Organization of No Organization

Remarkable that two books released this month advocate eschewing hierarchy for network-based approaches to changing society. The books in question are:

A deep review of Brad Feld’s book is forthcoming, and I am only part way through Steven Johnson’s new book, but I thought I would highlight the similar argument made in both books now.

Feld argues for an entrepreneur-led startup community rather than hierarchical government or university institutions, which seek to control things rather than to actually do things. He says on page 32:

The best startup communities are loosely organized and consist of broad, evolving networks of people.

To paraphrase: in order to build a thriving startup community (a driver of innovation and economic development in your wider community) you need to form a network around the problem.

This is very similar to Johnson’s view under his proposed political philosophy of the “Peer Progressive”. First, I should define that term: a peer progressive is a political progressive which favours the approach of peer networks to solve social and community problems. To illustrate the approach of peer progressives, take Johnson’s speculated solution to a market failure:

Instead of building a large government agency to combat the problem, [a peer progressive approach] tries to build a peer network around it, a system of dense, diverse, and decentralized exchange.

Think of the Kickstarter approach to funding unknown artists and performers, as compared to the massive bureacracy of the National Endowment of the Arts. It’s the network, stupid.

Feld is a libertarian capitalist who admires meritocracy. Johnson is heavily versed in emergence. Although I think they might differ in political persuasion, they are both convinced that to get things done, you need to have a network.

In a previous life, as a military academic I spent a lot of my time thinking about leaderless movements and non-hierarchical organizations. I find it highly interesting that all the insights into distributed terrorist organizations is now be re-purposed for civic betterment.

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