Distributed networks, and organizations' new ways

In the increasingly connected world of the Anthropocene, rather than hierarchical structures that stiffen processes and hinder innovation, we need to organize ourselves in structures that favor collaboration.
Pedrão Oliveira | 19 de outubro de 2021

In times of change and search for new possible horizons, when different civilizations around the planet are clamoring for revolutions in the way human beings live and interact, we need to understand that institutions have already lost their sacred place as the only guarantee of rightness and common good regarding our social fabric.

As shown in the results of the 2018 study led by sociologist William Davies and carried out by The Political Economy Research Center in England, most people no longer trust large institutions, such as governments, media, business, and academia.

​​As a result, decentralized communication and collaboration models are gaining traction and becoming popular. So, to play by the rules of the new millennium, we need to deeply understand the concept behind those models.

How did we get to this model of coexistence?

“No homo sapiens is an island.” This phrase may have surfaced in many conversations over the past few years. After all, without the support of our family or community, we would never be able to overcome the challenges of the long development of human life. We have lived in societies for at least 12,000 years; since we began to inhabit this planet, all civilizations have been forged in cooperation.

We know that the way to organize such collaboration has changed a lot over time, both by necessity and by the evolution of the species. For example, we were organized by:

Tribes (about 10.000 years ago):

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Groups (between 300 and 500 thousand years ago):

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Modern companies (about 250 years ago):

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Startups and social impact businesses (in the last 20 years):

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As Isaac Newton used to say, it was “standing on the shoulders of giants” and thinking about the world from the organizations of civilizations before ours that we managed to abstract and idealize new possibilities.

Furthermore, as Charles Darwin showed us, it was through evolution and adaptation that we became who we are today. We were “naked monkeys” in Africa a few millennia ago and now we are gatekeepers of fate in this entire planet because we act in strategic hurdles.

Dialectics of change

Today’s distributed network structures resemble more hunter-gatherer groups than pre-dot-com companies.

In the 1950s and 60s, from computer networks, the Polish scholar Paul Baran developed a communication system capable of maintaining the “dialogue” between endpoints even with any type of damage in the intermediate points, whether caused partially or fully by external or internal factors.

To do so, it was not enough to decentralize the system. It was necessary to distribute responsibilities concerning transmission of “packs” of information. Only then would it be possible to guarantee that the information would not be lost along the way.

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Realize that the points are the same in the different structures that connect them, but the correlation between them changes significantly depending on the connections. Everyone being able to “talk” to everyone is essential to ensure that communication will be succeeded from beginning to end, regardless of what happens with one or more of the parts.

What goes for information technology, in this case, applies directly to the model of social and civilizing organization we know.

Constructions of the collective imagination

The only reasons why we dominate plants, and other species of animals - sometimes stronger and smarter than us - is the spirit of collectivity we have and our power to unite ourselves around common beliefs.

Humans act in resonance with those they trust, but one cannot trust those he/she does not know, and we are only able to truly know a few dozen, perhaps a hundred, of other human beings like us.

In the past, to organize thousands of humans, to make them cooperate with each other for some goals and at the same time, the solution was to build narratives/stories in which everyone placed faith because it became a “common good”. This is how nation-states, religions, and even money and the mercantile economy emerged.

In our reality, where billions of people must learn to cooperate on a never seen before scale, we are once again a village where everyone is connected, a global village, as envisioned by Marshall McLuhan - and to which Yuval Harari assigns the responsibility of coordinated decisions that will result in future prosperity or decline of our species.

To think of a global village, first it is necessary to remember how people live in “tribes” at “small villages” and then try to put it across your personal and professional routine, knowing how to distribute responsibilities and decentralize decisions in every level of relationships.

This is how we seek to understand the conception of people as users - and the role of digital products as problem solvers.

We try to balance the “trade-offs” knowing that “every choice” is “a waiver”, and that it is not worth assuming conjectures or presumptions of preconceived ideas. Everyone must try to listen and deeply know all the people involved in a certain matter.

Abundance breeds prosperity

More cartesian, mechanistic, and linear models will always have their valuable places at work and will support our society as they once did, but now the prevailing logic of objective efficiency gives way to effective and subjective thinking.

