Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines' Alan Moore (Part Two)

In your chapter, “Me We,” you confront a core debate about the relationship of the individual and the community. This question is certainly invited by the notion of “participation” which runs across the book. This term, as some critics of my own work note, begs the question, Participation in what? If you are moving from an industrial model of conformity to mass expectations, you are not embracing a notion of total individualism. So, how do we resolve the relationship of the individual to the community? What models of community life are you embracing?

I agree a most challenging question and the answer(s) are multi-layered. I think it also requires a compassion and understanding human nature. The great Mohammad Ali was once asked what what his shortest poem was, without hesitation he said, ‘Me We’. Of course ‘Me We’ relates to Carl Jung’s insight that, “I” needs “we” to truly be “I” which points to how we construct meaningful identities – through meaningful networked relations to the world around us. It additionally leads us to the insight humanities greatest asset is its ability to work in aggregates – cooperatively. Which has multiple benefits for we and me.

Lets take one example. A systems level organizational change of the healthcare system is currently underway in Nova Scotia, through a process described as ‘Participatory Leadership’, whereby it is the participation of the people that are the true actors (nurses, clinicians, patients, etc.) within that healthcare system that are co-designing, and co-creating how they are going to find the answers to their difficult and challenging issues. This process allows all participants to contribute and in that they embrace systems change – or in other words, people embrace what they create.

As the Director Janet Braunstein Moody told me, ‘we are doing things today not possible without participatory leadership becoming the core operating process of the organization’. She points out that in her experience after working in healthcare for many years that you can do almost anything with a shared vision – when there is awareness and comprehension of that shared vision and so the needs of the whole outweigh the needs of the individual. This translates for example into the Nova Scotia healthcare system co-budgeting together, deciding as a group how to spend the budget, something that could never have been achieved before.

It has created the ability to move with great speed and flexibility and that leadership is now recognized as stewardship of an eco-system that must be nurtured not fought over like a battlefield.

People’s deep motivation is not monetary but more importantly it is based upon meaningful connection – how we make context and meaning, through the webs of relationships and how we derive value from those relationships and connections are central to human beings. This is an inversion of traditional top down coercive management culture, media culture (thinking about your work on fan fiction) or how we think about learning, or how we deliver healthcare services, or budget the finances of a village, town or region.

Further examples are the extraordinary work achieved by Michel Bauwens at the p2p foundation charting the multifaceted rise of the p2p society, new manufacturing capability such as wikispeed, 100k garages, the city of San Francisco working on the idea of shareable cities, which one could argue is built upon the amazing work of Mayor Jamie Lerner in the Brazillian city Curitiba in the 1960’s, the rise of crowdfunding and the changing of legislation to accommodate its potential in the US, regions like Mondragon in Spain that have run on participatory principles for many years, the entire open software movement, the work of Creative Commons that is built on how creative and intellectual content is shared rather than restricted, and Ushahidi the crisis management platform a prototype NGO of the future; flat, networked open source, adaptive that was built entirely by a volunteer workforce. We see participatory cultures in innovation, such as innocentive, your encore or topcoder. Or social movements such as SOCAP.

Participatory culture is about human identity, and about a different type of capital – human capital, social capital, cultural capital, intellectual and knowledge capital, as well as financial capital. Each of which is able to create value and release value. Each of these capitals relate to why the above examples work. But we have to understand humanity only gives it creative best, its highest sacrifice not for 50 pieces of silver but something else. The thing that enriches us, the thing that says we are more than just ourselves.

My views on this are also inspired by the work of Lewis Hyde, who writes about the gift economy and how and why the gifts we give to each other are deep cultural bonding agents between individuals, groups and communities. The universal nature of humanity is why in Japan it is seen as extremely rude to pour your own sake, your guest pours for you and so gives you the gift and the bond is co-created, a ritual also observed in the South of France at the beginning of a collective meal. To dig deeper we see this is the foundations of any regenerative society, the principle of reciprocity, re and pro – back and forth.

