Founding Principles

244 years ago, the United States Declaration of Independence asserted "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Democracy supplanted feudalism. Corporations need to catch up.

Snippet of the U.S. Declaration of Independence

An aftok is a group of individuals, working collaboratively to create a good or service for which they wish to be paid, who distribute revenue among themselves in proportion to the degree to which each individual has contributed to the project. As soon as any revenue is received, it is instantaneously paid out to the contributors in proportion to their contributions.

You'll note that nowhere in this description is there any element equivalent to a corporation; there is no centralized entity that owns resources or employs the contributors. Instead, provides a service that allows customers to compensate the creators of a product or service directly via cryptocurrency networks, without any intermediaries. That distribution is performed according to an algorithm which ensures that all contributors are treated fairly.

The best, most productive teams are those that operate in an environment of shared respect and trust. This article will seek to lay the groundwork as to why a decentralized, algorithmic approach is preferable, and how it can work.

If nobody's in charge, who's in charge?

In ordinary corporations, hierarchies of corporate boards, executives, managers, and workers respectively provide direction, organization, and productive work. In the best corporations, communication between the individuals at different layers of such a hiearchy can be bidirectional and mutually beneficial. However this ideal is rarely, if ever, achieved. The reason for this is simple; the hierarchy that serves to organize and direct work is overloaded to impose a system of control. Those lower on the "corporate ladder" end up with less control over their own work because they depend upon the goodwill of those "above" them for their employment. Whenever such a power differential arises in relationships between people, trust breaks down, and with it the honest communication that is essential to collaborative creation.

The aftok system takes a different approach, centered on the concept of voluntarism. Within an aftok, each individual is responsible for their own mode of contribution - but that doesn't mean that they have to make decisions all on their own. In a voluntarist organization, leaders are simply those individuals who others have chosen to follow. If it's convenient for your group, you can still have hiearchy - it can be a useful tool for dividing up a problem! However, that hierarchy must be divorced from any system of control. To make an analogy to democratic systems, individuals in our executive branches aren't "in charge" of legislators, and legislators at the local level don't "report to" regional ones.

Open-source software projects have demonstrated that a group of motivated and skilled individuals working toward a common goal in an environment of shared trust requires no (and indeed is inhibited by) hierarchy of control. If you feel that you can trust your collaborators, you should be able to trust their judgment as to what they should be working on, and that their perspective, while perhaps distinct from yours, is as valid as your own. If you don't trust someone to this degree, you simply should not work with them; if you choose to work with someone whom you feel that you may need to control, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Photo illustrating the concept of trust.

Reinventing the Org Chart

Imagine for a moment a corporate entity that you've been a part of - as an employee, as a manager, perhaps even as an executive. Within the structure of that organization, every choice that was made was made by a person; every interaction, an interaction between people. In some sense, every interaction (even between individuals where one party had coercive power over another) was an interaction, positive or negative, that could have occurred even in the absence of the coercive relationship. But here's the question — in any of the cases where interactions were positive, was the coercive relationship required in order for the interaction to occur?

The truth is, coercive power is never required to facilitate beneficial interaction between people — coercive power is only useful for advancing one person's interests at the expense of another's.

An argument that's often presented is that, despite the costs, coercive relationships are required in order to guard against the potentially negative effects of bad or malicious actors. However, the open-source software development movement can once again provide us with insight into successful alternatives to this approach.

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Forks and Merges

In the open-source software development model, forking and merging are critical operations in the development of a software system. In the case of a fork, the contributors and/or the software itself can "split" into multiple independent paths of development, which may proceed independent of one another. In the case of a merge, such independent branches and groups recombine to work together as one, for mutual benefit.

Forking can be a way to serve different market segments, for part of a team to focus on addressing different aspects of a problem, or simply a way to make it possible to move forward in the face of irreconcilable differences. In traditional corporations, spinoffs, mergers, and the firing of individuals serve these roles, but these are awkward and costly decisions to take. In contrast, in an aftok "forking" is an expected and well-supported part of a project's existence. But to describe exactly how this works, we'll first need to talk about measuring contributions and revenue-sharing within an aftok. See the next article here to learn how this works.

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See how to put these principles into action