“I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics. If the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition. I've always lived my life that way. It's nice, it's pleasant - if you can do it. I'm lucky in my life that I can do this.”
Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Ceptr: Emergence instead of Assembly

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This post is a response and reflection on this video posted by Nicolas in the Ceptr General slack channel:

For me, Nicolas did a good job of framing the problem and creating a relatable visual presentation. My commentary starts around the 2:30 mark … at boostrapping. I resonated with the idea that there is one initial group which acts as a crystallizing seed. I did not resonate with the idea that it is a bootstrapping process. I would like to instead suggest that the initial group already exists. It doesn’t suddenly come into being, neither by casting a spell nor by applying organizational theory.

I will try to draw another picture, less generic and more specific to Ceptr. Still I want to emphasize this is just an example, I do not have all the information I would need to create a precise picture. Also, I feel that the two-dimensional visual language is too limiting to communicate a whole image, but it may be enough to at least shine light on another view.

Ceptr Emergence

Our story starts with two people – Arthur and Eric. It is both close to a real beginning and a simple example to demonstrate people coming together:

How did they come together? I would suggest that even that simple diagram is already flawed. Arthur and Eric didn’t come together in a void, they came together around something. For example, they may have come together aroud a field of alternative-currencies:

What is important here is that Arthur and Eric did not create the alternative currency center. It WAS already there, it was the beginning, it brought them together (The dimensions in this diagram can also be misleading. I do not think that Arthur and Eric are “larger” centers then alternative currency. If anything, alternative currency is more like a distant sun, while Arthur and Eric are like small planets or moons.)

As Arthur and Eric placed more attention and energy into the alternative currency center it became more alive … more concrete … and more specific … the MetaCurrency project:

Which had some latent centers in it.

In fact, I am convinced that those latent were already there in some way in the still “separate” Arthur and Eric fields. The MetaCurrency field created nourishing conditions for things which were already there to emerge. Just as MetaCurrency emerged from the more general alternative-currency field … so did these latent centers come into focus … they became more living centers:

And in each of these centers were already present other latent centers, that in a similar way went from being dormant to gaining more focus and life.

For example, Wealth Stewardship center … is that where Ceptr emerged?

And within Ceptr, similarly latent centers came into focus and being:

And one center is now getting more attention than others:

What is Latent?

What do I mean by latent?

A tree is latently present in a seed.

A handful pf sunflower-seed oil is latent in a single sun-flower seed. That seed is planted, it grows into a plant that grows more seeds that are pressed into oil.

You cannot press oil out of grains of sand … because the potential for it isn’t there.

Everything in the natural world comes into being in this way. Nature does not assemble pieces into wholes. Nature does not move trees around to become a forest, leaves are not attached to branches. Everything grows in place. Wholeness cannot be built, it can only emerge, unfold.

Expanding

It is possible to describe this process as zooming in, but that may turn out to be a misleading assumption kind of like sunsets. What is actually happening here is that as the smaller centers become better defined, more differentiated, more alive … the larger centers expand. Just as an embryo does not grow from “cells being added on” but from internal enhancement … so does Ceptr.

This kind of emerging / unfolding growth can be echoed all the way down to units and lines of code by making sure that every unit is always whole … it can always compile, everything can always produce results, never wrong … getting righter with every iteration.

Consider a simple expression:

if ( x == y) myVar = myFunc(arg1, arg2);

I start to type:

if (

but I don’t remember the names of the variables … so one option is to leave it there broken! and go seek … or I can first make it whole:

if ( true ) myVar = myFunc(

and again I don’t remember the function arguments … so either leave it broken .. or first make it whole:

if ( true ) myVar = 1;

then build up the condition … wholer:

if ( x == y ) myVar = 1;

then look up the function … initially with test values … wholer yet:

if ( x == y ) myVar = myFunc(1,4, ‘abc’);

then place in the correct variables … maybe even one by one … wholer and wholer:

if ( x == y ) myVar = myFunc(arg1,arg2, arg3);

An expression unfolds (as a seed becomes tree) … so can a function, a class, a module … you are creating a whole (you know what role a line plays in a function, a function plays in a module, a module plays in an application, an application plays in our gift to the world) … and when you work this way you can almost feel how every line of code is purposeful and (when created well) resonates throughout the project … expanding from the inside out.

Returning to Wholeness

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This is where I want to go back to Nicolas’ point of origin … what he called “bootstrapping”. Start with a group that is obviously there … though there may be a few, I would try to choose “the one” which is core-est. Identify what it does and who is a part of it.

For example … a beginning of Arthur and Eric working on Ceptr – the root do-op:

At one point a latent center appears … storytelling is needed because Arthur and Eric want to communicate with others and people are asking what is Ceptr?

That latent center acts as a kind of attractor … and Matthew and Ferananda appear on the horizon .. hovering around … still not quite a part of Ceptr.

Until the latent story-telling center comes to life … in which case Matthew and Ferananda join the do-op  (still a Ceptr do-op) … they are assimilated:

And as the work continues, the do-op starts to feel “too integrated” even a little crowded. A natural division forms … developers want to focus on development, story-tellers on narrative … staying too close together feels disruptive. The group decides to separate by forming a new do-op dedicated to story-telling. When they do this they are very much aware of their mutual existence and their relationship and cross-fertilization … but now, to create more clarity and focus they become two do-ops:

The separation causes an overall expansion of Ceptr. Already there is clarity regarding two spaces: one technical where the code is written and the about interfacing with the world. Additional latent centers may appear either in the Ceptr do-op or the StoryTelling do-op … those centers again becoming attractors for more people … who may gradually be integrated … lead to further growth and further separations and further expansions … on and on.

As more people join the project and more is happening in it, its gravitational pull may increase and people may start appearing around it … hovering … looking for a way to connect:

… and this may lead to a new vague center / field …

This field can be tricky. I believe it is imperative that the assimilation process continue as described above … allowing for people to join an existing center and being attentive to the emergence of new latent centers around which people can come together. Assimilation should be informed by the emergent internal needs of the project NOT by the externalities that hover around it (people,  projects or ideas).

This layer may become a fertile ground for other surprising kinds of dynamics. People may discover shared interests and form new groups around but not directly a part of Ceptr:

Maybe links may form with other projects …

It may tempting to think of this as an attempt to draw a line between internal/external … but though thay may be a consequence is it NOT the point. The point is, again, that growth does not happen by attaching parts from the outside, but by the formation of centers / needs / ideas on the inside … those ideas becoming attractors for other people who find their place INSIDE what already is.

Flat not Hierarchical

Finally I want to go back to the end of Nicolas’ presentation:

When a do-op / group does form:

  1. Recognize your co-creators … if a group has formed the finding should not be necessary.
  2. Identify your name – it is already present in your field.
  3. Yes, short summary of the group intention.
  4. Do not define, you may have an initial vague idea of such things  … birth the group and see what wants to be … discover what decision processes work for you, how you wish to communicate with internally and with other groups … do not spend energy on functions/roles … don’t make declarations … get to work … real functions and roles will emerge.
  5. YES … (please, please, please) get a website. But more importantly this implies that the work-spaces are not organized in a hierarchy but thay they are a flat list with interconnections (there are no sites within sites).

I’ve written a sample of an unfolding process that can guide us in forming do-ops (workgroups) in this way. The point of that sample process is to make growth and expansion an act of group-awareness (and not an act of copy-pasting a text template that anyone can do).

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