Academic Jay Rosen describes the mass media / industrial world where we were atomized into individuals and only connected up to each other across mass media. Today he says that power has eroded. It has eroded because in part a greater power has spoken a desire for a substantial change in the human condition. Having deconstructed humanity almost to the point of deconstruction, participatory cultures, part of the Human-OS say we are all rich and can be richer by how we cooperate and participate together.

There is no one size fits all, it requires us to evolve and develop a literacy that enables us to speak authoritatively, to discuss and design in great detail how participatory cultures could work in a multitude of situations.

A question you try to address in the book is “what happens when the right information gets to the right people at the right time” and you provide some examples of the transformative consequences of our shifting access to information here. What do these examples teach us? How do you address your own question? What factors prevent this productive allocation of information much of the time?

They teach us that sharing information is power, is powerful and enriching.

I address my own question by believing that openness is resilience, which allows greater diversity, and that if we do not have access to the right information at the right time we cannot be meaningful actors and authors of our own lives and destinies. It also is a redistributive model, which enables to deal with a more complex world but also changes and challenges power relationships in commercial and civic society.

So if we take the story of Patients Know Best, a healthcare service for people with chronic healthcare conditions, the ability for patients and clinicians to share and participate together in the diagnosis and treatment of common problems in unique circumstances, we see a dramatic improvement in the right clinical decisions being taken which means the reduction in wrong diagnosis, over prescription of drugs and the clogging up of waiting rooms in hospitals to see specialists. So sharing information improves safety, reduces costs, and saves time.

Ushahidi – the crisis management platform (Kenya – post election crisis, Haiti, Japan earthquake) and NGO, enables people and organizations to work more effectively in chaotic conditions, with limited resources to respond at internet speeds. Or enables the ability to create a cartography of information that enables more meaningful actions to be taken.

These also point to the idea of the learning organization that is able to iteratively learn and so evolve, adapt and develop naturally.

A story about power

What stops these things happening? A dominant theory that says control of knowledge and information is power – Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikispeed vs. Ford, Threadless vs. Gap. If you have been taught to see and act in the world in a particular way – linear and the organization as a hierarchical box, conceptualizing a new geometric organizational shape that is seemingly chaotic, complex and flat is very hard to do – it is a paradigm shift something that Thomas Kuhn identified.

These shifts however challenge cultural worldviews and they represent a fundamental reordering of the set of arrangements in how we work to get things done. As this shift becomes ever more present in the older paradigm organizations in incumbent positions of power increasingly resist as although this shift brings better things into the world it also signifies a change in values and power relationships – no one has ever given up all their power willingly and until they exhaust themselves morally and financially.

You seem to hold open the idea that the right commercial practices could work to enable and support the creative capacities of the general population. Yet, this sounds very much the promise made by early advocates of “web 2.0.” What lessons have we learned from the successes or more often, the failures of Web 2.0 companies to live up to these ideals?

There is no doubt that web 2.0 was seen as a utopian new beginning, and perhaps that was the problem – it was too utopian, the idea that everything was happening ‘online’ was a false one.

But you have to start somewhere and there is no doubt that if one studies the development of our online world many people over a considerable number of years worked extremely hard to create the foundational capabilities of a networked world.

What we are seeing is a greater sophistication in the design of organizations, and the blending of a variety of processes and capabilities for that to happen. For example, taking the keywords that describe Local Motors for example.

This represents the prototype of the networked organization, the company as a platform that runs lean, uses Creative Commons as a legal frameworks that uses co-creation as a core capability within the company whilst also using flex manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing. One can see the DNA of 2.0 here in this chart and for that we can be grateful. We can also see a greater sophistication; a blending of tools and process that takes us beyond 2.0 thinking and doing as the previous example of Patients Know Best demonstrates.

Was 2.0 a failure? I would argue that it was a journey we needed to go on – from all that work and effort a better way of organizing has evolved.


Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.