Regenerative Culture through regenerating work flows
Web3 Organizational Innovations seeded in previous cycles will blossom in the ReFi space.
Hitchhiking with ReFiDAO as part of Founders’ Circle #02 something dawned on me: although all the creative energy when“starting as a DAO” (as opposed to progressive decentralization on the spectrum) might feel like chaos, we are more like flocks of birds or a synchronizing swarm of fireflies along the river of continuous innovation that is web3.
As humans, we also have the ability of self-awareness - or can cultivate it.
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We may be implementing and deploying autonomous functions on a programmable ledger for the transactions of values over the internet. But what we value depends on our value systems; what we are able to envision depends on our belief systems.
and none of those are “real”.
We can cultivate these systems - but more like gardeners, not like mechanics - which is new to a mind like mine that started hitchhiking on the road of token engineering coming from Automateallthethings Town.
My first encounter of such a garden, that vibed more with my engineering-heavy mindset back then was, of course: MetaGame.
In the book I would like to share more about which aspects, across these coordination games, stood out and also stood the test of time thus far - and which aspects may result in what someone recently called out elsewhere as “death circles”:
or as we also pointed to in one of our 2022 New Year’s Sessions:
Other DAOs or Communities in the distributed coordination space that elevated my appreciation for the entirely human potential (which many might have heard me dismiss one too many times in the beginning as the “humany stuff”) in the order of appearance were: SourceCred, Kernel Community, DADA Invisible Economy, Token Engineering Commons, Yearn, ReFiDAO - and I am very much inclined to support figuring this one out:
How do we design and play prosocial, regenerative games:
“Chunks or habits are fast but inflexible” - this includes automated functions of our smart contract agents; may also include new collective habit forming like expressing gratitude and appreciation for the contribution of a fellow meta dreamer/doer
“Deliberate actions are slow but flexible” - this includes making good decisions on trade-offs or if the collective is deliberate enough going beyond what was perceived as a trade-off, creative conflict resulting in finding a way beyond trade-off
There’s a lot of insights to be gained from the “failed” (you only fail if you stop trying) and ongoing experiments in distributed leadership and distributed executive functioning in our distributed, digitally enhanced, decentralized internet-scale organizations and coordination games. I’m still experiencing and analyzing, but dare to share now here an attempt to distill:
My first encounter of the third kind was when I dropped into one SourceCred community call, and LBS greeted me with a “How are you feeling?” that resonated through my whole body, made me stop, reflect, and say: “Thank you… I haven’t thought about this today” - I didn’t dare to say, I hadn’t taken the time to think about that in two years! I don’t know if you will be able to read from these lines what happened. If you never encountered something like this, you might be thinking of the superficial “how are you dear?” at the checkout counter. On the contrary, it was a question asked with intention, that created space for me to truly reflect... It was regenerating.
What if our collaborations felt like this in each interaction? What will it take for me to be able to hold space like this one day? Could I then inspire someone else to ask these questions? These questions subconsciously are companions and motivators ever since.
Unfortunately, the Credsperiment only lasted for a bit more than two years, missing the balance between creative/caring/holding space and the executive functioning, the balance between appreciating not only the extroverts, but the invisible values of the introverts:
“People changed their behavior rather than changing the system.” - one research observer from MetaGov said.
During the same time, I was more active in DADA Invisible Economy (IE), partially in Token Engineering Commons and Kernel Community. When I look back, I can say, the communities that allow for emergence are more resilient, even anti-fragile, versus those that try to create rigid rules or advanced algorithms.
DADA is an art collective, and our search for a system model for the IE was definitely beyond the art - but for protecting creative spaces. The applied engineer in me, supported by Fabian, and later more te-philosophers, like Letty, replicated the same vibe, or calling they heard, too, in TEC#0mega: Seeing the knowledge commons of TE as the creative space that needs protection, nurturing the diverse perspectives that makes for the transdisciplinary art of token engineering - and added a bit of Kernel philosophy (love of knowledge) to the mix.
Surely, I’m being more a mechanic than a gardener; but it plays out well, because it’s also a place for people like me: the mechanical mechanics who learn gardening and keep breaking their hearts open to the mesmerizing human potential in themselves and in others, through their encounters and relationships and the dark spaces in between, synchronizing like fireflies along the information river flowing through the discord channels, podcast comments, twitter spaces, telegram chats.
