By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Better Work Together: How the Power of Community Can Transform Your Business on 1 January 2019

I receive over a hundred emails a day from people with great ideas for social change, new democratic platforms, eco-villages, and alternative currencies. Some of them have already written eloquent white papers, created gorgeous renderings, or plotted our cyclic revenue streams that seem to challenge the laws of perpetual motion. These are well-meaning people, with great educations and skills, turning their attention to the most pressing “wicked problems” of our age.

Yet almost all of their ingenious blueprints for the salvation of humanity have been conceived and generated alone, in a room, on a computer. Yes, they want to find the others now - people and organizations who share the same fundamental values, and will recognize the wisdom of their master plans. But no matter who I try to connect them to, it never quite works out. That’s because they’re reaching out to the other people much too late.

Solidarity is not the result of world-changingly good ideas, it is the cause. There’s no paucity of solutions to our collective woes; from permaculture and the commons to consensus building and platform cooperatives. What we too often lack are the communities of people to organize and apply these solutions in the real world, from the bottom up. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Occupy movement has long been criticized as lacking substance or purpose. As if it were just a bunch of idealistic college students and dropouts with great motives but no plan. But to me, this was precisely their strength: a willingness to gather together with no particular expectation other than to forge solidarity, and model a new approach to social change. Less a demand or a eschatological goal than a process: a new normative state, and a new way of occupying reality. This may not have been Adbusters’ intent when they called for a protest against Wall Street; it’s simply what happened when people came together with a determination to engage in the long game of social change, one collaborative step at a time.

No, Occupy didn’t achieve some landmark concession from government or the corporate sector. But it did set in motion a new approach to collective action, governance, and trade. Or maybe it just retrieved some lost approaches, from the General Assembly of Ancient Greece, to the commons of pre-industrial Europe. These mechanisms were not part of some master plan, but rather emerged in response to the needs of people engaging differently. And as the needs of the people in the park and streets changed, different experts rushed into the scene to provide food solutions, technology, WiFi, and more. Each solution generated from the bottom up, in an occasionally ad hoc but always organic way.

Enspiral may have predated Occupy by a year, but it arose in the same way and for some of the same reasons, asking the same questions: How can a business, organization, or society itself work without bosses? How can a group take everyone’s opinion into account, and still get anything done? How can a company make money for its stakeholders without extracting needed funds from somewhere or someone else?

The collective’s solutions and now-thriving initiatives were as much responses to its own challenges as they were bright ideas for the world. Loomio, a consensus tool modeled on Occupy’s General Assembly meeting style, helps groups agree on difficult issues. Instead of promoting winner-takes-all, polarizing outcomes of traditional debate, it seeks to minimize total discomfort with group choices. And yes, solving this problem for themselves gave Enspiral a tool that was applicable as far and wide as the Podemos movement in Spain or local government in the United Kingdom. Similarly, Enspiral’s Experience Agency organizes and facilitates events and retreats - but only because its founders needed to develop this expertise to facilitate their own meetings and workshops on open source.

The efforts grow, for sure, but they don’t “scale” in the way Silicon Valley may think of growth. These are not the one-size-fits-all Industrial Age solutions now being distributed through digital networks. These initiatives spread because they are techniques that can be modeled by others, and then adapted to particular circumstances. They are not products but processes. They are less services than offerings.

Because the problems engendered by the monolithic solutions offered by industrial capitalism aren’t countered by more big solutions but by many different local responses. Enspiral’s methodologies are more fundamental than any fully realized rendering of an eco-village or white paper for another blockchain. Like the service offered by Enspiral’s companies, these are not answers to your challenges so much as recipes for finding and developing your own.

The work itself - the process of collaboration - ends up as important as whatever product or service is being delivered. It’s less of a final solution that can be thought up, written down, and emailed to the world than it is a commitment to engaging honestly, openly, and transparently from the beginning.

Here’s how that happens.