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Christopher Allen

Speakers: Christopher Allen

Transcript By: Bryan Bishop

Category: Workshop

Whta makes for a great wonderful magical calliberation? Collaboration? Grab one card randomly. Keep it with you. What is this particular pattern of greatness? See if you can’t embody it or can’t recommend it ofr find it in the next two days. I would like each of you to tell a story about a collaboration that was really meaningful to you. It could be a business effort, it could be another team in your company, or it could be a personal collaboration that you found really powerful. Please share three minutes about a story of collaboration that you found very powerful. The time is now 9:23. Let’s do this for 15 minutes. It’s a 5 person table, then 3 minutes each.


Well, maybe the best way to collaborate with people is to not even see them. You have to let people go sometimes. You can’t force collaboration. You can’t force people to work on things they’re not interested in. Even assholes have rights. People with a common goal. Smear campaigns can be much more lucrative for journalists to write about.

.. Someone should be a scribe at each table. Someone should be a facilitator at each table. Someone needs to make sure the table is going to be on time. Your job is to put down on that sheet of paper, three bits of secret sauce, something that was just marvelous and wonderful and why it is was wonderful and what made it work that you think other people should know about. Just put the three of them on a sheet of paper. They should be in the form of a story that tells a lesson. My group did xyz and it was failing, and then we did this magic trick and then boom it worked. (That seems like an unreasonable requirement.) Something– secret sauce. At my table, each story had something like “oh this was something we did that made this marvelous”. We want each table to find three secret sauces. One story from the whole table. My card is “inquiry and synthesis”. It has this spiral on the top of it. The idea is that you have this, you told some stories, you have some common things, you heard some different things, the table should decide what are the three most important things? The last thing you will do in the next 15 minutes is pick just one to present to everyone. You will pick one of those three and say this is what I think everyone in this room needs to hear. You will have 2 to 2.5 minutes to share that one one wonderful piece of trick or secret sauce of collaboration to everybody in the orom. Each table has to decide what is the story you want to present to everyone.

.. Find common ground. Have a vision that unites people. Let people brexit. There’s nothing wrong with rational self-interest and selfishness. Aligned rational self-interest. The secret sauce is how do you mobilize a disparate group with a common goal?

Some parts of XBRL are really well-known and popular because there are central groups that devote a lot of money who come together. My particular part of XBRL is something that has far more wide-spread huge potential value but it’s spread over many more people. So the individual benefits of supporting that are, much less. In your case, the people who want to go after your friend are united in one fervert? The people who could support it, there’s not enough uniting them in goal and they don’t have enough individual interest to band together.

With XBRL, there was a group called Hyperium, which was the solution for getting info out of accounting systems and give it to reports. Our solution was going to distress them and put them out of business. Quantity matters. Information channels and jamming it.

“You have to be successful 100% of the time. We only have to be successful once, for a short moment. Your reputation is gone with that once.” When it comes to the web and to the internet, in general, quantity and the amount of people htat have influence, actually matters. With the government, yes your influence matters. You have to be successful once. You have to be the one person that comes and talks. When you’re in a standardization body, it’s about having thirty people gaining a consensus. If you’re talking to the Bitcoin community, it’s about having the majority agreeing on something. Negative ideas can influence people to motivate and assemble. So perhaps the third point should be, try to come up with a way to make this negative.

Know when to abandon an idea. Most collaborations turn into consortiums. Organizations tend to have lots of staff. They have their own incentives and motivations to keep things going, long after they should. In the technical community, we’re bad at recognizing when you’re finished.

You’re going to want to pick one of these to present this story, of this particular story, we don’t want you to come up and say “our secret sauce is x”. It should be a story that exemplifies the secret sauce. It should be about 2 minutes long. What makes the best story to share this concept? It does not have to be a real story.

Aligned rational self-interest, common ground and common goals, and know when to stop or abandon. We decided that it would not be best to invite our grandmothers to go rock climbing with us.