Think of contemporaneity as an “always positive sum”, after all, we’ve already managed to accumulate so much knowledge and such a large number of resources that now it is enough ensuring that we make the “cake” rise in a healthy/sustainable way while we equalize the parts.

With the gradual increase in robotization of what is procedural, skills that have more relevance are those related to creative management, to the unexpected, to the complexity, to the emotions, to decisions, and to flexible cognition if we want to create something while managing strategies.

In this, distributed networks play a fundamental role in the routine of agile companies. With it, we manage to be agnostic and learn about any area of knowledge by turning horizontal all voices and encouraging valuable attitudes from team members of each project/service.

Disruption in our lives

Who never heard of Uber or Airbnb? We all know that both taxi, and hotel business models have been turned upside down since the invention of such technological solutions. By streamlining processes and actors in transport and accommodation chains, the two companies have become intermediaries with much more appeal concerning prices, being able to focus their efforts on experience and other differentials.

Now, imagine all this being managed by algorithms: intelligent contracts signed by both parties with the establishment of coexistence rules and commercial agreements (conditions and legal terms). There will be no need to call upon a collective imagined institution, as we can use the byproduct of human relations transferred to immutable and pre-established electronic rules to ensure justice (hello blockchain!).

If you call someone for a ride-hailing and pay them through cryptocurrency with a “social contract”, all regulations are contained in the exchange between your work/time for money.

To make this reality come to light, you must be prepared to speak machines’ languages and understand human beings’ minds.

Anyway, it is worth remembering that technologies are not limited to electronics or the advancement of machines and inventions like the light bulb. They can be social. Today everything is connected in the electrical-human-electronic system network.

Evolution is constant! We are always experimenting, failing, learning, correcting, improving, and repeating this cycle every time.

Your place at the web’s net

Elections, democratic struggles, Covid-19, “North American spring”… World’s change has accelerated over the last couple of years, and we can hear the zeitgeist blowing winds towards great changes and new social orders.

Where are you going to position yourself in all of this? Stuck with old institutions or surfing the wave of those who build the digital future for our species?

Understand your purpose and seek to build the future together with those who follow a similar line of thought. But take it easy, one step at a time. Start by cutting down on bureaucracy as much as you can, reducing hierarchies, and empowering people to experiment things and take their responsibilities. Say “goodbye” to meritocracy and “hello” to holacracy.

Do you want to get an extra dash of inspiration?

Find out more about “teal” organizations or their “sisters”, the DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations).

Skills for today, tomorrow, and later

At ateliware, squads are managed by tech-leaders who contribute as much as the other team members in carrying out the necessary activities to build products or services. There are no hierarchical levels in which a boss orders and an employee obeys.

All decisions are debated, and the different possible paths are analyzed. Our goal is to put subjective business questions into user-friendly operations, whether represented by other companies, internal teams, or “end-users”.

Here, the leadership of each product is assigned to one or more people from the software engineering team. Project management is assigned in a distributed manner to peers and UX/UI design experts. Customer experience people, on the other hand, help product owners to think from both technical and business points of view, as well as organize the activities’ flow in the journey of building digital platforms.

By this way, we help to simplify and transform business with people routines’ relevant product deliveries, experimentation, room for failure, quick feedback gathering, and constant learning so that repetition always leads to new advances.

As in Paul Baran’s diagrams, we believe that network structures are the most solid and secure as much for the parts as for the whole.

We can help your company to be relevant by understanding the new reality right now and adapting it to your case, adding value rather than merely acting as an intermediary between people or relationships and transactions of any kind.

I bet that when you start following our agile and horizontal management rituals, you will think about changing the work model of your respective company as well. Consider yourself challenged!

Yuval Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind;
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media;
Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History;
Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture;
Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge;
Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment;
William Davies, Why we stopped trusting elites;
Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life;
Roy Sebag, Natural Order of Money and Why Abstract Currencies Fail;
Nick Szabo, Shelling Out: The Origins of Money.
Pedrão Oliveira
Head of CX | Cuida da experiência em operações, cria estratégia e dá pitaco nos produtos digitais em concepção. Estuda veganismo, bitcoin e antropologia biopsicossocial, também é leigo-entendido em ciências e astronomia.