Tag Archives: equal equivalent

Sociocracy’s Achilles Heel

The Achilles Heel of sociocracy is its dependence on the willingness of people to act. How can a sociocracy be any stronger than a democracy or even a monarchy if people are not willing to stand up and say, “I object” and then take action to implement better options?

Trump, Trumpism, and Trumpist

In the winter, I promised to write more about Donald Trump as a democratic leader (already a difficult leap) and how things would differ in a government based on the Sociocratic Circle Method (SCM) of organization. A series of compare-and-contrast analyses that would illustrate the ways in which a sociocratic democracy would prevent or disable a Trumpist government.

The  24/7 television news channels have been and still are a daily deluge of perfect case studies:

  • spiteful decisions made with no regard for advisability or even workability,
  • denial of factual information,
  • disregard for advice,
  • refusal to even consider statistical analyses,
  • repeated proclamations of demonstrably untrue boasts,
  • rushing to implement policies before anyone can study their social or economic impact, and
  • preference for executive orders over a democratic process.

I could have written all day, every day for the last 10 months and not covered a fraction of these actions and decisions. Instead I have a pile of un-finished posts. Some had only a few lines before I was discouraged by my own arguments.

Ultimately, I realized all the examples came down to the same weakness. A weakness that  would be as true of sociocracy as it is of democracy.

The Achilles Heel of Freedom

The Achilles heel of a free society and a free government  is  its dependence on self-organization—the ability of citizens to act with power and make good decisions.

A free government cannot be legislated. It can’t be awarded to a society after it and its allies win a war. Laws only work if someone makes them work. This requires respect for the values of a free society.

A decade ago, one of the arguments for sociocracy  was that it was value free,  “an empty tool.” It could be used with any political philosophy, by any business venture, or in any society no matter its religious tradition. Sociocracy didn’t bring with it a bias toward any ideology. It wasn’t Christian or Marxist or Free Trade. What this value-free argument neglected to notice is that sociocracy stems from deep fundamental values that are not shared by all societies: freedom and equality.* That all people are to be respected as being of equal value and have the freedom to control their own lives. That’s why the great feedback loops that permeate sociocratic organizations ensure that any person can correct the wheel by raising an objection to a decision that doesn’t adhere to these values.

A government is nothing without the governed. Each part in a system has to have a role, or it isn’t a part of the system. Without the support of citizens,  a free government will move toward entropy and ultimately dissolution. In entropy where there is no self-organization; the  lack of a dictator becomes a liability.

Effective Objections and Consent

All the violations of good governance in Trumpism are like veneer on rotting wood. Evaluating the veneer may lead to improvement in the next layer of veneer, but the wood beneath will still be rotting. Rotting wood has no ability to act—to do its job in supporting the feeding of the tree and producing foliage.

The fundamental concern in the most unlikely election of Trump to the presidency is not the values and behavior that Trumpism condones. The most frightening and revealing fact is that so many stepped back from stopping it. Effectively, they consented when they didn’t object. They not only let it happen, they found incredible justifications for doing so. The choice to respect a political party affiliation is not a sound argument.

Why a Sociocracy Wouldn’t  Help

Every compare-and-contrast example I found to illustrate what would be different in a sociocratic government was also an example of why it could be just the same.

A sociocratic governance system is based on self-organization—the expectation of effective leadership and action on the part of all its members. That isn’t encouraged in our present political system. Money dominates as  a factor in getting elected and requires  loyalty to party and donors before ideas.

Would sociocratic elections conducted between colleagues be different? Only if the colleagues are willing to object as well as consent and make logical arguments in support of their decision.

Strong followers produce strong leaders. The meanings of “strong” include intensity, power, and the ability to engage in sound reasoning on the basis of  convincing evidence.

Pointing out fallacies, untruths, and destructive behavior are not corrective objections. They do nothing to challenge or change the system that allows the offenses. Doing one’s best even in the face of daily omnipotent and counter productive actions has the effect of consent.  Action brings hard choices and uncertainty. Lack of action has equally hard choices and more certain consequences.

