Take Initiative: One Principle for an Autonomous DAO

Way back in the annals of history, I wrote a post called Ask Forgiveness Not Permission: Five Tenets for a Productive DAO. The general point was that things needed doing, and people weren’t doing them, because they didn’t think they had the authority / permission / power to do them.

Fast forward to today, and MakerDAO has come a long way. We have 15 core units, lots of individuals working on Maker and are almost completely no longer reliant on The Maker Foundation.

However, I am still observing the same issue; both within Core Units, and without. People are afraid to do things without getting permission or consent from others. There are rare cases where this is necessary, but they aren’t that common. I think there are several reasons for this, which I’ll hypothesize about in a second. But the key principle is this:

Take Initiative

  • If you have a good idea, try and demonstrate it, see if people agree.
  • If you run into a problem, do your best to solve that problem (ideally in a way that solves it for everyone.)
  • If you see something that needs doing. Do it.
  • If you find yourself waiting for permission to do something, ask yourself if you really, truly, need that permission.

Hypothesized Blockers

Got to make sure it’s perfect…

As a general point, but specifically for DAO’s it feels like perfect is the enemy of good applies here.

In my experience at MakerDAO, laying out long and detailed plans is a waste of time. They are only very rarely correct enough to work and it’s very hard to get all of the relevant parties to sign-off in a DAO setting versus a traditional hierarchical setting.

Instead make a single step that moves incrementally in a positive direction. This sidesteps a boat-load of coordination costs and encourages a culture of incremental improvement and revision.

Someone else’s problem / domain / area

Most of the time, if you solve (or even half solve) someone else’s problem, they are grateful. It’s less work for them, and they may well value having someone to talk it over with.

Even if they hate what you’ve done, it’s still often easier to build from a known point than create something from nothing. The important thing to remember is to be flexible and accommodating if the more-appropriate-person has feedback for you.

What if I do a bad job?

Learn from feedback, do a better job next time. It’s much, much better to have everything be a little chaotic, because everyone is doing their level best to contribute wherever they can than it is to have easy wins lying around that no one is picking up. It’s much easier to teach people to do a better job at what they’re doing, but it’s much harder to get someone to internalize a habit of taking action.

Remember that almost no one in the DAO is going to be upset or annoyed that you tried to make something happen. They will get annoyed if you refuse to improve, take feedback and listen to advice.

Examples

Many of the best known and most active members of the DAO are people that have internalized this principle of taking initiative.

@PaperImperium has done a fantastic job organising meetings with important individuals. No one asked him to do this. He’s done a great job analyzing various Core Unit proposals and highlighting weaknesses, again, no one asked for this. He just recognised that it was worthwhile, and did it.

@ultraschuppi has consistently made efforts to put forward appropriate signal requests, much of the time, no one’s asked him to. Further, the MakerLabs Core Unit and the push for EurDai. This is something people have spoken about for some time. Succeed or not, he has taken the initiative and put together a core unit proposal.

@rune is also a good example. Now that he’s able to interact with governance once again, he’s demonstrated this as well. No one told Rune to propose a change in the direction of the DAO, he just decided to do it. Likewise recent signal requests, etc etc.

Takeaways

  • Take Initiative and don’t wait for permission.
  • Bias towards small positive steps that you (and others) can build upon, rather than a grand plan.
  • Don’t worry about stepping on others toes. Smooth things over as you go, if need be.
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