Dark Matter Labs: rethinking organizing #BeyondTheRules – with Indy Johar and Annette Dhami



Dark Matter Labs: rethinking organizing #BeyondTheRules – with Indy Johar and Annette Dhami

Indy Johar and Annette Dhami from Dark Matter join us to talk about discovering, designing, and developing the institutional “Dark Matter” that supports a more democratic, distributed, and sustainable future.

Podcast Notes

Dark Matter is a multidisciplinary design team developing new working methods for system change. Today we’re joined by Indy Johar and Annette Dhami to discuss their mission of discovering, designing, and developing the institutional ‘dark matter’ that supports a more democratic, distributed, and sustainable future.


Indy Johar is a founding Director of 00 and Dark Matter Labs. An architect by training, Indy is a Senior Innovation Associate with the Young Foundation and a visiting Professor at the University of Sheffield. He co-founded Impact Hub Birmingham and Open Systems Lab, and was a member of the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission. He is a thought leader in system change, the future of urban infrastructure finance, outcome-based investment, and the future of governance.


Annette Dhami spent over a decade building, operating and driving mission-led (and often place-based) organisations and networks, including Impact Hubs (Brixton and Islington) and the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, exploring how we organise, finance, use buildings, build networks and create economies for shared benefit. Annette joined Dark Matter Labs in 2020 to focus more deeply on how we organise and operate (in theory and creating this in practice) for transition. She holds the organising and operational work of the international Dark Matter Labs ecosystem (read more about that here), and explores these organising questions more deeply in the multi-partner #BeyondtheRules project.


Key highlights of the conversation

We discussed:

  • Dark Matter Labs’ ambitions for creating a real learning organization.
  • Governing by building learning capacity inside organizations.
  • The theory of “genius”: make people accountable through care and learning.
  • The ability to work diagonally across local and global dimensions.
  • Creating markets and new theories of value.
  • The tension and spectrum between “patronizing” governance and fostering autonomous (almost autocratic) entrepreneurialism.
  • Making space for care and innovation at every point in the system.


To find out more about Annette Dhami and Indy Johar’s work:


Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at https://boundaryless.io/resources/podcast/


Thanks for the ad-hoc music to Liosound / Walter Mobilio. Find his portfolio here: https://boundaryless.io/podcast-music


Recorded on 26 October 2021.


🌐 Boundaryless Conversations Podcast is about exploring the future of organizing at scale by leveraging on technology, network effects, and shaping narratives. We explore how platforms can help us play with a world in turmoil, change, and transformation: a world that is at the same time more interconnected and interdependent than ever but also more conflictual and rivalrous.


The following is a semi-automatically generated transcript that has not been thoroughly revised by the podcast host or by the guest. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Simone Cicero:
Hello, everyone. Simone here as always, your co-host of The Boundaryless Conversations Podcast. And today for the second episode of the season, we have two very special friends from Dark Matter Labs, Annette Dhami.

Annette Dhami:
Hi, Simone. Great to be here. Thank you.

Simone Cicero:
And my good friend, Indy Johar.

Indy Johar:
Hi, Simone. Lovely to be here.

Simone Cicero:
And of course, I have my usual co-host and partner in crime in this podcast, Sina Heikkila.

Stina Heikkila:
Hello, everyone. Nice to be here.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you all for joining us today. I think today is going to be a slightly special conversation because we are really, again talking about – citing my guests today – we’re going to talk about the dark matter of organizing. Which is something that many of us that are venturing out to this new space of non-traditional, I would say, or post-industrial in many ways, organizations deal with all the time, especially as founders, or designers, or sometimes as consultants. But that’s the point, I think, we are talking about how do we build new types of institutions. And I recall this conversation – the idea for this conversation started from recent series that Dark Matter Labs is producing on Medium: Organizing Beyond the Rules. That really was a great eye opener for me on many fronts about the depth and complexity of showing up as part of an organization that transcends the traditional idea of sitting somewhere getting orders about what you have to do.

On the other hand, I think in my experience, I’m wrangling myself continuously let’s say with this idea of understanding how much we should be caring about governance in our organizations, instead of how much maybe we should be caring about, I don’t know, creating value more generally? Or from a more traditional perspective, making our organization sustainable by creating products or enterprising somebody would say. So maybe we can start from there? I mean, sometimes I see all this conversation around governance and taking care of how we organize a bit wasteful. And sometimes I feel like we should really acknowledge the cultural biases that we have when we approach this. And last week I said something that created some debate on Twitter. I said, our organization’s should be maybe less about addressing trauma and more about addressing drama. I don’t know if this is a good starting point for the conversation and who wants to jump in, maybe reconnecting these points with your experience at Dark Matter Labs.

Indy Johar:
I’m happy to jump in and sort of build a bridge in that situation. So, I think intuitively, what you’re feeling is right. This has been an overhead in many systems, because it’s been effectively a control architecture, an architecture of control. And as our systems have become more and more complex, the overhead of control has had to become more complex, vast amounts of money to be invested in it, and also reduction of freedom, and also the reduction ability to create value. Now, I think that’s a function of a control model of governance in a complex emergent world. And I think that’s because we’ve got an industrial worldview, an industrial idea of the world, and we’re governing through industrial idea. I think there’s a different way of governing, which is not about governing, but it’s actually about building the learning capacity, and building governance not through a control theory, but through a learning capacity, which fundamentally transforms the theory of governance, which is not about controlling agents, but actually building the meta learning capacity for the system to become smarter at the front end.

So, in that model, it’s not a control model, it’s an ennoblement model. Governance becomes the ennoblement models that make every one of us smarter, and help us learn and compound our learning. And that theory is not just about learning internally, but it’s actually learning at a stakeholder level. So, I think in a complex emergent age, we actually have to shift from a control model of governance where everyone else’s seemed to be directly controlled to a learning model. And at that moment you turn it from being an overhead to actually being of fundamental valuation in the complex emergent world. Because no individual can produce the complex things that we need to make. So, they require complex collaboration and learning to become a fundamental mechanism to do that, especially if we can deal with it in a structural sense. That would be my way of taking, which I think intuitively what you’re saying is right. I think but shifting the kind of whole landscape.

