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Working as a collective of peers
What happens when decentralised responsibility meets evolving autonomy? Taking stock a year after transforming Nothing into a peer-to-peer organisation.
The essentials in a nutshell
- Thanks to our peer-to-peer organisation, we could strengthen individual responsibility and grow our crew.
- A swoosh of enthusiasm and contagious passion for our collaborative way of working developed both inside and outside of our rocket.
- The flexible and evolutionary idea of our P2P organisation allows for quick adapting and promotes experimentation.
Evolving into a peer-to-peer (P2P) organisation
A little over a year ago, we put our rocket on a new course. Our journey lead us away from the industrial age of rigid hierarchy towards a more participatory and evolutionary way of working together. We aimed at truly defining ourselves as a collective of peers in order to create a more meaningful and adaptive organisation where ideas can flourish. To celebrate the start of this adventure, we officially signed our peer-to-peer constitution on April 20, 2017. What has happened since?
At Nothing, everybody participates as a peer in a system of autonomous roles. There are no hierarchies between people. Rather, our work is structured through purposes that describe the goal of each role. And whether you’re filling the role of the designer, the communication steward or the care taker, all of us strive towards the overarching purpose of our company: to design products which matter.
The power of agency
One of the most significant changes was our shift towards individual responsibility. Iadu once compared us to a band in which everyone is a master of their instrument and contributes to the music. This has transformed the way we experience our work and organisation. “Where I worked before, I used to be a number in an enterprise,” explains Meta, who came on board at the start of our reorganisation. “Now I can influence the organisation.”
We learned that initiative is a crucial part of a successful P2P organisation. If someone wants to try something new, they are free to go forward after having answered questions about their proposal and reconciled potential objections. We’re willing to venture new paths as long as they don’t harm us. “There was a lot of fast change and it was ok to be wrong,” recalls Ada, or, as Pace puts it: “Let’s just try it and see if it works. We can always change it again.”
This flexibility and fluid evolution has allowed us to navigate around obstacles and explore unforeseen opportunities—and it empowers us to do the kind of work we’re passionate about. We could also witness the benefits of decentralisation: Everybody at Nothing brings their own network and ideas to the table. As a result, our rocket is growing and growing.
Once we unshackled ourselves from the rigid structures of hierarchy, we were confronted with a sea of possibilities. At times, this could feel overwhelming. After all, it was easy to get lost in all the things we wanted and could do. Tools like our constitution and our structured governance meetings helped bring order before chaos ensued. In these meetings, we would check in with each other, resolve any perceived tensions, and discuss proposals.
A contagious passion for the P2P concept quickly manifested itself. Min has only worked with us for a couple of months, but already, she’s bubbling with enthusiasm. “I really like that my work has meaning. When I get up in the morning, I know why I’m going to work—and it’s not just for the salary.” Her enthusiasm is reverberated by Vibes, who felt a bit lost before the reorganisation: “I asked myself what I actually wanted to do in the rocket and how I could develop myself.” This self-questioning, coupled with our organisation’s autonomous evolution, has shown him new ways to evolve personally and with the rest of us.
Our excitement and enthusiasm easily transferred outside the rocket. Many friends and acquaintances quickly identified with the idea of transforming their work into something that fulfils them. We realised that they can sense how we’re part of something that we’re passionate about.
No evolution without obstacles
Of course, where there’s light, there can be shadow. Over the course of the last year, we’ve had our share of hurdles to overcome like every other organisation. Part of the nature of a decentralised organisation is to be explicit about everyone’s roles, rights and responsibilities. Naturally, that involves a decent amount of self-reflection. Nonetheless, Pace contends that “sometimes you need to know when to stop analysing.”
In the same vein, Vibes muses: “Some of these meetings can feel almost absurd. That’s when I ask myself where we have to stick to the protocol and where we can deviate on our own.” The good thing about our system is that we are always willing to adapt. Everything is in constant flow and evolving rapidly. In this way, we are able to sense and process tensions and escape our previous pitfalls.
In his book “Reinventing Organizations”, Frédéric Laloux quotes Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech in The Great Dictator: “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity; more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.” We strive towards this goal by making the rocket a place where everyone can be who they actually are. There is no need to come to work wearing your “professional face.”
We believe that this has helped us transform work into more than “just work.” We are more open with each other and experience our organisation as deeply rewarding on a personal level. We enjoy more freedom and autonomy and therefore have the power to shape the rocket and have a say in its course. After all, if you’re passionate about your organisation, you will strive for the purpose of the company and it will pay off. For yourself, the other peers on the rocket, and all who are encountered on this journey.
Exploring new galaxies
The next phase of this adventure is our project Peerdom, where we are developing an ecosystem of digital tools that will help other organisations evolve into a decentralised, values-based collective of peers. We’re excited to give a helping hand to others who are willing to take a step into the unknown but bright future of organisations!