Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge

Lowdown: A personal guide to a world changing technique.
If there is one thing that Edward Snowden proved is that a single person can change the world. However, I do believe Snowden himself would have preferred to exempt himself from this privilege; he did his thing because he had to do it, not because he wanted to do it. [I sincerely hope I would have done the same were I in the same position; I sincerely doubt it, though.]
There are other ways of changing the world single-handedly, so to speak. Ways of doing it in a thorough, planned and intentional manner. Rick Falkvinge discloses his proven approach for doing just that in his latest book, Swarmwise.
This isn’t the first time Falkvinge’s writing is reviewed in this blog (see here and here), and there are good reasons for that. I consider the guy to be one of the leading edge philosophers of our time. If I were to define his approach in one sentence I would say Falkvinge focuses on the outskirts of consensus in order to pull society in the right direction. Thus he founded the very first Pirate Party in Sweden and led it to become a worldwide movement, thus changing the world.
And thus he openly discusses his theories on matters of cultural development while not shying from controversy. He certainly managed to influence me along the way: for a start, yours truly is currently a member of Pirate Party Australia. How shall I put it? Rick Falkvinge is one of those few people who is always welcome to come and have dinner at my house (not that I think he would appreciate the pleasure of sharing a table with my son).
If it sounds like I’m an admirer of Falkvinge then you’re damn right. Adding to it is the fact that today, just a few days after I finished reading Swarmwise, Falkvinge made himself available at Melbourne as I and several others met with him over coffee. Come on, what other author would come all the way from Sweden just to sit beside me for an hour and personally answer my questions about his latest book?

Rick Falkvinge

Yes, I’m a fan. But perhaps I should go back to discussing his latest book.
Swarmwise is written as an instructions manual for wannabe activists seeking out to change the world. It provides advice and examples on how anyone can achieve just that - change the world - relatively quickly and without having deep pockets nor conventional organizations by their side. The key to this method is the deployment of a swarm.
According to Falkvinge, one needs but a small spark to create such a swarm of activists. In his case, all he did was establish a web page for a Pirate Party and mention it on an online forum; events related to The Pirate Bay meant that people quickly flocked to his website. From then on, Falkvinge did not try to organize "his" activists in a normal manner, where each belongs to a specific role. Instead, he managed them as a swarm, letting go of total control in favor of the flexibility and resourcefulness that come when each activist is empowered. Such empowerment meant that anyone could be a member of the swarm if they wanted to - all they needed was to act. And if such a member came up with an idea, all they needed to get swarm support is the cooperation of two additional members.
The rest follows suit. Falkvinge fetches plenty of examples for the power of such swarms to work miracles while providing advice on how to deal with problems and issues that may pop up with swarm like organizations. Yes, to answer your question, he does provide examples where the swarm can and did fail because of internal conflicts; he also provides insight on how to deal with such situations. Utilizing plenty of examples from the Swedish Pirate Party's history, told with the full drama of unfolding events, Falkvinge paints the complete portrait of how the swarm can change the world. Best of all, he argues, anyone can achieve what he did: even you.
The way I saw it, what tries to pass as an instructions guide for world changing is actually the personal story of a person who did manage to change the world; only that this story is told in a unique way. I will argue this is clearly the case here, since some of the advice Falkvinge provides is impractical in many if not most cases. As in, come on, how many of us can really change the world? If it was that easy we wouldn't need books about it. Besides, I want to see you try to get Aussies motivated to act about anything other than footy and beer.
Obviously, being able to write one's own personal world changing story and deliver it in such a unique way is quite a unique feat. Seriously, there are full time authors who would kill to be able to write a book like that. Yet as impractical as I find Swarmwise, being the armchair activist that I am, I have to hand it credit: the book does provide solid management advice of the very practical side. Allow me to explain.
Me, I tend to mock MBA style management. Mock is probably not the right word; it is more like I tend to feel contempt towards conventional management that relies mainly on authority. If we claim to live in democracies, how come we are so willing to accept dictatorships at the place we spend most of our conscious time at - work?
At least to one extent or another, Falkvinge and I seem to be in agreement there. We both have army background that heavily influences our world view, and not necessarily because we admire the army way. Add to that his view on how MBA style management is the exact wrong thing for the swarm to have, and you would see how Swarmwise got me all warmed up. It may not be the step by step instruction book for changing the world that it claims to be, but there is solid advice to be taken from Swarmwise concerning the management of almost everything in life. From work to personal relationships, there is a lot to be learnt from Rick Falkvinge's life experience. Surely much more than most books pretending to tell CEOs how to run their companies...
Being able to achieve that in a concise, entertaining and free to download book? In my book, that's Nobel prize material.
Overall: Clearly, I'm biased on this one. If I was biased while reading the book then I am ten times more biased after meeting the author and having his full attention for an hour over coffee on a nice Melbourne day. Regardless of my bias, Swarmwise does achieve literal greatness in being able to tell a personal story while offering a unique approach to management. Surely, that is worth at least 4 out of 5 stars.

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