The Node Corporation of the Future

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Node Corporation of the Future

  1. Peter MOrris says:

    are you crazy?! no group of more than 3 people has ever made a good decision in a timely fashion.

    Psychologists have examined ‘the corporation’ and found that it meets all the requirements for being a sociopath. Read ‘The Corporation’ or watch the documentary of the same name. Read ‘Jennifer Government’.

    Also, what is this ‘wisdom of the crowd’? Never heard of it. 100 people with an iq of 100 do not equal 1 person with an if of 10000, or even one person with an iq of 150. IQ is not cumulative. And yes, I know, iq is a bad indicator but the dictum still pertains. 100 unfit people do not perform better than 1 marathon runner.

    • nickquest says:

      Wisdom of the crowd, as I understand it, is when the various bias’ of the individuals is averaged out by the large number of people, bringing you closer to an objective truth. I think it’s like generally getting accurate information from Wikipedia, or getting more accurate news from the internet than FOX. It’s not because any one site is particularly reliable, but because it comes from so many different places and inaccuracies get pointed out quickly by other blogs and commenters. It’s about everyone being connected, the system successfully checks itself without the same risks of corruption because everyone potentially has the same amount of power. I know it’s idealistic, but I see it already working in limited arenas today.

  2. aepxc says:

    It’s a very interesting solution to an incredibly important topic, but don’t you find that voting is the absolute worst (and one of the most responsibility diluting) forms of decision making, to be used only when nothing else will do? Just look at our (US) political system, especially something like ballot initiatives in California. There are too many decisions to make and too few experts for any given decision. Outcomes depend on how the questions are asked, what questions are asked together, what the supporters of each outcome do, etc., etc., etc.

    What if we take the opposite approach? Give small groups of people absolute power (and absolute responsibility) over narrowly circumscribed projects or fields? It would actually also be a node structure – instead a pyramid hierarchy in which the buck theoretically stops at the President or the CEO (but in practice can be passed up and down the pyramid), we have many networked nodes, each fully in control and fully responsible for their own ‘jurisdiction’.

    • nickquest says:

      I definitely don’t think the US political system works efficiently or morally, but I think that is more a function of secrecy and power distribution than an absolute limitation in the voting system. As for experts on or proponents of a particular action; I’m just thinking if everyone had all there past decisions recorded, quantified and simply laid out on there profile, it would be easier to decide who is worth trusting. For instance, if the government were run this way, after the weapons of mass destruction were a no show in Iraq, would an informed population vote to trust the same people when they say Iran will have Nukes soon? I would love to see America run like a pure democracy, just as an experiment. I say it is easier to mislead and influence a congress than an entire country.

  3. As a communications medium, I think this shows idea shows promise. There’s less need for surveys and more real-time information upon which to base decisions on.

    What this model leaves out is the benefits of specialization. Liking or disliking media products carries little consequence compared to accounting procedures, product design options, or finance decisions. The true democracy would include people weighing in that have no competence in the areas being discussed.

    This may have the by-product of increased politicization of the company. By this I mean leaders will not only have to make decisions, but sell them to the entire company, get approval, and then carry out the decision. A decision, that through this process, will most likely be transformed to capture majority approval. There is the possibility of rule by super-committee, and the mediocrity that such processes often entail. I am reminded of the the arduous process of legislation.

    The model also does not cover intangible and non-recordable aspects of communication like tone, the feeling in the room, and body language. These are crucial in negotiation, and most of the information that we use in daily conversation anyway. Text cannot completely convey these aspects of communication. Video might be able to, but then you have either a panopticon, no privacy, or politicized campaign-like videos to support proposals. There may be no research upon which to make a decision, merely interpretation married to experience and intuition.

    I agree that the lack of personal accountability and communication (even between departments) create inefficiencies that can result in evil deeds. The model shows promise, and must solve internal cultural problems first (company-wide communications, employee satisfaction) and offer decision-making that makes a difference in employees’ lives while not gumming up the works.

  4. Mike says:

    I have some doubts about a democratic “node” model like this. What happens when “Sales” hates the ugly appearance of the big red emergency stop buttons on the front of the machine, “Accounting” questions whether or not having six of them spaced so that an operator is always well within reach of one is really necessary, “Purchasing” says they can easily meet their yearly cost reduction targets if they’re allowed to buy the cheaper Chinese copies of the switches (even though the cheaper versions fail 30% of the time), and then “Legal” pipes up with the fact that “technically” under a sufficiently strict and narrow reading of the law, even a single switch could be construed to be a “safety system”, thus “technically” only one switch is required, and the law says nothing about where it has to be located?

  5. pensato says:

    This sounds like a version of a co-op. 2012 happens to be the international year of the co-op.

    http://www.ica.coop/al-ica/

  6. Colin says:

    This sounds like the (fictional) “New Model Army”.

    A good book to investigate is “Small Giants”, where the driving force was not growth and profit, but good service and employee satisfaction.

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