The only common point we have is that we are stakeholders in token economies and really care about their ethical design and development. Other than that we are everybody and nobody: engineers, artists, scientists, drop outs, hermits, party people… maybe another commonality is our neuro-/diversity. The common phrases we vibe with are #FindingUnityInDiversity or #EmbodyingTheWisdomOfWeb3. The Chapter Two “Transdisciplinary Art of Token Engineering” and Epilogue “An Interface to Moral Philosophy for Token Engineers” are being nurtured there - be forewarned ;)
So the one commonality across these different shaped collectives (a DAO, a community, a group) is: “it takes as long as it takes.” There is an appreciation that the creative space cannot be exploited in rigid structures, it’s about convening, emergence, gift. There can be a “harvest” (done by a task force that executes a project as planned from beginning to end with a clear deadline) … and there needs to be appreciation of all the contributions that flowed together:
Thus it becomes obvious that one must be wary in attributing scientific discovery wholly to anyone person. Almost every discovery has a long and precarious history. Someone finds a bit here, another a bit there. A third step succeeds later and thus onward till a genius pieces the bits together and makes the decisive contribution. Science, like the Mississippi, begins in a tiny rivulet in the distant forest. Gradually other streams swell its volume. And the roaring river that bursts the dikes is formed from countless sources. - Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Institute for Advanced Studies
There needs to be then again time of regeneration, tending to the soil. These times need not be rigid either - yet recurring phases, like seasons. In an internet-scale organization that appreciates the diversity of its participants, it is also clear there will be many weathers. This is the creative space. This space is also tolerant of the undefined dark spaces, embraces uncertainty, and the emotions and states that the individual participants go through: confusion, false starts, anxiety, resistance, frustration, positive change.
This creative space also doesn’t need “resources” per se - only humans holding space for each other. The humans need resources, with the most interchangeable, hence useful, one being money - But the resource that is ultimately needed for creativity cannot be bought. Or to put it in another way it can only be created and minted by humans through humane interactions or in solitude.
If you put me on the clock, and throw a ton of tokens at me: you will effectively crush my creativity. If you don’t, I might never go into execution mode and starve (literally the idea or myself, figuratively). This is how our industrial era model functions and it has taken over creative spaces as well: Those who execute - create the liquidity event - get to decide who gets what and how much. SourceCred is an attempt to reverse that model - yet their original Credsperiment failed because some participants stopped trying when the pendulum swung to the other extreme. SourceCred is still in use and the collective is still experimenting.
Yearn (not - yet - hitchhiking, so this is readsay) on the other hand, at the Automateallthethings-Yetappreciatethehumanystuff intersection might be striking a better balance. However, they are also having a much easier time to measure progress towards a simple common purpose: maximize yield. Nonetheless, Tracheopterix explains well in this talk how to DAO is a Dance, and execution happens when all ingredients are consentually provided in time; whereas each contributor has their own value/belief system and price behind their contribution:
Co-Visioning - Pooling needed skills - Pooling resources - Co-creating the Action Plan … What about the Incentives?
What about the Incentives?
The question that gets us token engineers going, right? Here comes the biggest duh!epiphany of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Token Engineering to date:
Tokens are extrinsic only.
Our human family’s one reward system is an intricate balance of bio-psycho-social interplay, and there’s only one engineer who can master that:
With the support of sangha :) community! - for sure. But before we each reach a certain level of self-awareness, we are rather acting like NPCs, and permissionless participation becomes clueless confusion and wasting value.
If you want number go up, and not just stand there complaining and losing your last shirt, you need to start “playing” (=participating by adding value). If you want change, you need to be the change you want to see in the world (warned you, what comes is a string of duh!s and a new diagram :) ) If we want true decentralization, more and more of us need to take leadership (power and responsibility - yes, but in a more self-directed way) - self-leadership:
understanding well what is your decision space, not the entire design space, what will make you invest your energy, your motivation.
understanding that if you wanted more space, whether you have the skill and dedication (attention + intention) to have more responsibility, your capacity.
understanding - through empathy, asking better questions, and listening - the above for each one you collaborate with in order to add/create value in the network; reflect and also ask for a reflection, “clear mirrors”
understanding that without all of the above you are effectively wasting or blocking value in the network
Maybe it will remain one of those unattainable ideals, but for true decentralization we need not only token engineering, but inner engineering by each participant, engineering their inner processes. And if we truly believe that environments matter, we need to meditate on the following, too:
We are bio-psycho-social creatures.
What I’ll share next is more of a research compilation. There are a few angles from which the insight could be presented. Let’s start with one that can be interpreted both on the micro and macro level in the crypto space:
On the macro level, calls for self-regulation often mistake it for self-policing. On the micro level, I’m seeing the pattern of “holding space” “in circles” in communities, that allows each participant to self-regulate. Holding space may start with an intentful “how are you?” or a playful “one word round” in the beginning of a meeting or a collaborative session. Holding space means being cyber-/physically, mentally, and emotionally present. It enables to bring our full human capacity - and potentiality - to our collaborative cybersocial spaces.