And I think that to me has been the fundamental exploration in DM, and learning is — and to make learning, I think means you have to create space. So, Adam Purvis in our organization, one of these key roles is to make space. And jokingly, when I first talked him, I said please tell me to fuck off and shut up. Because space happens when you actually are able to create space, regardless of who it is. And then you also have to create the integrity and the detail of how you make decisions. And I think one of the most amazing things that’s brought to the organization is a really fantastic decision making process. And the integrity of our decision making process actually has been really, really powerful. I’m just using two examples. But fundamentally, if you’re going to build a learning organization, you have to be able to build that learning capacity in the system. But you’re also going to have to be able to build that learning capacity as a structural behavior.

So, when you talk about trauma, the reality is, if many people have been, have been operating organizations where actually learning wasn’t the modality but was control, or they are precarious, psychologically precarious because of actually economic history that they’ve been living in that actually learning becomes difficult. And actually fear and other mechanisms are more easily appropriated. So, to build a learning organization is also about creating the stability, and the structural capacities of a learning organization, which is just everyone, rather than those that are living in the kind of illusions of, or the privileges of non-precarious environments. And that becomes actually a fundamental structural thing of the organization itself, building itself into that future. So, I mean, just to bridge that conversation that way.

Annette Dhami:
I think I would maybe add some things to what you were saying in terms of our context as well. I feel like there’s questions about agency that are entangled with this. You know, our context is the work that we’re doing is really looking at these wicked socio-economic problems. And we know that really, for us to be able to show up to, for the level of complexity and interdependence that those problems are set with really requires agency from all of us, all of us to be able to step into our different crafts, our different realms of creativity that we can bring to the questions, our different perspectives that brings our frames, our unique ways of thinking. And so for me, governance is really entangled with that question of, well, what does it mean for there to be the — even the possibility of real deeply distributed agency and people to feel able to step into agency.

And the governance framework that we were looking at and talking around on the Medium blogs around looking at the balance between accountability and risk holding, responsibility and power and autonomy, and how they sit out in a system is really deeply entangled with this question around what does it really mean to unlock the agency of people who are working towards these different questions? So, in that sense, I don’t see it as a — Yeah, I see it in a different way, rather than as an overhead. But perhaps an enabling condition, to be able to really bring that entrepreneurial approach and create the maximum value that you can create towards these sorts of questions.

Simone Cicero:
This conversation makes me think about the need to embed in our newest organizational prototypes, some of the roles that we use to attribute to traditional solutions, like, for example, agency. You know, probably in the industrial age, we were used to companies that normally didn’t really care about agency. This was something more at a social level, more at the level of the nation state, maybe, a responsibility of the nation state that of ensuring that everybody has the right agency in society. And instead, I’m seeing you talking about the need to create this organization in a way that takes over these problems, for example, agency. And to some extent, this also reconnects with the idea of what is the role of this organization that you are building. Because, technically, if you look at the context we live in today, we live in a specialized society, where normally organizations have to have their business model, let’s say. They have to be sustainable from a perspective of, I would say, a financial sustainability perspective.

And so they have to have products, they have to be efficient, they have to be sustainable and the P&L, positive P&L let’s say, profit and loss. And if you connect the dots, essentially you arrive at the moment where you say in a society where technology purpose is, transaction cost is very low. To some extent, I will be tempted to think about organizations as very low governance, very much made of independent cells that coordinate and create the space inside of them, these cells, to basically be very autocratic and very team-ocratic, if you want, team-ocratic, in terms of team, team at the helm, let’s say. So, to some extent, I see that your way to really invest in governance and designing — making these dark matter visible, let’s say, it’s for you a way to say no, we want to refuse this society, and we want to create a new form of institution. This is not a company. This wants to address weaker problems, systemic problems.

So, this is the first thing I wanted to bounce back to you as a reflection, but as a faster, quick reflection, one point that I want to raise is, isn’t this problematic if we look at the context of complexity? So, why should such an organization address a systemic problem? Shouldn’t these organizations address a local problem? So, shouldn’t be caring about, for example, its own community landscape instead of having this idea that it can engage with these very high-level, high systemic problems? I mean, doesn’t it call in some kind of organizational hubris, if you want. I mean, of course, I’m not criticizing. I’m bringing these problems on the table and understanding what is the role of our organization? What should be the role of our organizations? What do you think about that?

Indy Johar:
Yeah. This is great. Okay. Simone, very good. Thank you for bringing this to the table. Lots of different points. So, one, I think the question, I think there’s a fundamental difference between organization developed for what I would call commodity value. So, if you’re trading commodity pre-understood value and you’re trading it, that is a machine system to which humans may be involved, but actually, it’s a pre-configured so to say for the products you make. You sell the products and services and you commoditize that value. I think that is one theory of value creation. I think another theory of value creation is that you are actually an organization which is in the act of continuous discovery. So, you’re not focused on products or services, which actually is a discovery of value.

Now, when you’re in the continuous discovery of value, the conditions for that are fundamentally different to commodity value organizations. Commodity value organizations is about predictability, it’s about control, it’s about precision, it’s about quality control, which is actually different to where you are trying to actually discover value in that thesis. And if you’re trying to discover value, then I think you have to create the context for living in that precarity, you have to build a different type of capacity of an organization to deal with it. So, that’s one thing I think it’s worth us recognizing. And I think one of the intuitive things is that, in a way, for me, is the fundamental value of an organization in the 21st century is the human.

And why I say that is that actually in an age of automation and proceduralization, actually, the full dimensional unlocking of human value, which I think is actually complex, creativity, care, complex cognition, all of that stuff, to address problems that are not pre-understood, is fundamentally a different form of value information, and requires a different form of corporate theory. And most of our corporate theory is organized around proceduralization, commodification, and unitary value. So, I think it’s us, and I think we intentionally are, now I don’t think we ever talked about this publicly, we are intentionally focused on what is a new human organization, which is actually about unlocking the full capacity of being human.

