pyramidal prisons of organisational charts, and start to become part of a community instead…
There’s a lot of talk in the UK voluntary sector about Payment by Results funding and what it means for our work. While there is a certain amount of criticism of this approach to allocating government money, there seems to be a strong view that we should still ‘make the most of it.’ But doing so would be a failure to our organisations, staff and critically, those we support. This is why I’m saying “No” to PbR.
Not a happy blog. But this boy sure is. I thought you’d like him better than a generic PbR-themed image.
Payment by Results is not just an imperfect system, with flaws like any other. As a way of distributing public money, it really falls afoul of every indicator of accountable spending and quality public service:
It emphasises action over impact
Even Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently admitted this, after a GP told him, “Payment by results doesn’t separate results from activity,” highlighting a fundamental flaw of a system that pretends it can measure impact, by measuring ‘the actions that we think lead to the impact.’ The result, as with target-based funding before it, is that in order to maintain funding, funded organisations have to make sure that ‘they do enough stuff,’ rather than making sure they do it well.
It encourages manipulation and ‘gaming’ of its own criteria
When salaries and costs become directly linked to being able to demonstrate particular numeric achievements, it shouldn’t be surprising that people start finding ways – with varying degrees of honesty – to demonstrate those numbers. This is an example of the kind of system that breeds the very behaviours that it claims to avoid, bringing out dishonest and manipulative tendencies in those who didn’t previously show them.
It undermines frontline workers’ ability to respond flexibly to complex situations
The same doctor who called out Jeremy Hunt over PbR’s emphasis on producing activity rather than results, also said “We don’t have the flexibility to bring about the change we need.” This highlights that if, receiving money you have already done the work for (and effectively spent), is contingent upon certain pre-defined criteria, you simply don’t have the choice to put your efforts into something else, no matter how critical it may be. PbR takes away workers’ and organisations’ ability to make judgements about particular cases or situations that may require putting effort into something that they aren’t being measured against. It creates machines that treat every situation with the same ‘objectivism’ that ignores the differences between any two people or situations.
It crowds out smaller organisations, leaving only large scale providers
By making an organisation wait until it has finished (and ‘proven’ that it has finished) its work in order to receive compensation, most organisations will be unable to compete with the large reserves of large-scale private providers. This means that contracts will continue to go to a few large-scale, for-profit, scandal-plagued businesses (SERCO, A4E, etc) and smaller community organisations will have no way of bringing their local knowledge and experience of local issues to play for the people in their area.
In brief, it makes it harder to know if good services are being delivered and if money is being spent effectively, while encouraging worse results on both fronts. This is why PbR needs to be scrapped, not ‘made the most of.’ We owe that to everyone who relies on public and voluntary sector services, and who will see those services turn into box-ticking exercises if we keep our collective mouth shut on this one.
I got pretty worked-up when I read Gill Taylor’s recent piece in Third Sector, arguing that managers ‘treat staff too nicely.’ But when I calmed down, I realised that Taylor’s analysis makes perfect sense within a few of our organisations’ most widespread, but ultimately incorrect, assumptions about people and management. If we believe the worst of our fellow colleagues, it really is time we got tougher on them!
Gill Taylor, via Third Sector
Ultimately, there is a negative view of humanity at play here – people need to be controlled to avoid bad things happening. But there’s more to it. Here are three issues that underpin Taylor’s thinking:
1. The relationship between more and less senior staff is like the relationship between a parent and a young child.
While I could pick apart the issues with applying these attitudes to parenting, think of the traditional model: ‘I know best, listen to me, you’ll be alright, kid!’
This is the first assumption that Taylor – and most of our organisations – go wrong on. Management is one skill-set; counselling those who’ve experienced abuse, or running training courses, or working with youth on the street are others. Management is not ‘superior’ to other forms of work, even if our organisations have built this assumption into their structures, taking people out of jobs they do well, and making them become managers as their only hope of career progression.
If managers are superior to others, the patronising attitude outlined above makes perfect sense. This is what leads Taylor to say things like, “Treating staff too nicely isn’t necessarily good for them,” which can only conjure memories of a 1950s doctor telling a new mother ‘if you give them too much love, they’ll become spoilt!’
2. Problems are questions of fault, and the fault always trickles down the organisational ladder
When someone acts out, when an event doesn’t go to plan, when conflicts erupt at the office, organisational culture tends to scapegoat someone as ‘the cause’ of whatever bad thing happened. Rather than really try to understand the nuance of why an event failed (Were there other events on the same day? Were there unexpected cancellations? Did we know who we were pitching it to?), or why someone hasn’t been doing their job (Were they being adequately supported? Do they have issues outside of the office that are affecting their work? Are they being bullied?), many organisations find it far easier to nail someone with the blame. The last question that most organisations seem prepared to ask about troublesome employees, is ‘why did several of us think this person should be hired?’ Managers are the reason every employee is in an organisation, so perhaps asking themselves what made the person seem employable and how they could support the qualities that led to their hire, might be a good place to start when problems arise.
