Doocracy: It’s The Doing That Counts


Image by Kevin Flanagan.

Upfront disclaimer: From previous posts, many of our regular readers will have heard of 091 Labs here in Galway, Ireland. It is a hackerspace project that we at Technology Voice support with regular shout-outs and by participating in other ways.

What may not be apparent from our previous coverage is that 091 Labs is run as a doocracy: a place where people can come together, self-organise, share, co-create and collaborate.

The sixties and seventies were times of a great many counter-cultural experiments in which many ideas were explored as to how best we could live our lives. Several such strands of exploration containing the elements of libertarianism, Zen in the momentness, and some good old fashioned American, “can do!” spirit, came to be mixed together bringing to the fore the startling and radical idea that the easiest way to do something is to do something.

Burning Man is one manifestation. A whole bunch of people take themselves off to the desert away from the possibility of disturbing others. They do their thing and express themselves in whatever way they feel most appropriate, and when it’s all over they clear up their mess and leave.

Another important result of doocracy thinking is the open source movement. Nobody asked anyone to make Gimp or OpenOffice to name just two great applications. Individuals just decided to get on with it and make it happen.

Declan Elliott, who is one of the speakers at this year’s BlogTalk which is taking place in Galway on the 26th and 27th of August, is the person responsible for bringing the ideas underpinning doocracy to the City of Tribes by means of helping to found 091 Labs.

Declan says, “A doocracy is a self-organising system where everyone participates and everyone treats each other as equals. There is no leader or follower here. Everyone is a fellow of the hackerspace.”

Very importantly he adds, “This is very much the direction for organisations in the future. We will no longer have intensely hierarchical organisations. They will be much flatter, much faster and much more permeable. People inside and out the organisation can connect directly with each other and do what they want as they wish, when they wish, mindful of what they are a part of.”

Trust and responsibility are key to the doocracy ethos. In a world devoid of Big Brother and his evil spawn of micro-managers, one’s own sense of what is right and just becomes of the utmost importance. It becomes the benchmark for decision making and action taking.

Doocracies are about doing in the context of working with other people. If you do it, you do it. If someone else does it, then they do it. Of course, certain activities require the enrollment and the coordination of the division of labour, but even then you do it because you have agreed to do it, not because the group has ordered you to do it or even expected you to do it. Either it’s done or its not: it’s that simple.

Working with others can occasionally produce moments of disharmony. For instance, there can be disagreements over use of space and time when it can be used, etc. However, these conflicts can be resolved by remembering that sharing, co-creation and collaboration are fundamental to a successful outcome, and that it is better to cede one’s point, gracefully we hope, rather than be a person of obstruction.

Like other ‘alternative’ ideas, the principles of doocracy will eventually find a place in the more conventional world, particularly in mainstream businesses. In a previous article, “Corporations Must Embrace The Principles Of The Social Media Revolution To Evolve And Survive“, we spoke about how employers are going to have to revise and change the structures of their organisation which inhibit communication. The very next evolution of that process will be to up their level of trust another notch from freely allowing their workers (or should I say collaborators) to communicate to freely allowing their collaborators to do things mindful, of course, of the attendant responsibilities.

Who wouldn’t love working at a company that was all about trusting its people and getting things done.

Other images by Darren T. & Tom M.

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8 thoughts on “Doocracy: It’s The Doing That Counts

  1. I once saw an really interesting video about what really motivates people on doing things and getting better at it, and I think it all depends on the type of job your are doing…I’m not gonna try to explain the video. Here, better if you just watch it for yourself…

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  2. Another smashing piece Tom and I’m delighted to have finally found the perfect term for OpenCoffee Club too – doocracy.