Now, the second part of this question is about the state. And again, I think it’s a really interesting point and we have internally, have had this debate of what is the role of DM in terms of internally and externally. And there is a fundamental difference between what I would say is a population level response and a company level response. So, a population level response can look at whole population effects, micro biases in society of biases and society at three or 4%, right. So, you can talk about — I think you can you — At a population level, you can talk about all sorts of discrimination in that level.

Now, when you get to a company level effect, we have to start to talk about the intersectional effects on individuals, because actually the population, you are not a population, we’re not a population size. We are — everyone is particular with intersectional realities of their life. That requires us to understand and actually create context in a completely different way. So, I think there’s a role for companies to address the intersectional effects of people. And there’s a role of states to talk about population level biases, and inequalities that exists at a systemic level.

Now, that means that companies have a role to play, and I think states have a role to play. I don’t think it’s about one or the other. No doubt about it, I think we are living in an age where I think states are regressing from there. I think what they need to be focused on is unlocking the full capacity of all humans. And I don’t think states are doing what they’re doing. So, we may be living in a period very similar to the 19th century, where the corporations were providing — originally started to provide new forms of welfare in new forms of, whether it’s housing and other formations, because it was fundamental to the value engine that we’re discovering.

Now, I’m not trying to compare DM to any of those things, I think there’s much better organizations doing that than DM. But I think there’s something going on where actually states are no longer able to quote the social contract, to do the new theory of unlocking agency. And I think companies are having to do it. Which I think is a massive issue, because it creates huge losses, and overheads and systems which could be done at the national level. So, I don’t think this should be an inherent function. I think this is a function that’s happening as a result of the loss, loss of capability. So, those are three things.

The final thing, the final point for me would be, I think, a company, for me, is just an organization of people. And I think whether we’re dealing with complex problems, or whether we’re dealing with you could argue, is it hubris to build a platform called Facebook, which actually has how many billion people versus to build a company like Apple, which builds technology, which billions of people use? I’m not sure the hubris is in the attempt to solve these problems. I think the real problem is when you monopolize and rent seek through these platforms and frameworks.

And I think the question for me is actually, it is important that we start to deal with a new theory of organizing. That’s why I would say what, I find it refreshing, and it’s been a real pleasure to see and that’s leadership on this is that I think we have to mirror what we’re talking about outside in terms of dealing with complexity, to actually build some of those capabilities inside. And I think it’s a fundamental DNA thing about how you organize internally, and how you organize externally to build actually those frameworks. And I think it does challenge theories of boundary, theories of what is the boundary of the organization. And is an organization built through boundary, is it built through momentum, is it built through taxonomy? And I think it will challenge many of these preconceptions over time as we evolve into it. But yeah, all great questions, and I do appreciate them.

Annette Dhami:
Just going to pick up on a couple of parts to your question as well, Simone. You spoke a bit about the context of working in complexity and some of the specifics of that. So, I thought I’d just speak to a couple of those. I know you mentioned about, like, why not organize independent cells that are coordinated with each other. And I think that, in the context of this type of work that we’re doing, it’s kind of a yes-and. So, I think in many ways, we do have a heavy element of that in the way that we organize. There’s lots of sort of distributed organizing, where people form into groups, for particular pieces of work, people move around, those can — units can unform and reform into new ones quite readily.

And part of the way that — our way of organizing kind of enables that ready movement around the system. But if all of that movement was done independently, and there wasn’t a bit more of a supporting — I mean, I know in your work, you talked about shared services that they might collaborate around. And whilst I think that there is an element of that there are services, if you will, kind of billing and hiring, support, and tech and tools and things that are done at a more centralized level. There are other types of platforms that are really important for this type of work.

So, for example, like the learning piece is so important in this circumstance of complexity. If we had lots of independent units that weren’t speaking to each other, we didn’t have other forms of being able to compound the learning between each of their work, we would lose a huge amount of understanding creation that happens from when they come together, and they can pull their perspectives on questions from lots of different angles. So, there’s like a real compounding of value that’s created from the ability to do that. And again if we didn’t have things in place that were helping to support the agency of the different — all the different people who are partaking in that, we’d end up with actually, maybe independent units, but a real variation of agency within those units. And so there would still be a bias towards the people that the systems were more readily set up to support the agency of.

So, I feel that some of these other components that we feel like critical platforms for this type of work really speak to the part of our context of complexity that’s in it. And why not just focus on local problems? I mean, I think, in many ways we do, again, I feel like it’s a bit of a yes-and. Many of us have come to Dark Matter Labs from that. So, starting to work on local problems, and just finding how stuck you get after a while, because our local questions are so entangled with much broader questions. And there’s only so much movement you can make without actually looking at those wider questions that the dark matter, the deep codes, all sorts of sort of questions that sit across local contexts. So, we both work at a local level, and that broader deep code level so that we can try and kind of work at different levels of the system at the same time.

Stina Heikkila:
Thanks for that. And I wanted to come back to what you said Indy about this commodity value is one theory. And then we have sort of the discovery of value and trying to create that human organization like you are doing. So, I’m curious about going more in to that and think about what your ambition might be with this kind of prototyping that you’re doing. So, you’re clearly testing to create a real learning organization, from what I understand. And there is an element of wanting to influence systemic issues by doing that. So, it’s almost like – and I don’t know if you are aiming at some kind of standardization, maybe it’s impossible – but I’m curious to know, like, is that something that you want to go into, like scaling this, making this easier for others to sort of replicate, start to work with the same kind of processes that you do?

So, that’s one part of my question, is there an ambition to scale? And then also, I know Annette you said that you have also come from a little bit social enterprise arenas and so on in the past. So, I’m wondering, also, can this also be applied then to an organization that does produce products? You know, because one would think that we also need to change our production systems, and maybe sort of rethink on how we produce commodities in the capitalist system, because mass consumption and mass commoditization is also not — we know, it’s not a very positive outcome. So, that’s kind of my two questions. One, do you want to scale this human organization, so others can imitate and adapt, and so on? And do you think that by extension, you can also have companies producing products using the same kind of system that you’re trying to build?

