The auspicious goal of my company is to provide all education to all those who want it, for free.

It started off as a project to create a dynamic share system for groups of people on the Internet to start companies. Goals and work would be assigned value by groups, and based on that value you would earn smaller or larger shares of the company. This idea was ultimately impractical and we had to think of a new one.

I walked around with an uncertain feeling in my stomach after realizing the idea was not viable. But after quick discussion I blurted out the new course, to provide all education to all those who want it, for free. And more specifically, through a decentralized, non-institutional mechanism where people were in charge of educating themselves, rather than being educated by others.

Many prototypes have gone by as we have tried to figure out how to do this. I’ve created a lot of crap, especially when we headed toward content generation. Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that people will generate content in whatever way they prefer and the real goal is to find that content in a truly convivial way.

It is for this reason that we’ve recently decided to distribute our idea as a Facebook app. This means we don’t have to bother with social network infrastructure. It also means we are part of an established network. Facebook’s reaction over time to third party developers will ultimately be the decider of whether we stay on an external platform or migrate to our own.

Currently, we are still working on the app. But I expect to release a version of it within the next week. This version will entail a way to put up learning quests were you establish the goal and parameters for its pursuit. Your friends can see the quests you are currently on and can aid you in your quests by giving you information and links to more. This first version is highly simplified, but right now we are focused on providing immediate utility.

I’m hoping this very simple idea will have a synergetic unpredictable effect. Ironically, no matter how it goes in the pursuit to help others learn, I will have learned something myself.

Knowlege of Knowledge

June 4, 2007

The countries which were able to take advantage of optimizing methodology, first applying it to machines (Industrial Revolution) and then to human work itself (Productivity Revolution), were the countries who succeeded in creating wealth and its accompanying leisure. The adoption of this method is a cultural and therefore educational change.

Now we are entering into a period where disciplines are being created faster than we can learn them. In my case, the example is computer language, with new and effective languages popping up over night. The languages which are being taught in college will be outdated by the time you leave. It’s like having to learn Greek and Latin before you can learn the anything else, a tradition in need of decline.

The first people to apply optimizing methodologies to knowledge and learning itself, will be the masters of knowledge, the capital of our time, and will be the next to create a dearth of wealth. However, this will not a be a national change. The Internet allows a community dedicated to this task to cross national barriers for near-zero cost. So the next educational revolution will be created by an Internet community intent on optimizing the path to knowledge.

Not coincidentally, this is what I am working toward at my company Foobity. I’d turn this into a plug, but we don’t have anything we can show anyone yet.

Why Do Leaders Exist?

May 22, 2007

Why do leaders exist in the first place? I think this originally had to do with emergencies, which are perceived moments of resource scarcity. Let’s say you graph a population making questions and decisions. And lets say it adopts a bell curve distribution. I think the non-emergency versus emergency would look like this.ecomp

In an emergency, resources appear scarce and people give up questioning, planning, and judgement to a minority whose size relative to the population depends on the scale of the emergency. This lines up as many resources as possible behind one plan of action for maximum effect.

Obviously this isn’t the only reason leaders exist. Although it might explain why leaders are sometimes the cause of crises or support perpetual crisis states. Leaders offer inspiration and non-emergency group cohesion. At their best, they establish culture and structure useful limitations around power.

A quick exploration of mapping social connections between people reveals why companies are doomed to commit evil acts after they reach a certain size. I believe this critical size to be 162, but even if I’m wrong about the particular size, the same theory applies.

Lets say that you model the average employee’s company relationships on a two-dimensional plane. We could say that each person knows two other people. This would create a line like this:

Relationship:line.jpg

Organization: longline.jpg

If we really wanted to be true to the average employee relationship model, it would have to look like a ring. Otherwise, the persons on the end of the line would only have one relationship.

But this is hardly what work environments are like. Generally, you know a multitude of people, and may have atleast seen or shaken hands with a multitude more. But how many people do you deeply interact with at company on regular basis? My experience is about three to nine. Sometimes more, but this is rare. So an average employee number of relationships would look like this.

