What we read: The Creative Forces of Self-Organization by John A. Buck and Gerard Endenburg

Where you can read it: free PDF

Attendees: Kayleigh Walsh, Ellie Harries, Sam Gluck, Harry Robbins, Chris Chrysostomou, Paul Fauth-Mayer


Sociocracy, or dynamic governance, is at the heart of how we work at Outlandish, but although we do it well, we didn’t create it. In fact, that accolade goes to not just one person but tens of great thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries; philosophers, mathematicians, scientists working in cybernetics and other cutting-edge fields of science, and business men searching for a more human alternative to hierarchical governance structures. Altogether these individuals have spent over 150 years thinking and doing sociocracy. That’s a pretty long time! And at Outlandish we don’t think it should stop there.

So how do we know these cool facts of sociocracy? Recently the Outlandish Reading Group met for the first time to discover them together, as in the spirit of participation it felt right to support one another to learn about the fundamentals of something that forms the foundation of operations at Outlandish. In this blog post we will share with you some of the thoughts and discussions that arose during our group meeting.

Notes from the meeting

What did we like about it?

Paul: By reading the book Paul learned that sociocracy is not exclusive to cooperative businesses. Paul is from Germany and had been looking into how one can start a cooperative in Germany, and was pleased to discover that although the cooperative legal form does not exist in the same way in Germany as in the UK, it would still be possible to operate cooperatively and sociocratically.

Kayleigh: Kayleigh worried that because she is a Campaigner (16 personalities), and others in Outlandish are more logical or scientific thinkers, she might be missing out on some of the scientific reasons for sociocracy. She said it would be helpful to see a scientific base to it, and that the book gave this to her.

Chris: Discovering sociocracy’s basis in cybernetics and nature, as well as having the backing of Alan Turing, meant Chris was more won over to the ideas of sociocracy – after all, who can argue with Alan Turing? He likes that it tries to rid us of hierarchy and bosses.

Sam: Sam liked the overview of the components of sociocracy that the book offered and had not considered them quite in the way the book presents them. He also found it was a useful refresher of why we use sociocracy, such as to be inclusive and allow everyone to work and communicate in a way that suits them.

Harry: Harry bought the idea that the most efficient organisation possible is a sociocratic one. The dominant idea in society is that there is no structure more effective than command and control, but this pamphlet convinced him that this is a lie, and what people often perceive as efficiencies in typical businesses are, under closer inspection, not. It half reminded him that sociocracy seems to be the natural way of doing business as agreement occurs naturally eventually in informal decision making and this is reflected in the consent-based decision making approach of sociocracy.

Ellie: Ellie liked how it made her reflect on what and why we use sociocracy at Outlandish as usually we all just “get on with it”. She thinks we should use the pamphlet to decide on useful actions that we can take away and deploy within Outlandish as well as just as a learning exercise.

What didn’t we like about it?

Paul: Paul didn’t like that it didn’t really tackle how to cope with the difficulties of sociocracy, e.g. what if a circle disagrees on something?

Kayleigh: Kayleigh agrees that it over-simplified the day-to-day of sociocracy. She said that some disadvantages of sociocracy not in the pamphlet are: it does not mention what happens if someone does not want to participate and it assumes people are elected into circles/as managers. She also thought, what if you work for an organisation that practices sociocracy but you don’t go to the circles or participate; what happens if you’re the kind of person who wants to listen and not speak?

Chris: Chris says it presents everything as perfect and is not critical of sociocracy, but it doesn’t go into depth because it’s a short pamphlet, so this is expected. He says it does not focus on what the goal of sociocracy is for human beings, and that this is very important but not addressed. The book says sociocracy is efficient but Chris asked in what way, because there are different ways you can measure efficiency.

Sam: Sam says it presents itself as a scientific paper, but definitely is not, which affects its credibility as as genuinely convincing text. However, he does think it is necessary reading for anyone in a sociocratic organisation.

Harry: Harry says it is neither a practical guide or a scientific paper; it is a hagiography. It should be either 20 problems that you might encounter in an sociocratic organisation or a comparative study of sociocratic and non-sociocratic organisations and why the former is better.

Ellie: Ellie says when you organise sociocratically people don’t necessarily take responsibility for things, which the book presents as a positive and inevitable outcome of sociocracy. It presents itself as correct and the natural way of doing business, which is misleading. It is more powerful to be a useful tool and way of structuring as an option, not as the only way of doing business.

If you have a book recommendation for our next reading group, please email us hello@outlandish.com. We would love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

– Sam