Bartlett on “Bossless Organizations”

In this new age of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, Richard D. Bartlett writes and interesting piece about “Bootstrapping a Bossless Organization”. He is one of the leading lights of Enspiral, a pretty successful “bossless” organization which also produces software for non-profit organizations. So he knows what he is talking about.

Sensei Bartlett is responding to a visit to the 2016 Ouishare Fest in Paris. He notes that it was in the grip of “a weird utopian blockchain mania: a poorly understood but massively hyped technology that will somehow fix all our social, political, and economic inequities”.

It should be no surprise that blockchain technology does not actually solve all the problems (if is solves any of them).

Asked for the “recipe” for how to bootstrap an effective decentralized organization, he gives some simple points.

  1. Make your collective purpose your boss.
  2. Invest in people above all else.
  3. Use rhythm to your advantage.

Bartlett attaches a couple of pertinent questions to these tips:

Ask: what impact do we want to have in the world?
Ask: how do we want to relate to each other on our journey to impact?

His third point about “rhythm” is interesting. Tony B. makes a similar point in some of his advice, and programs such as Cotivation and Hoffice find and impose rhythms to improve coworking. Bartlett also talks about working on problems appropriate to the stage of life you are at. When your organization is still  a “caterpillar”, work on “caterpillar problems”, and leave the “butterfly problems” to later. To every season, its proper labor.

The main point to notice is that nothing in this advice requires or has much to do with blockchain technology, “smart contracts”, or indeed, any specific technology at all. “Invest in people” means “don’t fixate on technology”. “Make your collective purpose your boss” means “don’t let technology be the boss”.

Maybe blockchain technology will provide a really cheap and effective platform for people to do “meaningful work in a truly collaborative environment”, and if so, it will make people happy and do a lot of good.

But this kind of work is “tremendously difficult, but it’s tremendously rewarding”. Don’t expect any technology, including the flavor of the month Blockchain, to magically solve the problem.

Don’t take it from me, listen to Sensei Bartlett.

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