Indy Johar:
So, I try to be ambivalent to scale. I sometimes find scale is a bit of a trap because the conversation evokes I want to be a 1,000 person organization or a 10,000 person — So, it’s like some kind of game, whereas actually, I’m not that particularly interested in the conversation of scale through a quantum idea. What I’m interested in is the efficacy required to organize human capital to be able to actually do complex things. So, one of my big frustrations with social enterprise is they’re sometimes great at making chocolate, but useless largely at building complex things. And that’s not a function of — And fair trade is probably one of the big exceptions, I would argue – or Fair Phone – is one of the few exceptions that really got into complex things.

Now, the reason — I sort of slightly over exaggerate to make a point. But my point being that I think if we’re going to deal with the complex, anything complex, I think we have to build capabilities, which are polymathic. So, what I’m very interested in is how you build polymathic organizations, organizations with different polymathic capabilities, which can be hybridized to create complex things of the world. That requires us to have a typology of scale.

Now, the question is, when do you fall back into your theory of scale into seeing humans as a control unit model? So, as soon as you start to put the sort of humans as subordinates to the roles, rather than the roles being fluid to the humans, I think you flip the model, we make it different. So, then the question is, how do you build a human organization in terms of learning in development oriented and not control oriented as much as possible with the platform? So, I think, for me, the problem is about polymathic capabilities to deal with the complex challenges we face and then building the institutional infrastructure which allows for a relational non-control oriented organization. And that, to me, is a stretch question. Right? I don’t know what that limit is.

I purposely am denying the theory of there being a limit, that I think is factually true. I’m not assuming a Dunbar number. I’m not assuming any of these things that they are natural limits. I think we will learn and adapt and I think we’re learning and adapting continuously about what type of infrastructures are required to do that. And we’re learning all the time about that. And I think we were talking the other day about, actually, the need for more pop-up studios, a sense of isolation. So, I think there’ll be new frameworks to deal with this stuff as we evolve. So, that’s number one.

The second point is, I totally agree with you about the asset. I merely use that as an illustration of where a commodity economy versus what I would call a kind of discovery or sort of development society. The reality is we need all of our assets, all assets should go from being assets as objects to being generative things, all products are not products, but their generative framework. So, when you start to see things as not objects but becomings, then you need a learning framework at the center of it. So, control does not work for thing in becoming. So, I think as you become a becoming product making – when the product is a becoming – agency it’s evolving, then learning becomes fundamental to that organization. And I think that, I think would.

So, what I showed as a polarity to make a point, actually, I would say is going to be a convergence. And that learning model, if we turn — go from objects to becomings, then we have to fundamentally not only imagine the orchestration of the organization, but also the orchestration of capital. So, how do you finance things which are actually learning development models? And I think only the — I would say, very, very big organizations like Apple itself have been able to do that, because the surpluses that are generated systemically, are allowing them to innovate in these structural formats, and outside control and take the risk of being outside of the control modalities. And even Apple, I think, is a very control oriented organization in that theory. So, that’s how I would probably intuitively respond around both those things in that way. Annette will come in and make everything better.

Annette Dhami:
No, I won’t. No, I thought that was really interesting what you were saying, Indy. And I think the question around products really, it speaks to some of the DM work that yourself and others in the team have been doing around self-sovereign things, which I’ve not been so involved in. And your question about how do these apply to organizations that produce products, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s something that we’ve been actively looking to explore, because our aim in exploring this isn’t how can we create a model that we can then scale and give to other people? Because I do think a lot of it is contextualized, I think a lot of the Insight is in the questions that are asked.

And in the way that people probe their scenarios, and the types of probes. You can spot ways that people are experimenting, but the nuance of it is very specific to different contexts. So, I’m not sure there is a model that people can pick up and implement in different settings. I think there are great questions and thought frameworks and ways to unpick things that people can work through in their own contexts. And I guess the only thing that initially came up — one of the things that came up when you were actually asking that was one of the things that I found really interesting, for example, when reinventing organizations, by Laloux came out was how many in there were actually product based companies, for example, which you might not have expected. So, yeah, those were just some thoughts I had about those questions.

Simone Cicero:
I’m a bit puzzled. You know, for example, when you say, we don’t sell — we are not a product organization, what kind of sustainability model does Dark Matter have? You know, what is the skin in the game? What is the entrepreneurial accountability here? Because that’s a crucial point. Let me explain a bit more. As long as you are on the market, the risk I see is that all these things that we talk about, and I mean, as an opposite of being on the market, I’m talking about dealing with local context, landscape, essentially land and community. For me, either you work on the market, specialized society, or you operate at a level of creating fundamental economies locally, like agriculture, energy production, welfare, education, whatever, but at a very embedded level. That’s in opposition, I would say. Not it’s an opposition, it’s a different space than one that you seem to operate, which is much more global, mission-driven.

So, if you are in the market, then the risk I see is then we’re just patronizing people. You know what I mean? The people that work in the organization, if they don’t have skin in the game, they’re not entrepreneurially accountable, the risk I see is that we’re just, maybe there is a strong leadership in the organization that makes the case for taking care and governance and whatever and we just patronize people. And my question, and then I have another thing that I wanted to draw, but the first question for you, and maybe for Annette that is much more into the practicalities, as I understand of organizing and designing these processes, I’m sure, Indy, you also do this. But the question will be, what are the artifacts in your organization that ensure that, first of all, all the people have risk-holding and all the people have accountability? And secondly, how do you avoid patronizing people? How do you avoid a governance structure that imposes a cultural bias for care and sharedness that the nurse and open communication instead of efficiency, self-organization, bubbles of coordination that do not necessarily have to, for example, talk to each other. So, it’s much more about letting people do their job, and letting them focus on producing their — giving their contribution. So, this is the first thing.

