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robertogreco : structurelessness   7

“We want democracy, but we don’t have the theory or skill to do it” | Grist
"A. People from older generations tried to step in and say, “Here’s what’s going to happen. A General Assembly can’t be that open because people are going to be walking in just off the streets. Here are some horizontal structures that you can use to limit the inevitable chaos.”

And then they were denounced. There was so much idealism. I actually just wrote this big prospectus for my next film, and the working title is, “What is Democracy?” I don’t know if it will talk about Occupy. But it will talk about how we want democracy, but we don’t have the political theory or skill to do it. People are so disappointed in the existing system that they want something more pure, something totally open and equal. And then of course it fails.

Like “consensus.” It actually has its origins in Quaker meetings. In that context it makes sense, because at a Quaker meeting you quiet yourself. And when you’re calm, then the spirit moves you. But if you’re a bunch of activists in a park, you don’t necessarily agree if there is a God up there, or if there’s a metaphysical spirit that you’re going to get in touch with. There’s something funny about how that technique has been adopted.

We take these tools and we don’t know where they come from. I want to say, “Where did we get these ideas? And are they helping us? Or are we going to just keep on having these beautiful moments that totally collapse under the weight of our structureless democracy?”"

Q. The tyranny of structurelessness.

A. Yeah. I want to make the movie that the kids in college can see and have better tools for their social movements. Other than “Let’s have a general assembly! The world is so corrupt that we can only be pure in opposition to it.” I think we need a more complicated understanding of political theory than that.



Q. When you think about democracy — are there certain groups you know that really have it? You mentioned the students in Montreal.

A. I did a piece for the Baffler about Chicago’s New Era Windows Cooperative. It’s the only worker-owned factory in the United States. In the piece I say that part of the problem of Occupy Wall Street was that it wanted to be a democracy but it didn’t have any resources. One of the tricks if you want a democracy is that something has to be at stake — you need an incentive to stick together.

You can’t just have a democracy of people debating abstract principles in a park. Because then you’re just going to fight. This group in Chicago — they wanted to have a job that gave them time to see their families. They put themselves in danger to get that. They built a factory when they could have been out there looking for other jobs. But do they give those rights that they fought for to a new hire who just comes walking in off the street? That’s what a democracy is about — it’s about who has rights. Who has responsibilities. How do we share resources?

This is the tricky thing about democracy: It’s both an ideal and an actuality. So when we say “democracy,” we also have to say what me mean by it. It’s an ideal, and it’s also the current corrupt system of elections and representations that we have.

In fact, the Founding Fathers went out of their way to make sure the president wasn’t directly elected and made sure to call it a republic and not a democracy. This tension between the ideal and the actual is always going to be there."
astrataylor  democracy  history  ows  occupywallstreet  2014  hierarchy  politics  us  horizontality  quakers  anarchism  anarchy  organizing  socialmovements  activism  protest  change  participatory  interviews  structurelessness 
december 2014 by robertogreco
The GitHub Debacle and Why Holacracy is Bullshit | BraceLand
"EDIT: I should make very clear that GitHub does not seem to have been employing holacracy as their organizing model. Instead, Tom Preston-Werner describes it in this talk as “business minimalism.” I was sloppy in equating the two. I do stand by the larger point that these anti-hierarchical models, whatever you call them, don’t deal with power structures effectively. Business minimalism and holacracy both seem to be trying to address the same problem, bureaucracy, without really dealing with why bureaucracies get to be the way they are in the first place. I also edited the title of this post replacing a colon with the word “and” to help clarify.

————

A couple weeks ago I was in a conversation with some of my progressive organizer friends about holacracy, the latest fad in tech culture which calls for organizational structures without any hierarchy (ie: managers). Some of them were really intrigued by the elements of empowerment and decentralization at it’s core. I felt differently. Holacracy always smelled to me like a naive reaction to bureaucracy, without really understanding how and why bureaucracies end up like they do. It also has this implicit disdain for people in organizations who are responsible for the softer skills that keep things running smoothly. You know, things like communication, empathy, human resources management, etc. I see these skills getting devalued in the tech world all the time. If you can’t build shit you’re not worth anything.

Watching this debacle go down at GitHub, I’m not at all surprised to hear (from my fabulous colleague Mike Migurski, who explains perfectly why I think holacracy is bullshit) that the co-founder implicated in the story was a believer in the holacratic ideal.

Channeling Marshall Ganz, the absence of structure is a structure in and of itself. When you allow a power vacuum to emerge someone will fill it, and it’s usually the people who have traditionally held power (rich white men). That’s how you end up with stories like this coming out of GitHub.

