OSS does well with the BDFL model ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benevolent_dictator_for_life ). The people who practice it best use their authority to set tone and agenda and then step back to let people own their participation. They step back in only when they have to.
In universities today the idea of a "safe space" is in vogue. We might recognize that safe spaces require some sort of protection. It can come from campus police, in online communities it can come from people who are charged with that role, and in companies it can come from managers and executives.
Not all overt power is abused.
Jo Freeman encourages several principles, one of which is:
> Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person's "property" and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.
This is an argument against a BDFL. Note that even in Python development, van Rossum does not always have the final say. Mark Shannon was the "BDFL-Delegate" for the type hints PEP 484.
The main point of the essay is not that overt power is inherently abuse, but rather describes methods to limit abuse of both overt and implicit power. Emphasis mine in the following:
> If the movement is to grow beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organization and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development.
How so? A boss can only ask for so much before people leave.
(And yes, bad management of the economy can make it hard to find a new job. That's a wider political problem.)
I don't dispute that informal power structures exist even in organizations whose hierarchies are formally defined. However, a formal hierarchy serves as a baseline, and one can measure the level of political risk they're taking by noticing how much their actions are diverging from the formal hierarchy. If I bypass the chain of command, so to speak, and bring my concerns directly to a high-level executive, I can roughly judge who I'm going to be offending by taking that step. How does one do that in a holocracy? How do I even know who the "high-level executives" are? The holocracy literature completely hand-waves this aspect of the organization. Holocracy advocates say that you shouldn't worry; with time it becomes clear who the influencers are and who one should talk to for various matters. I don't agree with that at all. As anyone who remembers attending a public high school can tell you, humans will naturally form cliques, and it's not always obvious who the influencers are for a given clique. Moreover, as Paul Graham points out, hackers are much less interested in social dynamics (i.e. "politics" and "drama") than average people, and so are much more likely to make political miscalculations in a holocracy. It is for this reason that I consider holocracy to be a form of organization that is inherently hostile to hackers. It's a form of organization that seems custom-designed to hit us where we're weakest.
For me it's good to know that people still exist who can believe in the first. I also started out like that but the little experience I could gather from this world taught me otherwise.
> Is there no hierarchy in Holacracy? Yes and no. There is no management hierarchy as we’re used to it, and no hierarchy of people/managers. However it’s not a structureless" structure either. Holacracy uses a totally different type of hierarchy: a holarchy of roles, and not a hierarchy of people/managers.
I guess being given tasks from more than one Holacracy role can lead to not knowing which to prioritise? Is that a fair representation of what you said?
Is this something you've witnessed first hand or heard about or is it just a hypothetical?
I wrote a post about this: "Holacracy vs. Hierarchy vs. Flat Orgs" https://blog.holacracy.org/holacracy-vs-hierarchy-vs-flat-or...
IMO whenever someone speaks longingly for such a thing, they imagine a meritocracy in which they are somehow more valued/important/influential than they are at their current job. I don't think anyone would advocate a structure in which they themselves would be less valued than they are currently, that's for sure.
It's hard not to see calls for flat orgs as being much more than an unconscious expression of professional narcissism- "I know better than my stupid manager, if only I could do things exactly how I wanted to, on my own schedule, everyone would be better off!". I've got to think that that statement might be true in some cases, but for every valid case there are 100 or 1000 people who are thinking the exact same thing simply because they overvalue the things that they care about, undervalue the things that other people care about, and in general don't know what they don't know. Even dumber would be those who assume that they would end up at or near the top of the magical, Utopian meritocracy that would emerge from such an arrangement.
Converting a regular organization to a flat one does sound particularly bad though.
Except if they genuinely believe in equality and hate being above/managing other people, but rather be equal part of a team, even if that means losing their managing privileges...
It's not like there are no people who didn't dislike management and wanted (and some did) get back to plain programmer.
It's not that you want to be less valued as a manager, it's that you want to be more valued as a programmer.
And I've seen people do that too, why the disbelief?
Turn down more highly paid managerial positions, because they'd rather not be leading people.
(Arguably changing an individual's role is still restructuring, but I think the OP was talking about more comprehensive restructuring suggestions.)
Short version: if you try to avoid the problems of existing organizations by not having an explicit power structure, you instead end up with an implicit power structure. That is not a problem at small scales when the organization is for discussion rather than for getting things done. But it has many subtle problems.
At the bottom, there's a nice list of things to experiment with as organizations search for useful explicit power structures: delegation, responsibility, distribution of authority, rotation of power, allocation of work, diffusion of information, and equal access to resources.
