An Org Designer in the Land of the DAOs

Thoughts on starting fresh in a new domain, keeping a beginner’s mind, and looking to make an impact

This article was written by Sam Spurlin. Sam is a Partner at the organizational change and transformation consultancy, The Ready, and is co-stewarding The Ready’s efforts to contribute to DAOs and the web3 space more broadly. You can reach him on Twitter at @samspurlin.

Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash
Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash

The Ready exists to change how the world works — to realize a more adaptive, equitable, meaningful, and human way of working. This has meant partnering with some of the world’s largest and most well-known organizations as they strive to remove decades of organizational debt to become better versions of themselves. It has also meant partnering with many smaller and lesser-known organizations who want to develop organizational operating systems that help them retain their nimbleness even as they scale. Not content to swoop in with broad proclamations or sexy PowerPoint slides, we’ve been working side-by-side with courageous leaders and teams who want to actually try new ways of working and are willing to get uncomfortable doing so.

Six years later we’re striving to keep our noses and brains firmly planted to the edge of the future of work. It’s important that we don’t grow complacent in the face of the success we’ve had so far. We work with too many clients who are on the downslope of influence and success after losing sight of the future. What might be next for us? Where are our blind spots? Where are the interesting things happening in the future of work that we aren’t involved with, or even necessarily understand, yet?

It’s impossible to be a future of work thinker and organizational practitioner without hearing about “web3” and “DAOs” over the past few months. As a company, we decided that we needed to get smart about this movement — and fast. It would be a complete dereliction of duty to ourselves, our current clients, and our future clients if we didn't work hard to understand what's happening in the world of web3. So, that's what we're doing.

Specifically, a colleague and I have committed to spending the vast majority of our time learning about, joining, and contributing to DAOs. The only way to have an informed point of view of this space is to participate. Behind this participation are a handful of foundational questions that we as a company who cares deeply about making the world a better place need to have conviction about:

  • Are DAOs and web3 here to stay? Are we just dancing on the edge of an ephemeral bubble or is this the frontier of something important?
  • To what extent do DAOs offer a framework for more equitable, adaptive, and human ways of working? 
  • Assuming every DAOs is not inherently positive in every circumstance, how can we encourage them to evolve in better ways? What role can a company with our values have in making sure the next system doesn’t simply recreate the worst parts of the current system?
  • What aspects of self-management and new ways of working are DAOs unnecessarily re-creating from scratch? What roadblocks can we help them steer around as experienced practitioners who have been wrestling with many of these same ideas for a long time?
  • What can we learn from what current DAOs are doing and trying that is actually useful to bring to our more traditional organization clients? What bidirectional learning between the “old world” and the “new world” can we facilitate?
  • How can we help DAOs get better at all the messy “human stuff” that cannot be abstracted away by technological innovations and always emerges when human beings come together to solve problems (whether there’s a blockchain involved or not)?
  • What do we need to understand about web3 and DAOs in order to help legacy organizations effectively bridge their current reality into one where DAOs and other blockchain-enabled approaches become a larger part of their internal and external ecosystems? What do we need to know to advocate for this when it makes sense and to caution against it when it doesn’t make sense?

I’m sure I’ll look at this list of questions six years from now and shake my head at the naïveté of some of them while simultaneously being impressed with how prescient some of them ended up being (it’s definitely something I’ve done before). Either way, the only way you become fortunate enough to look back at your previous work and cringe is by taking the first step to actually put it out there right now.

Perhaps even more important than articulating what we need to do to start figuring out this world is articulating a few things that we don’t need to do. We don’t need to swoop into an ecosystem that has existed for years and act like it’s brand new. We don’t need to bust in the front door and start offering a bunch of advice and platitudes about how things should or could be different than they are right now. We don’t need to come in and immediately impose our own view of the world, as enlightened as we like to think it is, into a context where others have been doing a lot of hard work for a long time.

Instead, we are trying to do a few things:

First is to simply learn as quickly and as deeply as possible. Web3 is notoriously difficult to grok for the non-technical and onboarding practically, and conceptually, requires serious effort. This has been my work over the past few weeks. Reading everything, watching everything, joining Twitter Spaces, watching videos, lurking in Discords, taking notes and thinking thinking thinking.

The trick, especially for someone like me who truly enjoys the solitude and individual experience of learning on my own, is to not get stuck in this posture. I will never feel like I learn or understand “enough.” There is always more to learn and if I wait for perfect understanding I will never move beyond the lurking and learning stage. Instead, I’m trying to remain in a learning posture while also engaging in small ways with the movement I’m learning about. It’s about making small connections between what I’m seeing in web3 and what I’ve learned and experienced as a progressive organizational practitioner over the past six years. It’s replying to Tweets, it’s writing my own threads trying to articulate things I’m noticing, and it’s about asking more questions than making declarative statements about how things are.

Next, and I hope to gradually transition to this phase soon, is identifying specific pain points and tensions in DAOs where I’ve cultivated relationships and offer my expertise in service of solving those challenges. In some cases I think the things we do with our current clients will translate extremely well to DAOs. In other cases, I think we will need to innovate new tools, practices, and processes that are truly custom designed for the unique DAO context. We will inevitably co-create these with other folks — probably many we haven’t met yet — who are bringing shared values and principles to this work, too.

After that the future gets increasingly murky. How does our work with DAOs and the people who do that work at The Ready interface with the rest of our organization? Should The Ready itself create a DAO that brings together progressive org designers and other practitioners? How can we do what we’ve done in the world of regular organizations with DAOs? Murky, murky, murky –  but exciting.

For now,  it’s back to listening, learning, provoking, and looking for opportunities of helpfulness. Let’s change how the world — and DAOs — work. Let’s make them the most adaptive, equitable, meaningful, and human they can possibly be and not unnecessarily carry over the assumptions, practices, and ways of working that have made traditional organizations so detrimental to so many people.

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