A peek into DAOs: Part 1 of 3

As a result of my rapidly-accelerating crypto obsession, in the past couple months I’ve gone from a near-never Discord user to waking up every morning to an overwhelming left-hand sidebar with logos and notifications galore.

These are, of course, the logos of DAOs I’m following.

Source: My Discord notifications screen
Source: My Discord notifications screen

Since I’m teetering on the brink of being mostly a quiet DAO lurker to becoming a contributing member of these communities, I’d like to document my experience and learnings about DAOs as they are today in 2021. I think it’s important I do this before I get much deeper and become ‘one of them’ (“one of us… one of us…”), so that I can provide my best layman’s take for the 99% of the planet that isn’t DAO-native.

I decided I’d write about my three main learnings from my involvement with DAOs to date, but as usual with my writing, this got real long real quick – so I’m splitting it into three parts to really dig into each and discuss its implications.

The three things I’ve learned are:

  1. DAO is an ethos
  2. The transparency is wild
  3. You gotta hustle

Let’s dig into #1.

Part 1: DAO is an ethos

DAO, as you probably know if you’re reading this, stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization.

This piece assumes baseline knowledge on what DAOs are - so if the term is completely new to you, start with @ljxie’s ‘A beginner’s guide to DAOs’ & @Pet3rpan’s ‘What is a DAO?’.

To state the blatantly obvious, the acronym ‘DAO’ clearly conveys two things:

  1. DAOs are decentralized
  2. DAOs are autonomous

But most DAOs today are not totally decentralized, nor are they totally autonomous. This, in my opinion, is totally fine – but let’s call it like it is: DAO is an ethos, not a specific construct.

Decentralization & autonomy are nebulous

To start, how one defines the terms ‘decentralization’ and ‘autonomy’ in the context of an organization altogether is, well, mildly inconsistent depending who you ask, to put it politely.

As I wrote in Decentralization is not Binary, there are many dimensions on which a project may or may not be decentralized – governance, org structure, tech, to name a few – and on each of those dimensions, the level of centralization is a spectrum.

Inspo: Will Murphy, Drawing: Me
Inspo: Will Murphy, Drawing: Me

Certain people will fight to the death for one specific dimension, yet not care about others, but we still talk about decentralization as a catch-all, as a one-dimensional thing. I’ve yet to find a project that is 100% decentralized on all dimensions – and, frankly, I’m not sure it would be desirable.

So, I struggle with the term DAO because it feels more prescriptive/specific than it actually is.

DAOs are often framed as the antithesis of traditional ‘centralized’ organizations. And yet, I’d make the case that traditional organizations themselves are typically not fully centralized – your typical pyramid org structure, for example, is a form of decentralization – so, to me, our shared terminology and our framing of these constructs as distinct opposites (and as binary outcomes: DAO vs. traditional organization) feels a little off.

Articulating the ethos

Most importantly, to me, DAOs reflect a certain ethos. A vibe, if you will.

There is a shared culture, a shared set of cultural norms amongst DAOs, that holds true regardless of where exactly a specific DAO sits on the decentralization/autonomy spectrums. For this reason, after being in a few DAO Discords, jumping into a new one tends to feel familiar.

The ethos is, by and large, one of individuals collectivizing to create something bigger, together, absent of a highly prescribed and fixed structure. Of openness & collaboration. Of work that, well, works for people.

I firmly believe DAOs offer the best peek you can get into how knowledge work will evolve over the coming decade.

If I’m right, and if DAOs are any indication, here’s a glimpse at that future based on what I see inside of them today:

On recruiting:

  • Companies will need to open their doors to the general public to compete for talent (a lot more on this coming in Part 2)
  • Geographical location will cease to be a constraint
  • Employees will be able to ‘try-before-they-buy’ with prospective employers of theirs

On operating a company:

  • Top-down governance will undergo a massive shift; employees will have a say in who the Board is (if there is a Board, at all)
  • Employees will have a much greater voice in company decision-making; identity-based voting mechanisms will play a formal role in governance
  • Broad-based & transparent equity ownership will be the norm, rather than a right reserved for senior employees
  • Employees will be evaluated not by just one direct manager, but by the organization at-large

On having a job:

  • Fans of a specific project will be able to jump right in and not just consume, but contribute to the growth of that project – or multiple projects – themselves and share in the upside
  • Full-time, monogamous work at one company may well become the exception, not the rule

It’s the creator economy, for knowledge workers.

All of this is what it’s worth focusing on when it comes to the promise of DAOs. This ethos is still in its infancy, and the execution is happening on such a small relative scale today.

And while I’m definitely excited by the tangible revenue traction and real dollars we’re seeing flow into areas like DeFi and NFTs, frankly it’s the early glimmers of what I’m seeing inside these collectives today that get me super jazzed about the future of people’s lives as it pertains crypto, as a whole.

While there are many kinks to sort out and growing pains to be experienced, this first principles approach to re-thinking how groups self-organize and build together is likely to define the next era of work.

Creators & employers, keep watch. 👀

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