Since this article is about women's movement issues from 40+ years ago, it can seem irrelevant. But given how non-traditional organizational models are of the moment (e.g., open source projects, holocracy, Occupy, BLM, twitter organizing), I think it's useful material for anybody who's shaping an organization.
It's basically the blueprints towards building the next most efficient organisation. I highly recommend it. http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/
The "Green" stage can feel a little like the tyranny this article describes, but the "Teal" stage is anything but. It's comparatively light on arbitrary rules compared to your traditional top down company, but it's certainly not unstructured.
I have written a numbe of articles on this topic at http://danieltenner.com/open-cultures/ in case you want to read more.
Personally, I take the warning at https://books.google.com/books?id=IKZVKMPEQCEC&pg=PA131&dq=%... to heart:
> Industrial democracy: By analogy with political or state democracy, a description of democratic practices as applied to workplaces. There are two major ways of thinking about this concept. The first involved some liberal conception of representative structures that allow workers to have influence over decision making, responsibility and authority. The extent of such influence can vary substantially, from an employer's 'suggestion scheme' through workplace methods such as 'team-working', up to the various forms of consultation and co-determination exemplified by Kalmar, Semco, or the John Lewis Partnership and the Quality of Working Life movement. Whilst these examples provide illustrations of alternative forms of organizing, they all largely rely on the idea of empowerment as something which management does to workers. In other words, management and owners still have the ultimate sanction, and could withdraw democratic privileges if they wished.
> The more radical way of thinking about industrial democracy would be in terms of worker self-management. In this case a cooperative or an employee share ownership plan (ESOP) would mean that all those working for an organization would have a direct share in its profits and losses. As a result, they would have a clear interest in participating in democratic mechanisms to elect or deselect those who coordinate organizational activities; to dictate strategy; to take profits or reinvest, and so on (see Mondragon; Suma). Both forms of industrial democracy have been credited with increasing the motivation and commitment of workers, as well as increasing productivity and decreasing labour turnover. Whilst advocates of the liberal version might suggest that those were good things to achieve because they can increase shareholder or owner value, for the radicals all these would be secondary to the idea that labour might escape alienation in a Marxist sense. In other words, liberal ideas about job satisfaction are pale reflections of the conception of work as a form of human expression (see Fourier).
Here's the table of contents: https://i.imgur.com/OS9XGhN.jpg
One clue earlier might be if the workers can fire the CEO and decide CEO pay.
In other words, I don't believe it addresses the legal structure as much as the organisational one. Unfortunately, I have to bring it back to the library today...but I'll be buying my own copy that I can cover in highlighter. It's really interesting for anyone interested in organisational structure and offers a lot of insights into potential workarounds to problems you might run into.
Not that JL was not a bit naughty in outsourceing its cleaners.
"Structure" covers a wide spectrum though, from formal and rigid, to unwritten or very simple and mutual rules. I think despotic and alienating structures being bad doesn't make structure as such any more bad than, say, a bad book would make books in general bad.
I personally like the concept "order within liberty" a lot:
> You don’t know what order with freedom means! You only know what revolt against oppression is! You don’t know that the rod, discipline, violence, the state and government can only be sustained because of you and because of your lack of socially creative powers that develop order within liberty!
by Gustav Landauer, who also said/wrote:
> One can throw away a chair and destroy a pane of glass; but those are idle talkers and credulous idolaters of words who regard the state as such a thing or as a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.
And I think the article you linked kind of agrees with that, even:
> While, ultimately, a massive force of women (and some men) will be necessary to smash the power of the state, a mass movement itself does not a revolution make. If we hope to create a society free of mate supremacy, when we overthrow capitalism and build international socialism, we had better start working on it right away, because some of our very best anti-capitalist friends are going to give us the hardest time. We must be developing a visible women's culture, within which women can define and express themselves apart from patriarchal standards, and which will meet the needs of women where patriarchy has failed.
Whether you call it culture or structure or organization, everybody seems in agreement that just wandering off and doing your own thing all the time will not yield great results, though one might argue about details. Is that impression wrong?
Flat organizations (as distinct from BDFLs) reward bullies and manipulators, consistently with the "star system" in the article, while punishing pro-social people who align based on principles and reasoned consent to rules.
I remember it coming up :)
I used to volunteer in an anarchist-led bookshop. "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" was one of the texts I was referred to upon starting in order to help me understand that one ought to spend a bit of time thinking about hierarchies (or the lack thereof) and their consequences.