And as a side note, I want to drop this point, which is related to really the human development thesis that Indy broad brought up and also the idea that you want to design an organization where there is a plurality of expressions for the humans involved in this design enough, I would say diverse or careful ways of governance, you can express really the plurality of human development thesis, which I totally buy as an objective of the organization. That’s something that I can buy in, having an organization where we can express a diversity of leadership contribution. Why, maybe in the traditional way that I also sometimes seem to promote, is much more entrepreneurial, it’s much more about one monolithic thesis of development, that is the one of the entrepreneur.

But my point here is, I am afraid that if we do not reinvent the organization to these fundamental problems, which are somehow detached from this mission complexity, that happens at much broader scales. So, we are talking about recasting our organization in a much smaller scale, much community embed, much more landscape embedded scale, we cannot really unlock this plurality of human development thesis. Because I connect this with the idea of conviviality, for example, from Illich, I don’t know, or others that, to some extent, tell us that we have to restrain a bit if we really want to express the human, the real humanity that we have, to some extent. We have to refuse technology, for example, to some extent. We have to refuse maybe this idea of very powerful and very detailed ways of governance because they, to some extent, they may, I don’t know, overwrite more convenient ways of interacting that may be just in the realm of re-embedding organizations into these fundamental elements of the economy.

So, just as a recap, it was a very long question. I would say that the question is, is Dark Matter on the market or not? If it’s there, maybe selling missions. How do you avoid patronizing people, and how do you increase the risk holding and accountability and the entrepreneurial accountability of everyone if you do, or if you have different thesis, of course? I’m here to learn from you.

Indy Johar:
Yeah, so many good questions in there. I suppose my intuition would be that we don’t operate on the market, and we operate actually in the act of creating markets. And so operating in the market is the precondition notion of value, and thereby you’re trading into an existing value system. Whereas actually, what I think DM tries to do is create new theories of value. Now, then there’s a fundamental question about whether they are market value functions, or they are non-market value functions. And I think there’s some really interesting and important questions about whether land, for example, can be a market function, or whether land exists in a different theory of value.

So, I think there’s a whole bunch of — If we use the market as a kind of an ideal of notional value, then I think we design those things. But I think we don’t necessarily designed to market. I think there’s a limit to market theory as a mechanism of organizing value. And I think it’s very useful at certain moments. So, I think that’s one thing I would say is the way we operate in that dimension. And that is about how we organized towards that. And that could be at the financial level, the contractual level, or the governance level of those things, of those futures. So, a tree is a great example. What is the value that the tree generates, and to whom does it create benefits? And if it’s a co-beneficiary system, how do you ensure a new theory of governance, which means it isn’t optimized just for carbon sequestration, but actually deals with other multi-dimensional forms of value, which are critical.

So, I think what we look at is the construction of those value frameworks. And thereby, we define the thing itself in that process, and you can use the tree as an example. You can look at mental health, you can look at other dimensions of the theories or of civic infrastructures. For me, these are critical civic infrastructures. And you could also talk about organizational theory. So, democracy itself is a piece of intangible asset of society and how societies make decisions. So, we would look at the design and the frameworks of those things of those institutional capabilities. So, I think that’s one part of the question is like, where do we operate?

The second part, I think it’s a really good question. I think we’re currently at the stage where risk and value or skin in the game is constructed socially. And we haven’t crystallized it yet into being constructed technically in the organization. And I think that’s absolutely fine. So, I think this is a journey we’re on. And I think the journey we’re on has been actually slowly evolving that process. But it has, I mean, it has materialized. So, for example, there was a moment when we had a cash flow crisis. And actually, that cash flow crisis was handled really transparently, and people came in and actually put in their own money. So, people perceive the idea of risk and value together in a shared endeavor, and contributed to that transition. And that, I think, is a great example of actually the social capital and the social infrastructure being there for people to be able to do that.

And I think we have — So, we built I think, the social compact, and the governance decision making frameworks and the kind of trust in the infrastructure of how we’re trying to reliably create that. I think what we haven’t yet done is created what I would call incentive pooling system or incentive mechanism, which does that through a technical lens. Now, whether we will do that, and how we will do that is I think up for design and debate yet, and how we pull that sort of stuff. So, I think we’ve been doing it through the integrity, and I think this is really important, in my view, is that, I think and I can take no credit for it.

And I think Annette has been holding this, actually the quality of how the decision making has been held in the organization, and the trust in the information structures, and the trust in the mission and the people’s belief that they are part of something together, which they will together make decisions to, whilst contributing to different components, taking an organization not privileging the theory of management as the theory of value. But actually, everyone’s role having theory of value. So, graphic designers paid in the same form as somebody who would theoretically be one of the management team in that model. So, I think what we’ve created has created this kind of deep institutional layers of that trust. I think, what we haven’t yet done, and we have tested it, as I said at that moment. I think what we haven’t yet done is turn around and fully embed that into a risk reward model.

The final point I would make and I want to hand over is I do think there’s a really open question about the risk reward as an incentive mechanism for organising value. I think that’s a very human economist theory of incentive, the other way of actually seeing it, and I think this is, you know, one of the things that we do do in our paid conversations, as we’re saying, you’re not paid for the work that you do right. We’re not trying to do a trade for value you create, which I think is a very neoclassicist, slightly boring theory of the world. Actually, what we’re trying to do is create the framework for you to be able to live and to do the work that you want to do. So, if you turn pay for being a reward mechanism, to being a piece of infrastructure for you to do the work that you want to do, fundamentally, changes our theory of what is your relationship to the organization.

Now, that can be one dimension of the pay structure and there could be other dimensions of the pay structure, building fundamentally pay not as a reward system, but as a mechanism to do the work that you do, certainly creates a different type of capability in the organization. Now I think there can be employment bonds and other things that we are exploring, which look at future value in different formats that I think could be layered on top of that. But I think I would ask that question. And I think one thing I would say is doing it that way changes who joins the organization. Because people join the organization to do the work they want to do, not join the organization as an incentive system. And I think that’s really critical for the typology of work that we do and the typology of culture.

