Milan/Notes on Structure and Organisation

From Organic Design

These notes are being written in response to perceived attitudes among the "Cocreators" group, which are directed against organisation and structure. These notes are to be used as talking points to generally respond to the attitude that organisation is not required in "the new way of working together" amongst people aspiring to create alternatives to the competitive model. Frequently asked questions, quotes and examples are to be gathered in these notes as well.--Milan 10:05, 5 Dec 2006 (NZDT)


I think a core issue with their attitude is that they believe organisation to be in opposition to harmony, when really organisation allows sustainable harmony and lack of organisation leads to chaos (disharmony). --Nad 10:19, 5 Dec 2006 (NZDT)

Indeed, organisation is equated with centralisation, bureaucracy, control and profit structures. However from my perspective that is one extreme. The other extreme is lack of structure, complete spontaneity without regard to cost, as well as time wasted due to unclear communication and lack of structure. The middle path of sustainability is harmonious (organic) organisation, agreement on goals as well as specific timelines within which to achieve these, as well as working out the resources required and managing these resources carefully.

Harmony within the group is seen as total acceptance of what is. We are asked to let go of goals or ideals and that concerns about productivity, waste (of time and money) or utilisation are just personal concerns. This approach does not allow us to have earnest feedback which allows our group form to evolve.

Cocreators specific

  • Restructure, include successes and indicate what is lacking from there, leading to organisational aspect--Milan 10:15, 6 Dec 2006 (NZDT)

Why have this discussion at all? Why not just disengage and do my own thing? Because I see a group of people with high ideals and great potential, a group which has given me much, in terms of my personal learning, access to resources, people and projects and many a shared workshop.

From my own perspective I have observed developments within the group which have occurred after the euphoric initial phase of the group forming. On an everyday level, I see resources that are underutilised, such as the Swanson Sanctuary. On Basecamp, I see projects that are stagnating, in fact the majority of them have seen very little movement over the last few months. There is not much going on in terms of paying the bills and working together to do so on an everyday basis.

This is coupled with the attitude that we don't need structure or organisation, that everyone is welcome and "it will all just happen" if we can just be in the moment. Now we have a situation which means that very few people are paying most of the bills at Swanson Sanctuary and very few of us are doing the work to keep it going. There are gardens that aren't being planted. There are roles which aren't being filled, such as the house keeper or the grounds keeper. The required organisational structures have not been defined, these roles haven't been created, therefore whether the work gets done or the bills get paid is dependent on the very personal perceptions of the people involved day-to-day.


Lost productivity seems of no great concern within the group, however few things are more precious than our personal time. With defined procedures the Cocreators group could be so much more productive, allowing us to get more done in the same amount of time or spend less time working to pay the bills, leaving us more time to meditate or learn or just be. I was witness to a Cocreators project within which a whole day was lost trying to create an Adobe PDF file, which is a trivial task with the right tools. However this did not lead to any feedback or change which will allow us to avoid such waste in future. This begs the question: If something is worth doing, is it not worth doing in the most effective way possible?

What is lacking

  • Shared goals
  • Feedback channels
  • Regular cycles
  • Organisational systems

What will happen when these key people run out of steam? How will the group carry on, get their work done and pay the bills in a harmonious way? We have seen many similar groups in the past which have drawn a group of people together and made a great start, but collapsed after a few key people realised they were doing all the work and left. In my eyes, the Cocreators group is a great bunch of people who are working on some projects together and are very generous and loving. I will always want to be a part of this group because of that.

Within the group it is commonly stated that "Cocreators" also represents a new way of living and working together, a new sustainable model, a model for living outside of the corporate, centralised unsustainable current system.

I had hoped for the group to be that myself, however how can something that is not defined be a model? How can something that is based on the contributions a few very generous people be sustainable? How can something evolve that has no structure and by definition no feedback channels by which to improve the structure? How can something help 7 Billion people produce the food, clothing, houses, technology that are required if it is not teachable, with effective organisational structures to aid in the quick distribution of this vital knowledge?

Basecamp vs Wiki

  • Todo: Let's have a diagram here that represents the two systems
  • Three parts discussing in the context of setting up org systems;
    • Basecamp strengths and weaknesses;
    • Wiki strengths and weaknesses;
    • Applying what we know to adapt the more flexible wiki to our purposes and making it more accessible for people based on the success factors of Basecamp--Milan 10:15, 6 Dec 2006 (NZDT)

When viewing things from the perspective of harmonious organisation, it becomes apparent that Basecamp is not the tool we really need. It is an example of "style over substance", but apart from that it is simply another bunch of people trying to make a few dollars by selling us their product. Superficially, the software may be sufficient for project management. After all, it has friendly colours and tick-boxes in it. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the "Writeboards" are stagnating, filed away in their projects without a global categorisation scheme to access them with. Furthermore, Basecamp requires users to log in before they can see what is on there which seems a bit counterproductive when developing an open and transparent alternative.

Compare this with wikis, the largest of which is Wikipedia, which is a project to make available to sum total of all human knowledge to all people. Rather than the filtered and restrictive view that Basecamp offers on recent changes, all changes are visible with a wiki. It's called "recent changes"!.

There is a lack of consistency within Basecamp, whereby documents ("Writeboards") can be discussed and you can see the changes over time. However, this does not apply to todo lists, project overviews or milestones. Why not? Also, why can't I just go in at the top level and browse through the categories on a Basecamp? Messages can be in categories, and to do items can be on todo lists (which aren't categories), but categories are silo'd within projects. Also, why can't writeboards, chat rooms or milestones be in categories?

In a wiki, you have articles, which can be in categories. Wikis also have templates which can appear in many articles as required. Every article has a discussion and a history, not just a special article called "writeboard". The categories can be publicly browsed from anywhere on the wiki, you don't have to be logged in and looking at a "message" in a "project". A wiki article could be a document, a casual note, a todo item, a role description, whatever you need. A category could be a document repository, a project or a role, event an organisation. A wiki template could be a group of links to organisational policies, roles and procedures, a table collating information relevant to a whole group of articles, tying them together neatly.

Basecamp does not allow for role descriptions or templates or categories to be implemented, it relies upon the organisational systems of the groups using it. It also costs a monthly fee, while wikis are free to install and run.

Coming back to the style over substance point: Basecamp looks nice, while wikis often look plain. Basecamp is also easier to pick up and run with, while the more flexible wikis require some training and acclimatisation to use.

To not use a wiki because it does not look good and requires training to me is like choosing style over substance, which leads to information silos like Basecamp with thousands of groups working away at reinventing the wheel in isolation from each other. Compare this with the open and sharing, bustling community that is Wikipedia, where knowledge is contributed and debates are held publicly, with people extending each others' contributions