Open Thinkering


No management but self-management

The robber of your free will does not exist. (Epictetus)

Eylan Ezekiel shared a Twitter thread (single page) with me recently from former monk Cory Muscara. In the thread, Muscara explains that he meditated for 15 hours per day for six months with one of the toughest Buddhist monks on the planet.

To me, one of the overarching themes of the 36 things he shares in the thread is that you can’t outsource self-management. I’m a world away from the level of meditation and discipline that Muscara details, but my background in philosophy, a lifetime of self-reflection, and some therapy have enabled me to get to a stage when I mentally flinch (and almost physically recoil) when some refers to another human being as their “boss”.

Despite the existence of HR departments in larger organisations, humans are not ‘resources’ to be ‘managed’. We live in a world with many problems, but also one of abundance. The biggest problem that seems to plague people and organisations across the world is one that is often referred to as ‘time’ but which, upon further investigation, often turns out to be ‘prioritisation’. We all, after all, have the same number of hours in a day.

The ability to make decisions is almost like a muscle; it withers without practice. When we employ individuals to make choices that affect others (instead of collaborating on a process), we create systemic bottlenecks. I’ve always felt constrained when working as an employee, finding that people making decisions that affect my practice are often one or more steps removed from the thing under consideration.

This is not an argument against expertise or experience. In fact, it’s the opposite, as often the people with the most relevant understanding of the situation are those closest to the problem. Finding ways for them ask for relevant input and come to alignment isn’t a problem that requires hierarchy as a solution, but rather one that requires collaborative processes.

Last week, I helped facilitate as a group of people without a clear hierarchy came to a decision to form a new organisation. The process we used was one that I’ve discussed here before and which we use at WAO: consent-based decision making, or Sociocracy. I understand that hierarchy is the ‘default operating system’ of how groups of people organise themselves, but it doesn’t make it the best.

We now live in a time where people, across arbitrary borders can collaborate with one another using technology tools that are increasingly prosaic. They can make decisions without hierarchy using consent-based decision making processes. And they can raise and disburse money through platforms such as Open Collective.

The idea of a ‘boss’ is a collective fiction. We can and should do better. Of course, we need leaders but that’s an entire other post…

4 thoughts on “No management but self-management

  1. Thanks for this food for thought Doug. You articulated the jarring that I also feel when people start talking about their place in hierarchies at work.

    I’ve reflected on some similar issues to you around time/prioritisation for so long!

    I have to say though, one of the phrases that makes me mentally flinch is “We all have the same number of hours in a day”.

    1. Yeah I know, I know. But I say that not unaware of my own privilege and power but rather to point out to others that they can gain agency by not outsourcing decision-making.

      Not sure what a better way of saying that would be? The above is not as pithy 😉

      1. I knew you would be saying it with that in mind, but it’s just a phrase that grates with me because much of it’s use isn’t backed by what you’ve explained. It probably grates even more because I used to say it myself naively.

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