In ReFiDAO I’m seeing a lot of effort being put into enabling and protecting the creative space through facilitation and self-organization and recording/collection/templating of everything that is repetitive and that serves a clear function. Their purpose is to be a web3 “regenerator” - not an accelerator: Optimize for serendipity.
I was truly amazed to see a possible instantiation of “Radical Agile” in ReFiDAO - a concept that we stumbled upon, when we realized that agile isn’t working for DAOs or internet-scale “permissionless” participation:
Maybe that is due to the fact that ReFiDAO founders’ circles by definition are filled with individuals who are into self-leadership and self-organization. And since a qualitative onjective such as “regeneration” was chosen and not an easily quantifiable one like “10x acceleration in 3-5 yrs” also a more qualitative approach was needed.
FTX thankfully refreshed our memories: vanity metrics and KPIs can easily be gamed, and unfortunately there’s just too many blind following once a “reality bending visionary CEO” leads the way, or seems to do so. What would make “founders” of a decentralized protocol different enough to make change? Certainly it’s not only the structure of “circles,” which isn’t new, nor solely could protect from culture turning toxic.
Self-regulated, self-sovereign participants
“Self-regulation enables individuals to guide their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a purposeful manner. Thus, it is crucial for goal-directed behavior and contributes to many consequential outcomes in life, including physical heath, psychological well-being, ethical decision making, and strong interpersonal relationships.”
Imagine, we have self-organizational innovations that start with self-regulation in the individual: Whatever extrinsic token models we engineer and environments and experiences, games we design comes from the collaboration of self-regulated self-sovereign individuals and is geared towards cultivating and maintaining that state.
When I first heard about the possibility, potential of this, in October 2020 from Fabian (content provider of the Epilogue: An Interface to Moral Philosophy for Token Engineers) - I immediately had the images from The Giver flash in my mind. However, this self-sovereign self-regulation precisely prevents that “Sameness” dictated by rules and regulations prescribed by a state, a token engineer, a collective. Even the clearing price, Adam Smith’s invisible hand, is prone to produce commodification, sameness. This self-sovereign, self-regulation on the other hand would enable the unique contribution of an individuated (self-mastery, self-sovereignty) participant to harmoniously flow with the whole.
It would enable scalable coordination in (neuro-)diverse internet-scale organizations - self-organization. Or so, the intuition goes ;)
Here’s what I’ve gathered thus far to back up the intuition. The goal is to distill some sort of practical templates to enable self-aware, self-regulated participation that has its own intrinsically, biologically wired, reward system - but before, I need more feedback and sounding boards on the following:
The regulator in our brains is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Some of us have a thinner PFC, which can cause behavioral divergences. Sometimes dubbed “Ferrari brains with bicycle breaks”. It’s amazing to have a Ferrari brain, and dangerous at the same time if it has bicycle brakes - if there is no self-regulation (think of this like throttling the speed using the clutch) or even mismatched medication (whilst I was doing the hyperfocused research on the intricate biological balance in our internal reward system, it did not slip my attention that the profile of SBF which his VC followers from Sequoia - those who actually get paid for “due diligence” and have a “fiduciary duty” - commissioned, published, and later deleted, is a really good piece of journalism that touches upon this aspect, too).
I don’t want us to get stuck on the level of symptoms, but actually abstract away to the level of helpful frameworks. For those who feel irritated by me singling out this neurodiversity, I apologize: It serves only as one good example, how self-regulation can be developed through practice, organizational hacks, and extrinsic stimulants. I also recommend “Scattered Minds” followed by “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture,” which puts well into words what the bigger picture is, what I want to get at here as well. Those books also helped me to place token economies where they belong in this ever expanding drawing, namely, in the entirely extrinsic realm: tokens create extrinsic incentives that can make people do things, change behavior. Which can be very helpful, when we need to bridge our value-action-gaps, e.g. how we value clean air, creativity, or culture - but fail to act accordingly to care for those values. Co-creation of token economies then, consentual participation, becomes a fundamental requirement, because otherwise token engineering would be coercive, manipulative, and some sort of psycho-social engineering:
“Stimulating the PFC promotes successful self-regulation by altering the balance in activity between PFC and the subcortical regions involved in emotion and reward processing”, the HPA - hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis - that orchestrates the levels of dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, oxytocin, endorphins,...
Stimulation can be in the form of
or through cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on influencing how one feels. One interesting find in that regard was “The Tools”, these are tiny exercises one can use to change one’s mood. What’s interesting is how each one uses a visualization of some real inter-/action that would trigger a hormonal release, e.g. moving through pain (endorphins), or the ones I meshed in the above diagram: of producing feelings of active love and gratefulness (oxytocine, serotonin).
or through applied behavioral therapy, i.e. focusing on influencing actions through positive reinforcement and rewards.