My final point would be, you’re absolutely right, we’re making an organization decision that actually being orientated around enabling and care actually allows the decentralized agency for people to make smarter decisions at the edges of the organization in periphery with context in a smarter way, than somebody who’s left on their own. So, what we’re building is actually the freedom, the capacity and the kind of structural agency to do that. A freedom which isn’t just about, do what you want, and we’ll penalize you if you get it wrong. But actually a genuine freedom, which isn’t about precarity, but it’s actually about stability. A genuine freedom, which is actually about building the capacity to learn openly and honestly and actually, that builds all of our capacities to be smarter, and reduces thereby the error rate.

So, I think there’s a different theory of organizing that that is possible I think we’re testing. And I would say, DM is not the world. DM is a very, very, very, very, very small part of the world. So, I think we are contributing a contribution to a wider system of transformation, which I think we’re positing a different point of view. So, just to sort of lay across that perspective.

Simone Cicero:
I know Stina has another question. But before jumping into that, maybe to Annette, how do you then organize, you know, continuing this question that Indy has started to highlight, how do you then make sure that if somebody shows up to do the work they want to do, it doesn’t happen that someone else will do the work that they don’t want to do because of their responsibility or maybe just their — because they’re there, and they’re accountable, and so they have to do the work that somebody else doesn’t want to do.

Annette Dhami:
Yeah. Thanks, Simone. I feel like maybe this is also partly linked to a question that you asked that, I mean, Indy covered so much ground there so wonderfully. There was a question that you’d ask that perhaps some could touch upon as part of bundled into this question you just asked as well, which was about patronizing people, and how do you not get into a situation of that, and I feel like maybe this is linked here. So, I’ll see if I can draw a thread through.

Simone Cicero:
It’s definitely linked. That’s the point I was raising, because that’s the way you patronize. Once I do the work that you don’t want to do I can patronize you.

Annette Dhami:
Yeah. I thought you posited a few kind of counteracting frames when you asked that question. And I didn’t capture all of them, but they were really interesting ones. So, the first one you said was over communication versus efficiency. So, efficiency is one of these drivers that has been coming up a lot in the work that we’ve been exploring beyond the roles, particularly how the drive for efficiency, coupled with this kind of 20th century myriads of organizing will create this kind of like scientific approach to — kind of like a mechanistic approaches to organizing and scientific breakdown with a drive for efficiency. Which I find really interesting, because a lot of how I see how that shows up isn’t very inefficient. And I have been looking a lot like, well, why don’t we fit that drive rather than for efficiency, but for efficacy. And it’s interesting how that then sits alongside the point of communication.

So, the ways that DM has kind of been forming to organize the things that we’ve been putting energy into, for example, the compound and learning piece, which we talked about a few times already, that’s really been coming up out of the desire from like a very distributed desire across the team. So, it wasn’t something that was in place in our — We had a very, very loose organizing structure, say a year ago, and increasingly been recognizing the points which makes people’s work incredibly more effective. And one of those was the compounded learning piece. So, as soon as we started to find these really beautiful ways to create learning across the system in a way that compounds, people really expressed how that had transformed their ability to do their work in much better ways. Like, created leaps forward for people to be much more effective in the work that they were doing.

So, in many ways, what we’ve been trying to build is these targeted approaches that speak to what people have been identifying through doing their work, that by creating these shared platforms, we can be much more effective. And I think if we were to really dig down into it, we’d probably find much more efficient. I mean, I don’t know what the normal kind of management or central services overhead is in an organization. I know that where we’ve looked at how much of the time of the team goes into all of the sort of stuff that sits between us, what would typically be management time, but obviously, we’re self-managed so we don’t have days of management in the organization. But all of the different types of operational functions from the practical finance, through to all of the organizing side of things through to governance, it’s about 10%. I’m assuming that’s probably a bit lower insofar as you’d normally have a manager for seven people, and then a central services department, and then an executive team and things like that.

So, I think generally, it’s relatively, it’s quite light touch, and I assume probably a bit more efficient, in fact, possibly even highly more efficient, in many other ways. But really focused on what makes us effective, not just efficient, but effective in the work that we do. And I see that very much being driven from the edges of the organization, from people who are practicing and asking for can somebody put energy into this, because we can see value in it, and we need it across. So, that’s how much of the things have been developed. And care, I think, was one of the ones that you mentioned, has really become part of that. I think very much because risk holding, responsibility and accountability is very distributed across the organization.

And just increasingly, I think it becomes so evident that when people are really set in their agency, when they have the power and the autonomy, to take a direction with work, the responsibility, then to deliver it, the risks that come with that, and the accountability that comes with that, it can be quite an overwhelming place. And so the platform of care then becomes a really critical foundation for people to be able to step into that agency with the security and support that they need for difficult times, or when that intersects with other things that might be happening in their personal life. Everybody’s got their own things going on at the same time. So, that care piece really actually, we found is a really important complement to that risk holding, accountability, responsibility in particular sides, but also the power and autonomy sides of agency and of that overall kind of dominance, if you will.

And I suppose trying to link this back to your final questions, Simone, to how do people if they want to show up to do the work that they want to do; what about the stuff that people don’t want to do? Where does that fall to? You know, who picks that up? It’s a really great question. And I don’t know, I’d be interested also in Indy’s perspective on this. My sense is from the work that I do, because we have — My sense is certainly from the place that I operate within DM because each person within our operations section, if you will, is holding on to an area of our work. Which includes all of the tissue that goes in between those areas of work; the stuff that you’re not expecting, the things that haven’t been planned. There’s a great deal of distributed taking on of those kind of less glamorous tasks that might pop up. I experienced them to be held in a really distributed way, and that people generally see their roles as something that’s taking on a fair share of the whole. That’s my experience within it. Indy, I’d be interested in your perspective on that too.