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  3. Great post guys.The stuff going on at 091labs is also really great and needs to be commended. It’s wonderful to see this kind of grass roots energy forming in Galway.Two years ago I started our web app company (Starlight) and initially I had dreams of being “the boss” of a large organisation – but as time has gone by I’ve begun to realise that is flawed motivator. Instead what motivates us is a sense that together we can achieve great things through the combined efforts of all the team. Without John there is no code. Without me there are no sales. Without Tom there is no design.And so this sense of a doocracy kicks in. We all own it, we all share in it’s success and failures and most importantly we must all trust each other (all members of the team will share in the profits/equity of the company). The flip side of this means that each of us must take responsibility for our own respective areas, because failing to do so will let the rest of the “society” down.If I’m honest, I have to admit that I love our company right now. I’ve found that it’s a really positive way to work and I’d recommend it to anybody thinking of setting up a start-up.While I would fully agree that this type of company model should be adopted in business, I also wonder how would a doocracy scale in a company of say 100+ employees – if there is no leader do you end up in a state of anarchy? I’m not suggesting that it wouldn’t – more so inviting discussion on why it would/wouldn’t.

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  4. Well Burning Man and Alchemy are all very large scale examples of doocracy. They are geared around the idea of creating the space for an event to happen that will contain lots of sub-events. Each aspect of a given event either happening or not happening because someone did something or not.In a modern industrial economy human beings are organized around a process – whether it is making TV sets or waging wars. Human beings are in a subservient role to the process and through educational programming and careful training they are replaceable and dispensable.For a doocracy to really work in our modern society we would have to set about thinking on how to humanize the production line. To do that we would have to rethink our consumerist lifestyle which funds the production line process which is the foundation of our society. But change is happening. In a previous article we wrote about how companies are going to have to adapt their employment policies and work practices if they want to get the best and most talented picks of the generation coming through. For subsequent generations companies will have to bend even further to cope with even more different expectations of what work means from potential recruits.Most new small businesses in the leading edge space have little or no conventional structure. Socialmedia.net is a case in point. There is very little need for John or I to meet up. (However, it is usually a good thing if we can when possible as we get through things quicker without having to go back and fro.) Our ‘newsroom’ is in the cloud. We only have a hot-desk because for personal reasons it makes my life easier. But we could probably get by just as well without it. We just do what we do and only occasionally is there a bit of confusion and that is usually due to the shortcomings of technology. (Computers, they’ll never catch on.)I would say our experience of publishing socialmedia.net is prototypical in the sense that we are aware of how technology can be an enabling force for us and we are happy to share what we have learned should anyone ask. We are planning to set up our Facebook page in such a way (if we can) that our activities are more transparent for instance. But we are also very aware that socialmedia.net gets done because we get on and do it without the need for diktats or directives. John and I have our areas of expertise, we do what we do and we make an effort to stay coordinated. Which is another word for organized. I am glad you are enjoying your business experience. Removing fear and arbitrary authoritarianism from the workplace and replacing it with a sense of trust and collaboration is a liberating and probably very productive experience.

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  5. Thanks Tom, you’ve got me thinking anyway.I took a look at the Burning Man website and in trying to understand the concept – the analogy I drew for myself was an idea of human Brownian Motion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B… within a fixed perimeter – the society becomes self organising in the environment and exhibits random bursts of energy.Business as we currently know it must first create value internally and then monetise that value outside of the company/community through sales. In a sense this means that the company must have a vector that protrudes outside of its perimeter – otherwise it will starve.From my understanding of Burning Man, I don’t see this outward vector – the objective of the community is to be self serving.Now this works fine in a small scale (starlight.ie or socialmedia.net) because the communities are small enough to share the same outward objective. But as the communities grow, there’s a strong possibility that the shared objective could become diluted to the point where the majority of the community no longer believe in that original objective.This could be a good thing, in that the objective becomes re-aligned to be more relevant to the current situation (markets). Or alternatively, it could cause the wheels to fall off the wagon.So I’ll rephrase my original question! Can a doocracy scale and maintain a common collective objective worthy of monetising value? Does it still need a leader to maintain that objective?Too many cooks and all that…. 🙂