Trump as President Isn’t a Fault of Democracy

Donald Trump is not a symptom of what is wrong with democracy. For those who believe democracy is synonymous with majority vote, I note that he isn’t the result of a majority vote. He lost the election by millions of votes. He was a puppet who won on a technicality cleverly created by a foreign government using US citizens as conspirators to disrupt the election process. The principals  didn’t take action to stop it. The failure to act is being revealed daily in the investigation into what actually did happen during the 2017 election. Both causes, manipulation and failure to act, were years in the making.

A strong democracy could have avoided Trumpism. It would have taken an equally strong sociocracy to avoid the same result. There is no promise that sociocratic governments would be inherently stronger. In both it depends on who is willing to commit to action — to consent as an actively supportive action, not passive acquiesence; and objections as a corrective actions, not vetoes.

Disruption, Distraction, and Disrespect

Trumpism feeds on disruption, distraction, and disrespect. It’s only purpose is to defeat whatever system is in place. Aside from the self-aggrandizing quest for more money by Trump and his wealthy supporters, many of those advocating for Trumpism in the Midwest and South believe that anything is better than what we have. If we can get rid of the current system, a new system that is fair to us will be allowed to emerge.

Does anything better ever just emerge?

No, it is created with action. Neither democrats nor sociocrats can guarantee that people will act in their own best interests, or even understand what they are.


I allow myself one rant: I am baffled by journalists who are still trying to attribute  Machiavellian intelligence and strategic planning to a pathological narcissist with an instinct for self-preservation who acts entirely on his own obsessive concern with winning by destroying people who “aren’t nice” to him. It is a pointless effort to hope that somewhere in Trumpism there is an intelligent plan, however subversive. It reflects the human need to find order, especially when it doesn’t obviously exist.

*The word equivalence is preferred over equal in sociocratic circles because it is more  likely to be interpreted as “equal but not identical.” The equality in sociocratic organizations is related to equality in one’s sphere of responsibility and decision-making authority. It clearly says that having equivalence as a citizen doesn’t mean I can walk into the White House sit down with the National Defense Council and raise objections. I prefer equal because the word is more familiar and I think people know that it means equal respect under the law and equal consideration in one’s social and economic life. Equal, but not identical. And free to self-determine, free of standardization.


Rounds or Discussion or Free for All?

Drop Cap Letter QWhat’s the best practice ?  Is it better to have a free for all discussion, do what we do, or have complete rounds?

“Better” is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what rounds or discussion can do is a “better” question.
Rounds are excellent for establishing and reestablishing equivalence in the room. They not only give each person a chance to speak they shine a spotlight on each person so everyone is aware of everyone else individually. It changes the dynamic from “in a meeting making a decision” to “in a meeting with Ann, Alice, Joe, Jan, etc. making a decision.”
Rounds are a very important method for establishing and maintaining equivalence.
Discussion allows a focus on a specific point by a smaller number of people who either have more information, have the verbal ability to express the issues, or have similar concerns. It is important for everyone to hear this. Just like consent and objections belong to everyone, so do the thoughts that lead up to them. Discussions allow focus.
Discussion is important to focusing and clarifying issues.
“Free for all” is also in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes “talk among yourselves” is an important exercise. Chaos gets everyone involved and enlivens the room. The bits with the most energy will float to the top. If a facilitator listens carefully, they can also identify “hot” issues and possible solutions.
When there is too much energy, boxing people into a round may not help move the decision-making process along. Particularly in larger groups, rounds can be too repetitive and limiting. People fall asleep or otherwise disengage. If energy is high, instead of quieting down, people might fidget and leave in one way or the other. Frustrated people tend to quit.

Rounds or Discussion, and Free for All

So rounds or discussion, and even free for all, can be well used in circle meetings to produce a satisfying proposal and reach consent.
(Some people prefer to call discussion “dialogue.” I find the word dialogue to be more formal and more often refers to two people engaged in a philosophical debate or the lines recited by actors in a drama . Discussion is more familiar, and perhaps more precise.)

Resistance to Rounds

I love rounds. They do many things but the most important to me is that they give everyone a chance to speak without raising their hand and waving it until the facilitator or discussion leader sees it, worrying about their place in the queue rather than listening, or  counting to see if everyone else has had a chance to speak before you can speak again. Rounds place the focus on what is being said, not the process of getting it said.

