Project Anarchy

October 3, 2014


Recently I’ve been writing a series of posts on a rather radical methodology that I call Swarming. I describe it as a method that enables individuals to become part of whatever team they like and work on whatever they want. They can follow their passions wherever they choose (in fact they must) without interference or even guidance from a hierarchy (managers, coaches – nobody). I’m quite keen on the ideas, but it occurred to me that what I’m advocating might be indistinguishable from anarchy!

So I hustled over to wikipedia to look up anarchy. Here’s what I found:

The word anarchy comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία, anarchia, from ἀνan, “not, without” + ἀρχόςarkhos, “ruler”, meaning “absence of a ruler”, “without rulers”).

Oh my. That is what I’m talking about! One of the fundamental rules of swarming is there is no single controlling entity or “ruler”. So swarming could indeed be described as a form of anarchy by this definition. Now it turns out that anarchy has more than one definition, and in common parlance, the word seems to be mostly associated with the political definition:

Proponents of anarchism (known as “anarchists”) advocate stateless societies based on what are sometimes defined as non-hierarchical organizations, and at other times defined as voluntary associations.

That’s interesting. That is pretty much what I have been advocating. Maybe I am an anarchist after all. But I’m from Seattle, and here in the Northwest we know what anarchists are. We have a bunch of them around here. Anarchists are gangs of masked hooligans that roam the streets and break shop windows whenever the WTO comes to town. They’re a real pain in the ass. I’m not one of those clowns.

However, strangely enough, as I become more experienced with software development projects, the less I find myself trusting traditional management institutions. I yearn for a place that is free of hierarchy (non-hierarchical organizations), where we have the opportunity to pursue whatever tickles our fancy.

But allow me to make this argument: Swarming does have very simple rules. I don’t think of anarchy as having rules, so I don’t believe that Swarming can be called anarchy. Actually there is a variant of anarchism that fits my notion of Swarming rather well: anarcho-syndicalism.

Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

Ooh! That’s much more like it! What a mouthful. I especially like the “meeting human needs” part. Wow. So that’s what I am. Damn, I guess Brian Marick was right.