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Reading :: Swarmwise

Posted by: on Mar 8, 2014 | No Comments
Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual for Changing the World
By Rick Falkvinge

His bio says "Rick Falkvinge is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, which has representation in the European parliament and has spawned Pirate Parties in more than 60 other countries." And in this book, accessible as a free download (PDF) and a printed book, he discusses how he founded it, organized it, grew it, and led it to victory.

Specifically, he discusses how leading a swarm is different from leading other sorts of organizations:
A swarm organization is a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers that looks like a hierarchical, traditional organization from the outside. It is built by a small core of people that construct a scaffolding of go-to people, enabling a large number of volunteers to cooperate on a common goal in quantities of people not possible before the net was available. (p.14).
Swarms, he says, are not leaderless—they need leaders. But that leadership involves articulating and projecting values and then persuading others—anyone who chooses to join the swarm—to take them up in specific projects:
A key aspect of the swarm is that it is open to all people who want to share in the workload. Actually, it is more than open — everybody in the whole world is encouraged to pick work items off a public list, without asking anybody’s permission, and just start doing them. There is no recruitment process. Anybody who wants to contribute to the goal, in his or her own way and according to his or her own capacity, is welcome to do so. (p.19).
Another key aspect is that it is transparent—in values, participation, operation, etc. Falkvinge does a nice job of alternating between describing such principles and telling the story of the Pirate Party, a story that nicely illustrates his points. Throughout the rest of the book, he describes how to launch and organize a swarm, how to control the vision without controlling the message, lead the swarm daily, avoid the traps of too much democracy (getting bogged down in votes) or too much bureaucracy, and managing radical growth. Each chapter is clear, concise, engaging, and well illustrated.

If you've been following this blog, you may see a lot of overlap with Arquilla & Ronfeldt's work, although there are differences as well. Arguably, Falkvinge's is a more radical concept, but I can certainly see productive contact points. Compared to that earlier work, this book is less scholarly, less analytical, and more of a how-to.

It's also very easy to read and engaging. Although the PDF is about 300pp, I read nearly all of it in one sitting. If you're interested in developing and leading swarms, or just in how they might operate, you should too.