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  6. Brownian motion is a really nice piece of imagery. It’s not the complete metaphor by an means but it’s certainly useful.
“Business as we currently know it must first create value internally and then monetize that value outside of the company/community through sales. In a sense this means that the company must have a vector that protrudes outside of its perimeter – otherwise it will starve.”Business, as I think you intend to mean it here and monetizing are processes. The first constructs an organization around moving a product from producer to consumer and the second is the process of turning that activity into cash. If the result of people participating in a doocracy type system is a business or a means to making money from the activities of that business then that’s cool. But lots of people working in a doocracy may or may not produce anything of any value at all. Doocracy has a strong zen component where someone is doing something or they are not doing something. It’s as simple as that. Another component is the assumption of responsibility for getting something done by a given individual. They are not given the responsibility. It is for them to take it upon themselves. So the individual is honoured in a way that our ‘normal’ permission based, micro-managed systems simply don’t allow for.It may look like anarchy but if something constructive is getting done then what’s the problem?Of course it is not the answer to everything but the ideas behind doocracies have existed in an undefined way for some considerable time. And in some guises it is a tried and tested method for solving problems. In the same way that the question, “Who supplies the bread for London?” gets answered.Some businesses may thrive as doocracies and there is certainly a stage in every little get together where in the initial stages people volunteer and deliver for a given role.On this comment:
“From my understanding of Burning Man, I don’t see this outward vector – the objective of the community is to be self serving.” The community is the community and people are doing what they are doing. Self-serving may simply be too abstract and this is really a “What’s the value?” question. Like most value questions the answer is in the eye of the beholder.“Can a doocracy scale and maintain a common collective objective worthy of monetising value?” I don’t know. It depends. If people can stay involved in the same way over a long enough period of time depends on what drives them to do the things they do. I would say that the macro-world because of the internet etc. is increasingly adopting a fail-fast model for business ideas and growing companies are tending to expand with flatter management structures rather than adopting the intensely hierarchical, quasi militaristic ziggurats that we have become accustomed to. So in that sense doocracies may reflect a trend that is taking place in the culture around us.Does it still need a leader to maintain that objective? Well, let’s take 091 Labs as a case study. One guy knows about hackerspaces and has an idea to form one in Galway. I am sure others had similar ideas but he takes it one step further and finds out if anyone else would be interested. A series of conversations ensue. A regular meetup is organized. The same guy, but it needn’t have been him, finds some space. Furniture and equipment is donated. Participants realize that some sort of formal organization needs to be put in place and through a series of discussions a committee is formed which has open meetings when larger projects such as hackathons need to be organized and smaller formal ones to discuss things like insurance. The books are open to member’s scrutiny and so on. The original guy who had the idea, while still involved, is not on the committee and so in this sense it is leadership as instigator. No one followed him but people bought into the idea and took action for themselves.We all know from personal experience that we can all be leaders and followers depending on how situation presents itself to us. How it occurs for us. But what most people call leadership in business is the granting of one individual the right to exercise power over another in a fixed way for a fixed period of time.I will finish with saying that a key requirement that conventional leaders want from their followers is predictability. The knowledge that orders are going to be carried out and so on. This requires control systems to be put in etc. Bonuses, docking of pay to name just a couple of incentives. In a doocratic situation where you are the person who holds the vision for a given possibility, all you can really do is trust the people you have enrolled that for their own reasons they will do their bit and generally trust that it will all work out. I think that’s a more courageous stance then the brute force of barking orders and expecting compliance. Never mind the whole motivational approach to inspiring people which is borderline delusional.


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  7. Cheers Tom.Yeah, all that makes sense. I think the doocracy concept is really great, my questions/comments were in relation to “would a doocracy work in a business environment” – as a management model almost? In otherwords, I was trying to fathom how I could apply the same principles going on at 091labs to my own business. I was thinking if I were to absolve my role as a managing director and release total control of the company to the rest of our team, in sense like Declan has done…. would it work? Would it be a better place to work? Or would the business fail?I’m thinking out loud – that’s all. But it’s an experiment that I’m considering none the less…. an open source company if you will!I’ll catch up with you at BlogTalk – maybe we can continue the discussion over a coffee or something?! 🙂

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