Indy Johar:
No, very much agree with you. I suppose one of the things I was just speaking to sort of a friend and a colleague of mine, and we were talking about — They were organizing a conference and said, oh, it’s all gone wrong yesterday. And I was like, why and he said, well, yeah, I don’t know what had gone wrong. But it was really, in the composition, what came out was, it wasn’t that people weren’t technically efficient. Actually, sometimes to solve things you have to care. And care actually also creates a capacity to resolve problems at a different dimension, which isn’t about the efficiency of process, but it’s actually about actually the care to the intent of the outcome and the goal. And that emotional frame is actually vital to do work when actually the answer is not known or simply understood.

And so the care dimension for me is, I know it’s a soft word, but I think it’s a critical word in work like this. And it has multi-dimensional problems because actually more challenges, problems in a sense that I think when people care, they can also put themselves in positions where they exhaust themselves. They can put themselves in positions where they are actually vulnerable in other formats. So, it obliges, I think, a different idea of the social contract of that organization when you employ those devices both in terms of care for the mission, but also the care for each other in different formats. So, I think, I suppose I’m just conscious that when you touch that word, it is a word with great power, and great power for good and bad in that word. And I think that has to be handled very carefully in the management and the operationalization of it. So, maybe not fully answering your viewpoint, Annette, but I think there’s something really — there’s something we’re unfolding and looking at in a slow but deliberative way.

Stina Heikkila:
Thank you. I actually have had something quite similar to ask, but I think you’ve answered to parts of that. But I’m still curious, because I understand that picking up the pieces is a fairly distributed task, let’s say among the people, and I know that you mentioned that you choose people, you refrain a bit from using roles. But I would still be curious. So, when you select people or when people come to your organization, do you try still to find complementarities between what people want to do? Because I could see a risk that if everyone wants to create new stuff, that’s great. But that also runs the risk of spreading yourself thin, and not having those who are more there to do the scaffolding work, and some people really enjoy doing that, as well. And they can make that their own, let’s say, place to hold in the organization. So, I don’t know if you look into that, or if it’s more about distributing each person across those different tasks.

Indy Johar:
My view is that there is space for care, innovation, and value creation at every point in the organization. You can touch anything and with care, it becomes genius. And so I don’t have this idea of there’s kind of this utilitarian back, and then there’s this hero sitting up front or somewhere. I actually think there is great power and agency and care at every point of the system, and every point can create value in a really powerful way. And I think that is the invitation from me to everyone in the organization. And that I think is really critical. Yeah, so as I’m resisting this utilitarian kind of theory, of kind of like utilitarian backbone and everything else sitting up front is the kind of areas you do innovation. I think there is something else. I think this requires a different type of relationship with each other. And that’s been, and I would argue almost as much as that’s been an intentional part of, for me, about designing the organization is not to set up that principle of utility. But Annette, maybe you’ll come and disagree with me.

Annette Dhami:
Yeah. No, I mean, I don’t disagree with you, whatsoever. I think maybe we could probably put a bit more flesh on the bone of what that might look like, as well when it shows up. And I think it’s a really great question, because hiring is quite an art in this. We have lots of moving pieces of work, what we might have, what we’re looking at, and the particular things that might make up a role right now are likely to be — can be really different in a year’s time, and in many ways. I know for myself, the role that I’m playing now feels really different to the one that I was playing a year ago. But we do also recognize, I suppose, that there are particular complementary skill sets that sit across the system, there are particular complementary experiences and ways of operating that there need to be plurality of those, and there are different ones that complement each other.

So, I guess we’re looking at pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that need to fit together. And often, that will start with a particular piece of work. But we’ll be trying to think like, okay, well, if this is the role in this work, but what does it look like as a broader piece in the jigsaw puzzle, if you will? I mean, probably a jigsaw puzzle is not a very good metaphor seeing as it’s static. So, we’ll be bringing people in that have got an area that really complements, but also that has the ability to shed and move through the system as the circumstances change. So, often people might be working on a particular piece of work for a period of time, handover, that role or something about that piece of work might change in its nature, that either their role will change or they’ll pick up other types of roles in the system. But they’ll still be bringing their unique kind of skills and ways of operating into that team. So, there’s something that we do about trying to spot, like, what are the core capabilities and things that we need across the system to have that mix. So, I think that, just to give you a sense of perhaps how that practically shows up in reality.

Simone Cicero:
Well, I’m aware of the time, unfortunately, because this is a conversation, we could run a conference on, I think, or even a week of conferences. And that’s really about cracking the code of organizations in complexity, I think, in the nexus we are living. If I can close this conversation before just leaving you some space to talk about what’s coming up at Dark Matter Labs. My impression is that most of the organizational trends that we are spotting from these pioneers in the market, are maybe about ensuring that the organization in a kind of cybernetics approach has the same complexity internally that the market has externally now. So, these teams that can cooperate and contract between each other, like the work we’re doing with the entrepreneurial ecosystem enabling organization.

But then your point, I think, that I’m getting, maybe I’m wrong, is that to some extent, we also have to recognize that our organizations need to have the same institutional structure that systems are losing to some extent, losing their capability to provide. So, to some extent, the organization becomes responsible of care, of enabling of seeing what needs to be seen, to some extent. And as a closing point, I think I feel like this dark matter of organizing is really dark. I mean, that there are still paradoxes that we have to crack, and maybe we won’t crack anytime soon. Paradoxes, for example, in too much governance and potentially borderline patronizing. On the other side, too much freedom. And then overlooking that, our longing questions like care, for example, and Indy at the closure, care really can allot much more value that otherwise won’t happen if you don’t just bridge let’s say, efficiency with care, and efficacy with looking into the darkness of this organizational matter that we have to deal with. So, these are just some of my latest points.

Probably, if there is one thing that remains open for me, is this question of, I don’t feel we are still, and I think you guys have been doing so much work with these in your civic innovation parks, your civic innovation work, and so on. I don’t see yet that we are, we seem to be mentioned enough as organizational developers to acknowledge that, to really address the questions of complexity, we have to address the small of our communities, our families, and our landscapes. And it seems like the question of working in our context, is still not sexy enough. And we somehow fail to see that this can really be the place where human nature and the human development thesis that Indy talks about can be expressed in all its plurality and diversity in a convivial, contextual embed that space. And we still have these minds focused on solving the wicked problems, the big issues, and adding these crazy important nations. This is something we have to crack, but I’m just sharing this with you.