3. Compliance creates accountability
If we believe points 1 and 2, compliance (or ‘getting tough’) seems like a natural response. As a manager, you are superior to your staff and when something goes wrong, it is clearly that member of staff’s fault, therefore, how can you force them into being better employees? But like a building built on a foundation of quicksand, this third assumption also crumbles under its own weight. Compliance offers us the allusion of accountability, but trusting people and supporting them when they need it usually gives us the real thing. Compliance measures that try to force people to prove they’re not screwing the organisation over (like so many sign-off processes and staff evaluations), often create barriers to meaningful contribution, and encourage the very behaviour they aim to avoid. But if we assume that people who work in social change organisations want to do the right thing, the vast majority of the time, we might find that they do it. We can address the exceptions when they arise, rather than creating structures that assume the worst of all our staff, as so many policies imply, just by existing.
Ultimately, Gill Taylor and the many who continue the tradition started by an American Industrialist of the same last name (Fredrick Winslow, for the record), have a lot to answer for. Their assumptions and ‘solutions’ are what have made our organisations so much less like people, creating hostile, adversarial relationships, where they wouldn’t otherwise be.
While my gut response is reflected in my flip on the original article’s title, I hope that through conversation and experience, consultants like Taylor can see the error of their ways and try starting their work from an assumption of human decency.
But failing that, let’s stop giving them our business or the space to promote themselves, shall we?
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.
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
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!
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…
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?
So in 4 days you did something I wouldn’t have imagined possible: you brought us more than ½ way to the total budget needed to get ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ published!
By arranging these 3 words like this on the spine of the book, we can pretend we're a real publisher!
As I write this, there is $4,285 pledged (by 70 different people), of a total goal of $7,700. And we’ve got 27 days to go in the campaign still!
This is amazing and is testament to the messages this book is trying to emphasise; we don’t need institutions to make great things happen. A little bit of technology, and the self-aligning efforts and support of lots of those who care, is all we need to turn important ideas into realities!
But I have to be honest as well – about 75% of the pledges have come from those of you who are already pretty close to me and whom I’ve been engaging with around these ideas over the last few years.
This is a great endorsement of all of your ability to put your money where your mouth is (literally), but also means that the success thus far is the result of the existing ‘more like people’ networks… which may struggle to get us all the way to the total budget on their own.
Which means we need to spread the word!
Special thanks to Lorna Prescott, Lloyd Davis and David Robbins for their massively kind blogs about the book, and to Deborah Frieze, David Pinto, Arié Moyal, Maddie Grant, Casper Ter Kuile, Derek Oakley, Damon Van Der Linde, Billy Moose, Peter Wanless, Aerin Dunford, John Sargent, Adam Sargant, Ian Hicks, Maurice McLeod, Thomas Wragg, Ben Powrie, Nishma Doshi, Paul Barasi, Juliette Daigre, Steve Lawson, Daryl Green, Doug Shaw, Naomi Klein, Philippa de Boissiere, Pamela MacLean and Tim Gee (and several others I’m sorry to have forgotten in the rush to post this), for so actively spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter.
Each time you do this, you reach a heap of folks who don’t yet know about this book, some of whom (you’ll know better than I) might want to help get it published.
So here’s my next big ask (and I feel a lot more comfortable with ‘asking,’ having just watched this *amazing* TEDtalk by Amanda Palmer, embedded below):
Please ask people you know (on the internet or at the office or the pub), who are exploring any of the questions about the future of organisations and social change, if they might be able to support the campaign to get this book published.
I don’t want to belittle the support all of you have already given. It has been a truly harrowing few days, personally and for what it represents in terms of a real hunger for change in our organisations! But I also want to make sure this book is the best it can be, which will mean making sure some of the people out there who still don’t know about the little campaign we’re all in the middle of right now, can help us to bring about a range of radical new (and not so new) changes in the worlds of organisation and social change.
So bring it up at the office! Tweet a link to someone you’ve seen Tweeting about similar ideas! Talk about it at the pub, after work! Write a blog about why you think this book is important! Send an email to a few select people you know, telling why you’ve chosen to support the campaign!
Also – if you happen to know any editors or bloggers at well-read, popular blogs that touch on these themes, an introduction would also go a long way, as I’ll happily do a post for a website that wants to help spread the word (and do have a couple of good big ones coming up)!
Whatever you do from here, I’m incredibly grateful and also massively excited! We’ve come a long way, very quickly, and I’m sure we’ll get where we need to go, if we can all find our own best ways of making it happen!
…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! 🙂