I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with corporations is that they are designed to diminish accountability and personal responsibility, much like the military, like a controlled mob mentality, like the act of multiple people pulling switches to electrocute a singe man. Beyond that, their only driving force is to make money. So the things they do, particularly when they get too large are going to seem evil to an individual person. They will only act in a way that seems moral if that action just happens to line up with their profits. They will only tell the whole truth by coincidence, and when intentionally telling convenient truths, they will be so edited they function as lies. When a company does something that outrages the public, almost none of the people working there feel directly responsible. After all no one did anything wrong, they just signed a piece of paper, submitted a report, kept their mouth shut, felt responsible only for doing their jobs. Even the CEO and board of directors feel more responsible to the shareholders than to their own conscience. To me it seems like they are serving an invisible beast with an insatiable appetite
So how do you keep the coordination of a corporation without losing personal responsibility? Until recently I thought human kind would have to look to the future of smart drugs and other biological manipulation to change how we act in an organized group. Then I realized how easily people can communicate and organize today via networks. I started thinking, “What if the current model for Corporations is just obsolete?” and it simply needs an update to be less at odds with modern society.
What if you could start a company that is a model of true democracy, a company in which every member has an equal say in what the the company does? It would function like a group of nodes on a network, like a group of friends on a social network perhaps. Every action the company takes is voted upon through a series of likes and dislikes and everyone has an internally public profile which shows everything they have posted and voted on. Anyone can propose an action at any time, the bad ideas will be filtered out through the wisdom of the crowd, averaging out peoples bias and making practical responsible decisions. It is everyone’s responsibility to vote and comment in a way they don’t mind being reminded of every day, seeing it aggregated and quantified on their profile page. As well as making the other members of the company aware of all the consequences you can foresee in any particular choice they are considering.
If a company is too split down the middle on a decision, and no amount of discussion over the network can resolve it, a vote can be had on whether or not to split the company. That or a minority of people who strongly disagree, can coordinate their quitting together, and go form another organization of their own. This system could open up a lot of possibilitys. I don’t see it as a forgone conclusion that a CEO in a board room can make better decisions than a group of peers connected over the internet. They can all look at the same research and make an educated decision, or base their vote on someone they trust. This option can save time. However whether or not you read the research or opt to defer to a colleagues decision, will be recorded as a way to quantify and keep account of everyone’s decision making process. This is important data to have. It may be analyzed later to ensure that the majority aren’t being overly influenced by a few people in the company. Depending on the software, it may be automatically and dynamically analyzed at all times.
In this Utopian Network Corporation every shareholder has a corporate profile and votes along with the employees, also every employee is a shareholder. Every non employee shareholder is only sold their shares after a vote from employees. Not every position in the company is equal in responsibility or pay, but every appointment and new hire is voted upon like everything else. Every day, a period of time is allotted for reviewing, writing, and voting on corporate actions and policy, so people don’t feel like they have to be watching the feed at all times. Of course everyone can access the feed and their profile at home as well, to consider things at their leisure.
Yes this all might sound a bit Utopian, but when I see how easy it is for people to organize over the internet sometimes without a clear leader, I get optimistic. Flash mobs, micro funding sites, Anonymous, Occupy, all organized over the internet to accomplish common goals between people who may not have met or even live in the same part of the country or world. I think the lessons learned from those and others are going to filter through into the future and inspire some really productive and democratic organizations. Maybe if such institutions become common place, it could even be used as a way to revamp how government functions. There have been many reasons given why we vote for representatives and not laws directly, but with The Electoral College, we don’t necessarily even get to vote directly for our representative. I think any criticisms of letting the general public actively participate in the decisions that drive the corporations they work for, or their government, will become more and more irrelevant as communication technology continues to improve. Even now, in my mind, how easily swayed the masses can be, is far outweighed by how easily the elite are corrupted. So as communication does improve and more people can more easily access different viewpoints at once, I hope we won’t be quite so easily swayed by propaganda as we may be today. Then there may not be any reason for Corporations or Governments to function without the direct input of their employees and citizens. After all, they are us, why shouldn’t we be them.
Corporations don’t really exist, Governments don’t really exist. It’s just people, it’s just us. Just people organizing and communicating and trying to work towards common goals. Well, they’re people at least until all such decisions are made by super intelligent computers, but that’s a topic for another post.