I hope by now it becomes clear how token economies and experience design is congruent with the last point. Mechanisms that may be in place of the second point, I’ve encountered in TEC as “soft gov” or “cultural build”, specifically with the “praise!” system, in which you express gratitude for someone’s actions and/or contributions that you value. Likewise in SourceCred: the focus on intersubjective value assignment to contributors and the intention to quantify and flow Cred through these links. These make sense from the mechanical gardeners’ perspective :)
However, after trespassing the “Psychology & Decision Science” petal of the cryptoeconomics flower, I believe quantification of praise! is not necessary, nor trying to optimize CredRank, the algorithm that assigns a number to relationships in SourceCred. Such efforts might actually have been a contributing factor to the failure of Credsperiment. Because these game mechanics create the cycle of addictive behavior in which you need more and more to get less and less rewards - the premise of our toxic culture of over-consumption, supersizing, gazing only the top 3, well… maybe even waging war.
So instead we can let the mechanics focus on tokenizing all that is extrinsic, e.g. financial flows - but differentiate more subtle and simple, prosocial and regenerative - game mechanics for our cybersocial interactions and collaborative environments cultivated by gardeners.
We can embed “rituals” or “ice breakers”, “warm ups” that help set the mood (vibeneering ;) for collaboration. These can emerge as local customs within the work streams, subDAOs, or circles, but need facilitators and participants’ cooperation, understanding that the regeneration we need comes from much deeper than can be conceptualized or accounted for in materialistic terms.
The intention of this post is to get more feedback, and source potential contributions, specifically people with actual biology and neuroscience background, and two “Active Inference” drivers who I independently bumped into in TEC#0mega, ReFiDAO, and found threads from in Kernel. One of them, Josh from Lunarpunk Labs, shared this, which may enable some sort of description of healthy relationships through Markov Blankets in mathematical terms.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ the dopamine dispensing encounters in the rabbit hole of cryptoeconomics… who designed that?! I think it’s more of an emergent game than an emerging field :D
But for a first edition, I believe, we have completed the foundational research for maybe the most transdisciplinary section of the Token Model Generation chapter: “Got Game?” One example there, will be DADAO’s token model, which has almost all elements of token and environment design and engineering we touched upon here, put into action in intriguingly simple terms. Kernel-building-Kernel is also progressing well with the Learning Curve model. Actually just checking it now, I discover Andy’s sharing of their learnings:
“I get anxious just realising that I know nothing about at least three of the domains I listed above. But here's the simple, saving grace: don't try and design perfect systems. Actually, design the most naïve system you can and just ensure it makes good trade-offs across all the relevant domains of which you're aware.”
In one of our past sessions, Trent, also shared a similar advice from experience. Yet, this is true if there’s just one, maybe two, token engineers involved doing the job. I hope you see how through an ingenious co-creative process (which imv is currently being experimented with in some collectives both within as well as without web3) by many participants (which is not! design-by-committee) more relevant domains can be scanned and sifted for a model that computes across all their worldviews and is nonetheless simple enough to be implemented on a “world computer.”
In the meantime though to do no harm, do focus on what can be implemented - and steer clear from mechanics that may crush the flowering of a new consciousness to cope with complexity: Test nudging-first, and if the experimental data trail shows both how the qualitative values can be quantified without destroying their intrinsic incentives as well as that the mechanics is effective, given that there is a simple way to imbue those values into a token, then go ahead and tokenize.
Financial flows are meant to be tokenized - ethically, else crypto has the potential to bust a marketing bubble in about 18 months. (If the traditional financial system was a Ferrari, crypto is the Ferrari with bicycle breaks… it will benefit from self-regulation on micro and macro levels).
Imagine those are 18 months you could have spent more meaningfully. Which brings me to the closing point, one that I had left out from above list of stimulating the PFC:
self-inquiry and meditation (“Who am I?”, “Where am I?” or koans)
And the question of what is the incentive behind self-regulation, self-awareness? Why not stay blissfully ignorant? Bubbling and bursting following the simple function of profit maximization?
Definitely curiosity :) That one is intrinsic and timeless. In our times, it’s also the time pressure, extrinsic: Knowing you or your child may be the last generation is a huge extrinsic incentive (there’s a tool for that, too). 50 years after the original Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome published Limits and Beyond (that makes about two generations lost in the value action gap). I must say, for me one image from the recent pandemic was more effective than a thousand words, to raise awareness and faith at the same time: It only took a few weeks of stillness (action in inaction) for pollution levels in the air to drop.
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