From Social Work prn: Social Organization, the Great Clay Shirky, and the Rules of the Road

by Megan M. on October 7, 2009 (Blog) |

(This was originally posted at Social Work prn, where I write on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you get a chance, check them out. They’re nice folks!)

I’m starting to build a Rules of the Road document (in my head, at least) while reading a book by the excellent Clay Shirky called Here Comes Everybody. Some of these things I knew, but some of them are recently-cemented concepts for me and that’s very exciting. I am madly obsessed with people projects—where many people come together over the internet and accomplish something previously unlikely or impossible. Shirky is talking about this very thing in his book, and it’s making my whole life awesome. Downright thrilling, I should say.

My Rules of the Road so far:

  1. The relationship between you and the people you lead is a bargain. You give them what they want (assistance, entertainment, meaning) and they give you what you want (they spread your ideas, give you authority, help your project succeed). If you forget about the bargain—or strike the wrong bargain—you lose that essential relationship. It’s imperative that you find out what the bargain really is before you assume, crash and burn.
  2. There will always be a cost to the organization of a large number of people. If you lead, you know that a B.I.G. part of that cost for you is time and energy—not necessarily money. But anyone who has been in a leadership position knows that time and energy is often a bigger, more interesting challenge than money. Thinking you can organize a big group of people without dealing with some cost in these terms is unrealistic, but if you can walk into it knowing what effort will be necessary to expend, you’re a step up.
  3. Our circumstances have changed on a spectacular scale (one word: internet) and they’re not going to stop changing. Get with the change game now and start to expect things to shift—you’ll be ahead of everyone who’s still fighting it. Things may look the same in a lot of ways… but they are not.
  4. We can have anything we want, if we are only willing to reach out and create it. This is truer now than it has ever been in the past. Our limits, as suspected, are in our heads—not on our capabilities.
  5. It is less efficient to try to build something you want, and more efficient to wait and watch, keep your eyes and brain open, and seize an opportunity when you see it. A great book I talked about awhile back, Made to Stick, made this point often. A struggle to make something out of nothing is often not as efficient as an ability to see opportunities and leap on them.
  6. Give them tools instead of instructions. If you can give a group of people the means to self-organize their passion, it’s more effective than trying to tell them how to do it. Self-organized efforts on the internet are often more effective and successful than similar initiatives by large companies with many resources (and many managers). Don’t worry so much about oversight. Give them systems. Give them tools. And then let them do their thing.

We’re capable of self-assembling now in ways we never were before, and it’s changing the entire landscape of “people projects”—or PR, or business, or community initiatives, or anything else you can name that has to do with how groups of people interact and make things happen.

I can’t wait to finish this book. Wow.

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