This is my take on the topic given some reflection. Like money, hierarchies are not intrinsically bad. Like money, hierarchies are a tool for getting shit done. Money can be abused. Why? Because greed. Because the will to power. We know what money is good for, it is an abstraction that facilitates exchange and trade. What are hierarchies good for? Coordinated action via a chain of command. Hierarchies can be abused. Same reasons. Because greed. Because the will to power.
I've been thinking recently about a certain type of hierarchy where the stratification is highly ordered. Think military hierarchies. Each layer reports only to the one above. There is a strict chain of command. Orders must be followed without question. Because this special type of hierarchy emerges again and again (think about how we structure a very complex text even) I thought it must have a name. I couldn't find one so I'm suggesting isomerarchy. All from ancient Greek: we all know that iso means same, like isomorphic, isobar, and so on; meros is less familiar and means part or division, the study of parts and parthood is mereology; finally, archon means ruler from which we get monarch (literally rule by the one). Hence, isomerarchy. Funnily enough, both isomer and merarch are both existing concepts which rely on exactly this etymology.
People most cite it as an argument for why you need hierarchies in your organization. However, I don't think the article gets to claim such thing. Instead, it claims that one should not let structure be implicit, because then it degenerates in tyranny.
People are too used to think that structure == hierarchy that we assume that the corollary is that hierarchy is needed to avoid tyranny. David Graeber in his "Utopia of Rules"  makes a good counterargument: if your goal is to avoid tyranny it's little difference to have it implicit or explicit. In the later case, you are just giving some moral justification for it -- you legitimize it, in the most literal sense of the word. What you need is, if you want to avoid tyranny, a resilient and explicit flat structure, with mechanisms in place to identify and reject emergent tyrannies.
I understand, though, why we are becoming disillusioned about the word "flat" in the business world. Most businesses that try to go "flat" still have a vertical ownership structure. What "flat" actually means in that context is: "you have to figure out how to make money for me, but I'm not going to tell you how!" This creates a lot of anxiety, because at the same time that workers are told to feel empowered and take responsibility, everybody spends so much energy in figuring out what are the invisible walls of the cell, and what their patrons actually want from them. I think it takes a lot of alienation to really thrive in such environment.
That does not mean that flat is impossible in the business world, in my view, you just need an explicit flat structure that begins with your ownership model. A company that I know of that has such structure is Igalia  (discl: I don't work with them but have acquaintances there)
A very interesting aspect of structureless entities is that it is very hard to form counter-narratives to them. If you look back at successful revolutions, then their rhetoric revolves around specific events that show everyone why something is unreasonable. For the American revolution, it was the Boston Massacre - a specific instance in time that the revolutionaries could use as evidence of injustice. The dismissal of Jacques Necker, a finance minister in Louis XVI's cabinet, led to the storming of the Bastille and in turn the French revolution. Change often revolves around a commonly shared notion of injustice.
Without an explicit power structure, it is hard to create the common ground necessary to ferment change. How can you find a specific experience that everyone can relate to when everyone's experience of the group is inherently different? How can you find that one thing within the structure that frames the overall problem, when there is no commonly agreed one to pin down? People will spend more time arguing about what the structure might be than finding practical solutions to problems.
This effect seems to be so powerful and unseen that it is becoming a fashionable method for preserving the status quo. It's popping up everywhere from businesses to nation states. My favourite example is the work of Putin's advisor Vladislav Surkov, a man who was once the publisher of avant-garde poetry and a patron of deconstructionist art. He has worked very hard to deconstruct war for Putin and create a structureless society. At its heart his doctrine is a heightened form of that same structurelessness this article discusses. Except its done at the national scale.
Inside Surkov's Russia, the Kremlin maintains control by ensuring that there is no explicit power structure - just shifting cliques in perpetual conflict with other cliques;
[..] The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd.
One moment Surkov would fund civic forums and human-rights NGOs, the next he would quietly support nationalist movements that accuse the NGOs of being tools of the West. With a flourish he sponsored lavish arts festivals for the most provocative modern artists in Moscow, then supported Orthodox fundamentalists, dressed all in black and carrying crosses, who in turn attacked the modern-art exhibitions.
The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls. Its Moscow can feel like an oligarchy in the morning and a democracy in the afternoon, a monarchy for dinner and a totalitarian state by bedtime.
I recommend the classic sociology paper Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400–1434, http://home.uchicago.edu/~jpadgett/papers/published/robust.p...
Especially since she specifically mentions that this piece has been widely republished without her permission.
It would be interesting if the person you were replying to would expand on that idea.