Relationship: hexagon.jpg

Organization: network.jpg

And of course, we have to make the average relationship occurs at all points, so this plane transforms into an approximate geodesic sphere.

icosahedron.jpg

Looking at this system, we can make some guesses about communication. If everyone has everyone else’s phone number, they could call anyone directly. Habit and hierarchy usually prohibit this. If something were to be passed by word of mouth, the minimum travel time would be the distance across a hemisphere to the point diametrically opposite.

Word of mouth: icosahedron2.jpg

If committing a socially unacceptable action (like dumping toxic waste into the water supply, running sweat shops, or giving up information about dissidents to oppressive governments) is based on your connection to the organizational community, then the larger the organization and the more visible you are in it, the less likely you will commit unethical actions. The extreme opposite of accountability is the jerk in an online forum. His anonymity is his protection. The opposite of that is a family. You certainly know where those people sleep at night.

In small organizations, all action goes noticed because communication is direct. With every increase in the size of an organization the distance from point to opposite (however you define opposite) point increases the distances messages about a person have to travel. Increase the distance and you increase signal loss. So if a company says it will do no evil and a core group of people behave this way, then as the company grows, the effect of this ethic gains less impact because cultural signal break down over travel time. It is not that the people are bad people, it’s just impossible to enforce an ethic over a certain size community.

Of course wrong is defined here as what the community sees as wrong.

Feel free to take these images and use them as you wish.

My Friends, My Founders

April 30, 2007

My co-founders are people who can tell me when something is wrong. For example, my co-founder called me today and talked about misgivings he was having about the company. He didn’t see how the company was aligning with a lifestyle that would get him the things he wanted. The beautiful thing is that he was telling me this. I’m so happy to be working with friends who are unafraid of discussing such things. Not only can I discuss my often radical (and sometimes stupid) ideas, but I can operate unafraid.

I hear things like, do you have an A-team or a B-team? Do your co-founders have the proper skill-set? I am lucky that my friends and co-founders have a very dynamic sense of competence where they move from unknown to unknown with little difficulty. But the thing I am happiest about is the sense of fearlessness we manage to generate in our culture. It would be naive to say this is all you need, but you can always acquire skills and more expertise.

An open culture is invaluable and far more difficult to create because it requires the sacrifice of pride. It takes a lot of practice to say, “No, that’s a bad idea,” to someone in the middle of their sentence. And it takes even more practice to not snap back and tell them they’re full of shit. However, when you finally achieve this state, you save so much time!

My company will be invulnerable to innovative stagnation and incumbency collapse. To do this, when the company reaches 162 people it starts giving two fully-payed-months to 27 people to go and start their own companies. This means that every two months, 27 people leave the organization and 27 come back.

Most of these groups will break off into two and three person founding groups. These people would be cut-off entirely from the management structure and strongly discouraged from communication with the central corporation. You would not be allowed to come to work.

Some of you may be familiar with Google’s policy of 80/20 time. 80% of the time you work on company projects, and 20% is reserved for your own. But since you are connected to the social structure, no matter how liberal the management, you still end up working 120% of the time if you choose to work on side projects. This problem is why the breach between the central company and the startup teams has to be severe for true innovation to occur.

The advantages to this internal form of startup is that if you fail, you still keep your job. And most of the projects will fail. But some of them will succeed and cause the company to grow. As the central group grows beyond 162, it will spawn groups based on these internal startup successes.

Of course, compensation will have to match people’s time investment, otherwise it will make more sense for people to leave the company and start their own companies. So if your internal startup succeeds, it will be absorbed by the central company and the startup team will get a reward equivalent to being acquired in the startup market.

A company that grows haphazardly creates a debilitating management structure. I say that no amount of good managing can create efficiency in a group that has grown beyond 162 because the amount of associations people would need to have a sense of belonging and group responsibility are well out of the human channel capacity.

To remedy this, when a company reaches 162 employees, a few members of the group will split off and form another group. These people will have their own central management and be physically distanced from the first group. When this new group reaches 162, it does the same, and so on.

Note for those who read “The Tipping Point”
I pick 162 over Gladwell’s 150 because I believe channel capacity to be related to a geometric structure based on the closest packing of spheres. If you think I might be totally insane (and I might be), you’ll find it interesting to note that Gore Associates (one of Gladwell’s examples) doesn’t have an average of 150 fifty employees per facility, but 7500 employees per 45 facilities, an average of approximately 167 employees per group.