In the wake of this, I’m starting to think all of the problems we’re seeing with Silicon Valley these days—the ineptitude at politics, the clumsiness with handling inequality in SF, the lack of gender and racial diversity in the industry—are actually rooted in a systemic failure to understand how power works. As we move to an era where tech is central to our culture and economy, smart founders and investors will come to realize that stacking their companies full of people who understand politics and can create healthy cultures is as important to success as having kick-ass engineers.

The problem with management isn’t managers, the problem with management is bad managers. And it’s not hard to imagine that people who don’t understand how power works aren’t going to be very good managers."

[Conversation about Julie Ann Horvath's Github experience here: http://www.metafilter.com/137546/Julie-Horvath-Describes-Sexism-And-Intimidation-Behind-Her-GitHub-Exit

An Metafilter discussion that predated this news: Do we need managers? http://www.metafilter.com/137257/We-look-at-our-employees-as-adults ]
catherinebracy  github  2014  michalmigurski  softskills  holocracy  horizontality  hierarchy  management  hierarchies  administration  power  social  groupdynamics  inequality  technology  technosolutionism  marshallganz  structure  structurelessness 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Former Valve Employee: 'It Felt a Lot Like High School' | Game|Life | Wired.com
“It is a pseudo-flat structure where, at least in small groups, you’re all peers and make decisions together,” she said. “But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company and it felt a lot like high school. There are popular kids that have acquired power in the company, then there’s the trouble makers, and everyone in between.”
business  valve  2013  via:caseygollan  structurelessness  horizontality  power  control  hierarchy  hierarchies  leadership  organzations  communities  culture  legibility  illegibility 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Tyranny of Structurelessness (Jo Freeman)
[Already bookmarked another version of this: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:d3995eef07ce . Thanks to Max for resurfacing today.]

"Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren’t very good for getting things done. It is when people get tired of “just talking” and want to do something more that the groups flounder, unless they change the nature of their operation. Occasionally, the developed informal structure of the group coincides with an available need that the group can fill in such a way as to give the appearance that an unstructured group “works.” That is, the group has fortuitously developed precisely the kind of structure best suited for engaging in a particular project.

While working in this kind of group is a very heady experience, it is also rare and very hard to replicate. There are almost inevitably four conditions found in such a group:

1) It is task oriented. Its function is very narrow and very specific, like putting on a conference or putting out a newspaper. It is the task that basically structures the group. The task determines what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It provides a guide by which people can judge their actions and make plans for future activity.

2) It is relatively small and homogeneous. Homogeneity is necessary to ensure that participants have a “common language” or interaction. People from widely different backgrounds may provide richness to a consciousness-raising group where each can learn from the others’ experience, but too great a diversity among members of a task-oriented group means only that they continually misunderstand each other. Such diverse people interpret words and actions differently. They have different expectations about each other’s behavior and judge the results according to different criteria. If everyone knows everyone else well enough to understand the nuances, these can be accommodated. Usually, they only lead to confusion and endless hours spent straightening out conflicts no one ever thought would arise.

3) There is a high degree of communication. Information must be passed on to everyone, opinions checked, work divided up, and participation assured in the relevant decisions. This is only possible if the group is small and people practically live together for the most crucial phases of the task. Needless to say, the number of interactions necessary to involve everybody increases geometrically with the number of participants. This inevitably limits group participants to about five, or excludes some from some of the decisions. Successful groups can be as large as 10 or 15, but only when they are in fact composed of several smaller subgroups which perform specific parts of the task, and whose members overlap with each other so that knowledge of what the different subgroups are doing can be passed around easily.

4) There is a low degree of skill specialization. Not everyone has to be able to do everything, but everything must be able to be done by more than one person. Thus no one is indispensable. To a certain extent, people become interchangeable parts."



"Once the movement no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of “structurelessness,” it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. This does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and blindly imitate the traditional forms of organization. But neither should we blindly reject them all. Some of the traditional techniques will prove useful, albeit not perfect; some will give us insights into what we should and should not do to obtain certain ends with minimal costs to the individuals in the movement. Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. The Lot System is one such idea which has emerged from the movement. It is not applicable to all situations, but is useful in some. Other ideas for structuring are needed. But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself — only its excess use.

While engaging in this trial-and-error process, there are some principles we can keep in mind that are essential to democratic structuring and are also politically effective:

1) Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures. Letting people assume jobs or tasks only by default means they are not dependably done. If people are selected to do a task, preferably after expressing an interest or willingness to do it, they have made a commitment which cannot so easily be ignored.

2) Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them. This is how the group has control over people in positions of authority. Individuals may exercise power, but it is the group that has ultimate say over how the power is exercised.

3) Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills.

4) Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person’s “property” and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.

5) Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Selecting someone for a position because they are liked by the group or giving them hard work because they are disliked serves neither the group nor the person in the long run. Ability, interest, and responsibility have got to be the major concerns in such selection. People should be given an opportunity to learn skills they do not have, but this is best done through some sort of “apprenticeship” program rather than the “sink or swim” method. Having a responsibility one can’t handle well is demoralizing. Conversely, being blacklisted from doing what one can do well does not encourage one to develop one’s skills. Women have been punished for being competent throughout most of human history; the movement does not need to repeat this process.

6) Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one’s power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion — without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be.

7) Equal access to resources needed by the group. This is not always perfectly possible, but should be striven for. A member who maintains a monopoly over a needed resource (like a printing press owned by a husband, or a darkroom) can unduly influence the use of that resource. Skills and information are also resources. Members’ skills can be equitably available only when members are willing to teach what they know to others.

When these principles are applied, they ensure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large, The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it."
feminism  groups  groupdynamics  power  control  social  politics  jofreeman  anarchy  anarchism  consensus  democracy  delegation  responsibility  elitism  politicalimpotence  decisionmaking  authority  leadership  administration  organizations  structure  structurelessness 
march 2014 by robertogreco
▶ Christina Xu, Breadpig - XOXO Festival (2013) - YouTube
"In many industries, publishers can sometimes hurt unknown artists more than they help. But a new model for publishing is emerging, and Breadpig is paving the way—helping independent artists find a wider audience without losing control over their work. In addition to her work running Breadpig, Christina Xu is co-founder of ROFLCon, the conference on Internet culture, and founding director of the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies, the nonprofit wing of the Awesome Foundation."

[Transcript:
http://breadpig.tumblr.com/post/62171738926/welcome-to-the-new-breadpig-blog-this-is-the ]

See also Frank Chimero:
http://frankchimero.com/blog/2013/09/the-inferno-of-independence/

and Anil Dash:
http://dashes.com/anil/2013/09/xoxo-and-reckoning-with-nice.html ]
christinaxu  breadpig  crowdfunding  xoxo  2013  trailblazing  support  creativity  logistics  supportservices  bootstrapping  independence  interdependence  supportstructures  kickstarter  structure  structurelessness  obsatacles  systemsthinking  darkmatter  norms  communities  meangirls  cliques  meritocracy  gatekeepers  disintermediation 
october 2013 by robertogreco
The Tyranny of Stuctureless
"Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness -- and that is not the nature of a human group.

This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an "objective" news story, "value-free" social science, or a "free" economy. A "laissez faire" group is about as realistic as a "laissez faire" society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of "structurelessness" does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly "laissez faire" philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women's movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.



PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRATIC STRUCTURING

Once the movement no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of "structurelessness," it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. This does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and blindly imitate the traditional forms of organization. But neither should we blindly reject them all. Some of the traditional techniques will prove useful, albeit not perfect; some will give us insights into what we should and should not do to obtain certain ends with minimal costs to the individuals in the movement. Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. The Lot System is one such idea which has emerged from the movement. It is not applicable to all situations, but is useful in some. Other ideas for structuring are needed. But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself -- only its excess use.

While engaging in this trial-and-error process, there are some principles we can keep in mind that are essential to democratic structuring and are also politically effective:

1) Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures. Letting people assume jobs or tasks only by default means they are not dependably done. If people are selected to do a task, preferably after expressing an interest or willingness to do it, they have made a commitment which cannot so easily be ignored.

2) Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them. This is how the group has control over people in positions of authority. Individuals may exercise power, but it is the group that has ultimate say over how the power is exercised.

3) Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills.

4) Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person's "property" and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.

5) Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Selecting someone for a position because they are liked by the group or giving them hard work because they are disliked serves neither the group nor the person in the long run. Ability, interest, and responsibility have got to be the major concerns in such selection. People should be given an opportunity to learn skills they do not have, but this is best done through some sort of "apprenticeship" program rather than the "sink or swim" method. Having a responsibility one can't handle well is demoralizing. Conversely, being blacklisted from doing what one can do well does not encourage one to develop one's skills. Women have been punished for being competent throughout most of human history; the movement does not need to repeat this process.

6) Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one's power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion -- without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be.

7) Equal access to resources needed by the group. This is not always perfectly possible, but should be striven for. A member who maintains a monopoly over a needed resource (like a printing press owned by a husband, or a darkroom) can unduly influence the use of that resource. Skills and information are also resources. Members' skills can be equitably available only when members are willing to teach what they know to others.

When these principles are applied, they insure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large. The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it."
feminism  politics  culture  community  activism  structurelessness  jofreeman  joreen  1971  1970  movements  organization  democracy  structure  horizontality  verticality  hierarchy  authority  elitism  groups  groupdynamics  via:mitchbostian 
july 2013 by robertogreco

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