Two-Factor Decision-Making

I’ve been thinking for a while about how flat networks of people should organize to get things done without either devolving into hierarchy or descending into a morass of populism.

Here is the current state of that thinking in the form of a Proposition (i.e., a belief still without rigorous structure, held strongly enough that it warrants investigation but loosely enough that discovering it to be false would be as pleasing as discovering it to be correct).

Here’s the Proposition:

A group of humans that wishes to organize itself in such a way that no individual or sub-group holds materially more defacto decision-making power than any other will make decisions quickly and with satisfactory results when stakeholders vote on (or otherwise choose) delegates for each specific decision, who then in turn chose those who will actually make the decision, where the choice of delegates is always based on the same criterion (ability to listen and choose subject-matter experts dispassionately). [Secondary Proposition: The actual deciders should be either one or two persons in most cases.]

Further, this “two factor” selection process will produce decisions faster and with more satisfactory results for stakeholders than the group voting for one or more delegates who then directly decide.

Further, this “two factor” selection process will produce decisions faster and with more satisfactory results for stakeholders than the group voting on the actual decisions.

Finally, this “two factor” selection process will produce decisions faster and with more satisfactory results for stakeholders than a typical business hierarchy.

Note: Clearly the above applies only to those decisions which have a wide impact on the organization; typically ones which, in a hierarchy, would call for executive action. Short of this, small teams should be able to make decisions organically, though the broad principles in the proposition, if deeply held inside a team’s culture, may help even in these decisions.

Arguments:

  1. What makes someone the best decider on a particular topic does not necessarily make them the most popular. Therefore, if left to direct voting for deciders, voting can take longer (as political jostling takes time) and result in suboptimal choices.
  2. Groups of people can not be consistently competent to make an optimal decision by voting directly on a choice, because the competencies required to make the best (or at least the most informed) choice are different for each event.
  3. By extension, even without political complications, groups of people can not be consistently competent to ascertain the optimal mix of personal attributes required to make the best or most informed decision, because the attributes for expertise change with each subject to decide upon.
  4. By contrast, one can teach a large, diverse group of people to value a consistent set of attributes that make someone good at wisely determining what the optimal mix of attributes would be for those who must make the decision. If there is a wide field of such ‘good listeners’ to choose from, the overall group has a marketplace of second-order deciders from which to choose, thus reducing the chance of any one of them accumulating too much power. This allows the process of group selection of who should choose the deciders to become a repeatable, high-scale, high-speed activity — a core competency — in a way that would never evolve if a group had to make subject-matter choices every time.
  5. While a hierarchy should be able to gain speed relative to the above by always knowing the decision will be with the same executives, such an organization risks the fact that the same group of decision-makers will not always be the best subject-matter experts, nor will they always be best situated to listen to and select experts. A hierarchy is limited by the bandwidth of executives to focus on multiple things, even when those executives constrain their role to that of choosing those who decide. And in any event, being placed in that role in every decision-making instance will lead to a shift in power toward the individuals performing it.

So, while it’s a mouthful to say, “We should only decide who should decide on who should decide,” the proposition — if correct — suggests that this practice (after some practice) should be more straightforward and satisfying than voting on decisions themselves or directly for those who decide.

After all:

They who know the most should decide what’s best,
But they who listen best should decide who knows the most.

Now the questions are:

  1. How to devise an experiment to test these assertions more-or-less scientifically;
  2. Have there been cases of this practice that one could study;
  3. Is there a way to characterize the proposition more rigorously either through equation or simulation.

What do you think?

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Seeker of Awesomeness: The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer, ConsenSys.

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John Wolpert

John Wolpert

Seeker of Awesomeness: The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer, ConsenSys.

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