Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Decentralization

It seems that in writing the SLoDBN posts, I am constantly referring to posts I wrote early on in this blog, the ones that I called my 'Theory' posts. I think that this is because I am repeating much of this as strategy, only SLoDBN gives me a way to organize it.

In my post on 'Catalysts and Network Weavers' (8/31/08), I mentioned a book called The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. This is actually a book on decentralization. The title refers to one difference between starfish and spiders. If you cut off one of the legs of a spider (a cruel thing to do), you end up with a seven legged spider. If you cut off its head, you end up with a dead spider. (This is their analogy; I'm not pleased with killing creatures.) But if you cut off the leg of a starfish, it will grow a new leg. Even more amazingly, sometimes the leg grows a new starfish.

The point that the authors are making is that decentralized organizations are resilient. They state that "...the first major principle of decentralization: when attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized."

The authors begin the book talking about how the Spaniards came to the western hemisphere and quickly destroyed the Aztec and Incan empires. When they moved north and encountered the Apaches, the Spaniards were prepared to do more of the same. They attacked what they saw as the leaders of the Apache, what the Apaches called the 'Nant'an'. (The most famous of the Nant'an was Geronimo.) But the Nant'an had no power in and of themselves, they simply led by example and influence. No Apache was ever obliged to follow these leaders. So as soon as the Spanish soldiers would wipe out a Nant'an, a new one would appear. These weren't leaders in the sense the Spanish were used to, they could easily be replaced because Apache were used to being self-reliant. When the Spaniards destroyed the Apache villages, the Apache became nomadic. The more the Spanish attacked the Apache, the more decentralized the Apache became and the harder to control they were. Where the Aztecs and Incas fell apart after the Spanish attacked them, the Apaches became stronger and held off the Spaniards for over two hundred years.

As I was writing this post, I realized that, just as 'Small' was related to 'Simplicity', and 'Local' is related to 'Community', 'Decentralized' is related to 'Equality'. The point is here that no one is in charge, no one is THE leader, and no group has any power over any other group. The many small experiments may have influence on each other, but each is doing its own thing and none are in control. This creates a certain resilience and sustainability, since if something goes wrong with one (let alone if any are attacked), it won't destroy the others. (The authors of The Starfish and the Spider point out that many terrorist groups use the same structure, which is why the US isn't doing so well in bringing this situation under control.)

In building from the bottom up, we need to start small and local, with many varieties, and (hardest for some of us) no one in control. Decentralization will mean a very different kind of leadership (see my post of 9/2/08 on Equality and Leadership), but it will be a more powerful leadership and what emerges may be more powerful than anyone expects.


Quote of the Day: "In a decentralized organization, there's no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over others. The best that person can do is to lead by example. ...everyone is entitled to make his or her own decisions. This doesn't mean that a decentralized system is the same as anarchy. There are rules and norms, but these aren't enforced by any one person. Rather, the power is distributed among all the people and across geographic regions." - Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
Word (or phrase) of the day: Freegan
Hero(es) of the day: Sojourner Truth

2 comments:

undacova mutha said...

This is brilliant! Makes very much sense, but how to organize?

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comment, undacova mutha. Sorry that I'm so slow in responding but I've been dealing with a family situation.

I talk a bit about how to organize in upcoming posts, but a lot of it is about building connections with others and putting out what is important, and seeing what evolves. If you try to create something more specific, you risk not adapting to changing circumstances, not to mention trying to create something that only works for a few people--or sometimes only the person organizing.

I wish I could come up with something clearer, but I think a lot of it is just trial and error.