I like is the way they encourage people to speak who never raise their hand because they have nothing to add. Rounds encourage everyone speak in their own words. At first people may say,”I agree with Harry,” but with practice, almost everyone will move beyond this.

Creating Peacefulness

I like the peacefulness rounds bring to the group as everyone is focused on each speaker. In a round everyone is equal. They establish and re-establish equality in the room. Knowing that everyone will have an equal opportunity relaxes everyone. They become not only relaxed for themselves, but for others.

So why do we resist doing rounds? In my community, we repeatedly ask for them but they rarely happen. Too many people in the room is a big excuse. But with practice, this one could be overcome. Reminding people to say only what is “in their heart” or what is most relevant their decision, shortens the round. Not to pontificate addressing the arguments of  others.


But I wonder if a larger resistance is related to the facilitocracy that develops when groups are develop a dependence on the facilitator. Facilitocracies develop very quickly in full-group consensus models. Without the principles and structure of sociocracy and dynamic governance, the facilitator bears a huge burden in getting proposals passed. Their job becomes developing trust. If they are trusted, the process is easier. Personality holds sway, not arguments. This has its own pitfalls, however, because without a focus on arguments, the personalities of the objectors then also hold sway.

I’m beginning to consider that even more important in resistance to rounds is a facilitator’s desire to avoid shifting power to the group. Once they have developed their skills, which are often considerable, and gained the trust of the group, they want to keep the focus centered on their own facilitation. To control the room.

And to control the arguments.

And given credit for getting the job done.

Values and Sociocracy


When I first learned about sociocracy in 2002 I believed that its value was equality.* The counter argument was that equality wasn’t a value, it was a practicality. People work more efficiently when they have an equal voice in their work. Sociocracy is value-free. It is an empty tool that when used by any organization increases its productivity. My first reaction to that was to suggest that the word tool, with its meaning of penis in vulgar English, was probably not the best image for a decision-making method and empty penis was not a good. I got blank, rather unbelieving stares. Empty tool as of this writing continues to be used.

I retained equality as a value. In and of itself, it was worth something.


Next came transparency, the open sharing information. The more I saw consensus decision-making in action and reevaluated previous organizational decision-making experiences, the more I realized that decision-making in general and consensus specifically, is only effective if each person in the organization has access to all available information. In sociocratic organizations transparency is a practice, like logbooks, variable compensation based on performance, etc. All records, with the exception of proprietary information like recipes, are open to all members of the organization and to customers and clients.

As a practice transparency can be modified as it fits the situation, like a logbook that can be modified to fit the needs of the organization. It exists in the technical realm and is negotiable. As a value transparency is right out in front as a measure of all actions, of all decisions. Am I appropriately sharing or withholding? Am I deceiving others? Withholding information on which I am making a decision from others making the same decision is being deceptive in the same way that ignoring people is an act of violence. Openness, like equality, is worth something. An ethical person is open and truthful.

Action, Decisiveness, Effectiveness, Focus

The third value is one that John Buck raised initially as action. He and CT Butler had been discussing their approaches to consensus and governance. CT had argued for the importance of values and John came back convinced and floated equivalence, action, and transparency. I was delighted, but I didn’t think action fit all organizations or was necessarily a good value. Action for the sake of action is doomed and not what sociocracy advocates. I suggested decisiveness. John objected that it could be confused with judging. I tried effectiveness and before he could respond countered with focus. One of the characteristics of the best organizations is their focus on their aims. John agreed.

Values and Sociocracy

Our current understanding of the values of sociocracy: Equivalence, Focus, and Transparency. We are about to find out whether others agree with us. But one thing that we know is that sociocracy and values are words that can appear in the same sentence.

*On the equality vs. equivalent debate: by definition equality and equivalence are synonyms. In mathematics, equivalence is preferred because it emphasizes that two statements can be equal but not the same. In A+B = A+c+x, the two halves are not the same but have the same result. They are equivalent but not equal. Since sociocracy has more to do with the social sciences than with mathematics, I prefer to use equality.

2014 October 1:  Eventually effectiveness won out over focus, and empty tool hasn’t been heard in a while.