Seek accord, not permission

Most of us are used to working in non-permissive environments. It’s what most people learn in school and at work. Ask if you can go to the bathroom, ask if you can take a day off, ask if you can fix a problem.

Also, in new environments, we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or accidentally interfere with, duplicate or challenge someone else’s work. So we ask for permission.

In DAOs, you’re expected to just wade in, get started, and try to work in harmony with others. Everything you need to learn, you’ll learn as you go.

In fact, the only “rules” for you as a participant in a DAO are actually set in the code of the token you bought, and the governance contracts, both of which are on-chain and accessible for you to read.

Everything that needs some form of up-front permission is usually protected by code allowing for decentralised activity aligned to the DAOs cause. For example, accessing resources owned by the token itself, or changing the token code. Everything else is permissionless by default.

The Vetocratic/Actiocratic Axis

Vitalik Buterin (founder of Ethereum) explains how we can think of this as an axis:

Vetocratic - the power to those who restrict

Doing anything potentially disruptive and controversial requires getting a sign-off from a large number of different and diverse actors, any of whom could stop it

Vetocracies are generally right when slow but steady progress is needed, to defend common goods or maintain responsibilities. For example, changing the code of a base layer blockchain.

Actiocratic - power to those taking action (which Buterin calls Bulldozers)

Single actors can do important and meaningful, but potentially risky and disruptive, things without asking for permission

Actiocracies are needed to enable exploration, create new value or respond quickly. For example, developing a new product, trying out a new process or blocking an attack.

Acting accordingly

If something doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably because there are still Vetocracies that should be Actiocracies, and vice versa.

When challenging the status quo, Actiocracies are needed to promote the new paradigms. Once the status quo is changed, Vetocracies are needed to protect what they created.

Most (web2) online communities stayed Actiocracies for too long, allowing the change-makers to dominate people and erode the common goods that everyone created together.

On the flip side, many large DAOs end up stagnating with too much vetocracy. When whales accumulate tokens and act as “governance” but are detached from the actual work, they end up blocking progress. They have effectively centralised veto powers around themselves, becoming a Dilbert-style shadow hierarchy.

When projects teams become too focused on coordinating with treasuries, or they end up constraining their own direction based on the opinion of a detached Vetocracy, then they fail.

This leads to talented people leaving the DAO, and difficulty for new people to see how they can plug in usefully. That talent needs more Actiocracy to thrive.

While the loss of talent is a signal of too much Vetocracy and not enough Actiocracy, the loss of common goods is a sign of too much Actiocracy and not enough Vetocracy. When both are at odds, decentralisation and fractalisation are the resolution.

In practice

So in DAOs, you’re expected to just wade in, get started, and try to work in harmony with others. Everything you need to learn, you’ll learn as you go.

A few tips:

This is the idea, but in practice it still gets a bit messy. Different people in DAOs have different paradigms, backgrounds and expectations.

So take action first without asking for permission, but as you proceed, check in with people around you to seek accord. If you want to do this explicitly, use an Accordance Dialogue. Or just start yourself, and share a Personal Check-In and those affected know to get in touch.

If there’s no place you feel comfortable plugging in or starting yourself, there are places in DAOs where people leading projects look for help. Those are generally Guilds, which are open groups of people who are developing certain practices, like Design, Agile, Software Development, Marketing, Community-building. So look out for guilds where you can volunteer and make yourself available.

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