How to not sell out
Hi! I'm Rich. I'm one of the people working on Loomio. I come to the project from an arts/activist background, so I have some pretty strong feelings on culture, community, and business.
One of the inspiring things about the team we've got is that there is room for people with different ideas. There are people like me who have a knee-jerk reaction to business (eww yuck boo), but there are plenty of others with a more mature and experienced view that are really excited about the potential for the tool to help businesses work more efficiently and more democratically.
In preparation for last week's meeting about the Loomio business structure, Jon, Ben and I had an email conversation. Don't take it too seriously, it's just an off-the-cuff statement of my position regarding Loomio and the Tyranny of Money. It was intended to be read by an audience of two friends, but I figure it couldn't really hurt for anyone else that wants to get a better idea of how I feel about the project.
Good job outlining this stuff Jon. Ben and I have been talking a lot about it too. It seems parallel to the discussions we're having about [our new community art space]: i.e. how to maintain a culture over time, with new people coming in, and in a changing environment?
This could get really complex but really I think there are a couple of simple questions.
- Do we want/need a Loomio Inc for Loomio OS to reach its potential?
- How could we ensure Loomio Inc shares the core values of Loomio OS?
I think the answer to 1) is yes. I think Loomio Inc will allow us to maximise the impact of Loomio OS. My instincts say that the tool is going to be very popular and we will be looking at tens of thousands of users very quickly. I can't really imagine supporting this userbase on a volunteer basis. I feel all of us are justifiably hesitant about bringing a revenue model in, we agree that money is almost always insidious and corrupting.
But I also think it is immature to assume that all money is bad money, at least in this current society we find ourselves operating in. I think we can view this as an opportunity to learn how to work with good money, and then to demonstrate to others how to generate and utilise good money.
Which brings me to 2): I think Enspiral has more expertise on this front than anyone else I know. That said though, I think we non-Enspiralites should all be relentless in holding them to account. I feel like an indy band that has been picking up speed for a few months and suddenly has a major label contract on the table. i.e., it would be very easy for us to ‘sell out' right now (by sell out I mean ‘compromise on core values due to the influence of money').
I would want to see something written into the constitution of Loomio Inc that guarantees that profit-making will not derail the social goals of Loomio OS. e.g. a certain percentage of Loomio Inc's work should be with not-for-profit organisations. I wouldn't want to see Loomio Inc dealing exclusively with the paid clients while Loomio OS becomes the poor sibling for the community groups to use. Fuck that.
I feel it will take a conscious effort to prevent this project from getting sold out to one degree or another. I think we have to be vigilant. It would be easy for the Loomio Inc people to think ‘if we build something good for businesses it will be good for society'. I want us instead to think ‘if we build something good for society it will be good for businesses.'
I think we all agree that part of the reason we have been so happy with developments to date is that all the work done on the project so far has been strictly motivated by selflessness: true charity.
The more we go on, the less I feel any ownership of it. This is only a good thing if it is a shared experience. I have no reason to doubt that it is shared, so far, but we're just going to have to make sure that it stays that way.
When I tell people about Loomio (“I'm convinced it is going to radically change society at a global level”) I always try to stipulate: when I say ‘Loomio' I don't mean our project, I mean the idea that we are playing with. There are dozens of groups playing with this idea, and its an idea that I believe is timeless and fundamental to humanity (or consciousness, or the cosmos, not sure where the boundary lies at this point ~~~*~).
There's only a small chance that our particular implementation of the idea is the one that liberates the Chinese working class and topples Western governments, but that small chance is pretty much what gets me up in the morning.
So how do we continue to exert our positive influence on Loomio Inc? I think by the same method as we ensure the success of the art space: we lead by example. We need to radiate compassion at every level of the organisation. That sounds hippy trippy but I mean it. Compassion is humility and charity and equanimity and selfless and all of that is what Open Source means to me. Thus far I'm convinced that we are all resonating on that same frequency. The only way we can ensure new members resonate too is to sing louder.
I'M TALKING ABOUT LOVE, DUUUDES YEAAAAAH
What does this look like in practice? First we need to look after ourselves. Don't burn out. Get plenty of rest, keep playing music and getting laid. Then we need to look after each other: speak to each other right: e.g. it's easy to revert to the default NZ culture of brash humour that seems harmless but actually is insidious and corrupting. We need to share and be vulnerable and be honest and dance and get drunk sometimes. Then we need to look after the formalities: if there's a business plan being drawn up, we need to make sure it is imbued with the same values we are so passionate about.
At the start I talked about building a seed. We've got a pretty cool sapling already, we just need to make sure the harsh winds of commerce don't blow it sideways and deform it into something shitty and mundane.
My instincts say we're doing pretty good, and we need to keep having discussions like this to keep it that way.
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