Indy Johar:
I think we’ve been saying something quite different, actually, over this call, actually. So, the question about who cares is, I think, really important. So, if we think it’s about the organization we are detaching the organization from the body politic. And in your conversation, it always becomes there is this organization and then there’s the people. And I think what we’re saying is, that’s not the way to look at it, because you’re taking a classical approach of de-bodying the theory of who organizes management, but it when you re-embody those things, i.e., bring them together, the theory of care is not done by one person to another. It is a relationship of care that exists between people. So, it’s not about, and I think that’s really important in terms of nuance of this conversation.

Second thing is, I think, again, the detachment of what is familial and what is market. I think these theories of kind of an abstraction to saying this is market and this is familial. Increasingly, I think we’re talking about cosmological relationships, which happen at the local and the global, they’re interconnected. And the violence of the local manifests at the global level and vice versa. Right? So, violence of us actually consuming stuff, which reduces CO2, CO2 impacts at a global level and violence and decisions of trade mechanisms impact at a local level. So, I think the kind of articulation of the things of separation doesn’t help us deal with the complexity. And this is one of the things that I think has been really clear to me in the work that we’ve been doing is the ability to work diagonally between what is perceptibly the proximus, the thing that we’re touching; the food system, the food itself, to the abstraction of governance, and finance, actually, to see these things as link things, not detach things becomes really critical.

So, for me what’s really clear, is actually there is a different theory of organizing, which fundamentally comes outside the violence of control. And if you move humans outside the violence of control, which I think has been classical management theory, which is a kind of a theory of control. And fundamentally, the question is, who controls? So, in a large group, the question is, do you end up with a management model of control, a CEO? Even if it’s a cooperative, is it a CEO or the cooperative? Do you end up with a management theory? Do we still end up with a king or a queen at the top of that pyramid? And you can do whatever we like. If we end up with a control model, it gives you the same results. The question is, are we trying to move past theories of control, are we trying to enter theories of actually learning models. And a platform, in a way, let’s bring it to the platform logic, is the proceduralization of the theory of control into compartmentalization for other people to play roles in.

So, it’s very classical, it’s just the commodification and the precision of a theory of control into a framework. And I would say a theory of control works very well, in what are predictable linear systems. Now, you can have machine assisted platform models, which actually allow for evolution of roles and evolution of actors, which is I think we’re going to end up having to go. But I also think on the human side, we’re going to have to do that. So, I think there’s a nuance here, for me, that’s really important, because I don’t think this is about the paternalization of one actor versus the other. But it’s actually about a relationship between actors and setting the terms like you say of the platform, the corporation. Or company sets the terms of those relationships between each other, to which there is no management, no seniority in terms of a classical decision making model in that framework.

And I think that does, I would argue, will lead for greater emancipation. The fundamental point of a learning model is to maximize the emancipation and the freedom of agency at every point in the system, to be able to innovate. And that’s not just a moral idea. That’s fundamentally an idea, in a complex system, you have to decentralize and distribute the capacity to innovate, to be able to respond to ever changing contexts. There are always going to be smarter than any single point of innovation in an organization. So, I just wanted to sort of pull that stuff together through that lens. Because I think, for me, that’s really critical and it’s at the centerpiece of a lot of out thinking.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you so much. I mean, I think I had to re-listen to the conversation of you a bunch of times and write down my notes, and possibly several blog posts on this. And so I mean, really, I want to thank you both, because we’re already late five minutes, so I don’t want to take more time as we plan. So, thank you both. It was such an enriching conversation. I’m thankful we found some time to dedicate to that, starting from that Twitter convo. And I’m really encouraging all our listeners to catch up with your work, with your blogs, especially the Organizing Beyond the Rules series. Maybe one last thing for today, maybe Annette, you can complement the last point that Indy brought up. If you can tell us more about what’s coming up in the Dark Matter Lab’s future work, and where also people can maybe connect with your work more easily besides your Medium channel and your Twitter account. So, what is coming up?

Annette Dhami:
We’ve got lots coming up on Beyond the Rules. But I mean, you’ll probably be here for half a day if Indy’s going to go through what’s coming up, in general. Anything you think we should highlight, Indy?

Indy Johar:
I mean, there’ll be stuff and there’ll be stuff coming up. I just wanted to thank you, Simone and Stina. I think it’s important we have these sort of robust conversations. And that’s part of the reason I don’t like to shy away from this stuff. And I think, Simone, I appreciate you digging, because I think actually, it makes me smarter. I’m really selfish about this, because it just makes me smarter, and I think it makes us all smarter. Because every one of those questions forces me to think in different ways and forces me to respond. And I think this level of interrogation is really critical, especially as we’re learning discourse in the community, because I think none of us had the answers. Anyone does, I think they’re lying. So, then the only question is, how are we learning, and how are we holding ourselves to account in that format? So, I just wanted to, Stina and Simone, I wanted to just send out my appreciation for the time and the conversation as well.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you so much, both. Thank you, Annette.

Annette Dhami:
Yeah. No, thank you so much for having us on. It’s been a really insightful conversation, and I really agree on the rigor of trying to dig through these things. I think when you go deep as well, we really get to understanding some of the things that come up. I also, I mean, not to keep us here, because I know we’re wrapping up. But there’s a future conversation in there about this spectrum of patronizing governance versus independent entrepreneurialism, which is a dichotomy I’m not sure is there, Simone, but to pick up another day. I really, really appreciate your time and the conversation and it’s great to learn with you. Thanks for having me.

Stina Heikkila:
Just to say also that we will put of course like the series in our show notes, so the listeners will find this and your profiles and links to your publications and so on. So, we can continue and get a new Twitter thread and then come back on a call for the next time.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you so much, and to our listeners, catch up soon.