You should put your table number on the right top-hand side of the page. Just so we know where each of the pages should go. Everyone stand up, stretch, wiggle your shoulders. We are on a tight time schedule. We have a lot to do today. Table 1, are you ready? Why don’t you start?

Table 1: Summarization

I will not name the people that told me this lesson. The point is, to achieve collaborative consensus, people through ideas on the table. We went in different directions and the group missed the goal. There must be one person who has a lot of knowledge of the problem and writes down a summary of each point. He must stop all the conversation so that we can make agreement on at least some of the points that were summarized. At some point, you should stop and list the things that were discussed and figure out where there is agreement and where there is not.

It’s important to have someone who is able to listen to all the ideas and summarize them for the rest of the group. A lot of the time, we don’t use the same language and we don’t understand what people are saying and then we don’t process it and don’t internalize it. It’s good to have a facilitator and have someone transparently voting or deciding what the best option is. Collaborative consensus is our secret sauce.

Table 2: healthy amount of friction

Table 2: Everyone, not much agrees, friction can be productive. We were thinking of a story like rock band in the way, that as a band comes together, the creative tension of each member helps the taste of the other. They write great songs, and when they break apart the leader song-writer just doesn’t have the magic anymore. A healthy amount of friction is a good thing.

Table 3

Tbale 3: Before this blockchain space, I used to work at McKenzie. One of the things I learned during training is that in our group, which was important, was shared problem statement that is an evolving document where you first spend a lot of time to formulate an actionable measurable problem that everyone agrees on. The measures you have at hand to solve that problem. So that’s one thing that we thought about in our table to actually make sure that what you do and what you come up with in the end solves the problem that you agreed on in the first place.

table 4

Table 4: We talked about the mechanics of collaboration. The thing that we thought most important to share is that it’s important to recognize when you’re finished and when to stop. I am sure we all know groups and areas and something that is failing and everyone is just flobbing it. We did a good job, but now that thing is finished and that standards bodies don’t need to hire 20 people because that job was finished. I am sure we all have a personal anecdote about this from work or private relationships. Knowing when to stop and leave a group and go do something else is actually important for collaboration.

Table 5

We are table 5. We kind of synthesized the three good ideas into one super secret sauce. Our story is that several decades ago, there was a guy that was going to go to the moon, they were rivals with this other team that wanted to go to the moon. There was this collaboration versus competition. You want this cult-like aspect in collaboration where everyone is united against a common enemy and has this above-and-beyond motivation. And then you achieve that. So the story is that they went to the moon, walked around and came back. It was fun. Those are the aspects. You want competition and collaboration. They really go hand-in-hand. In a lot of cases, you want motivation that might not be rational. This is common in many technologies like blockchain and bitcoin, people are kind of crazy about it. I was not around for the first web standards, and I bet there were a lot of crazy people. Those are the secrets to collaboration.

Table 8

Our top three were having a common goal. Flexibility and diversity. Having diverse teams where people bring different social and technical skills to the table. The final one was one trust through facing common challenges and having a common mission. Hi. The story I want to tell is about trust. It happened right here at MIT about 5-6 years ago. In the winter, a very famous professor was giving a class, and there was going to be a workshop and then 2.5 days or 3 days later, as we were probing ideas for what to do for this hackathon, there were 4 people that couldn’t find a place. This was a large group. One of the facilitators talked to one of the four, I was one of the four, you four are misfits, let’s put you together and see if you gel. The four of us were indecisive, we had never met, we sat down and talked, let’s, if you guys trust me then I will trust you, and I don’t leave anyone behind. One person said well that suits me, I don’t leave anybody behind, and then it became the team and we had all sorts of breakdowns and services and data and people are bailing out of the team and we worked many axe I can’t think work too hard, and we finished our project at the last minute in the blue room when everything clicked, we went in, and it was just the three of us, and people thought we had nothing. But we got it. It was the trust that made it work. We walked away from our egos and everything. When you have a common goal, and you really want it to work, it works.

Table X

Fail fast by stayng focused. When we can prototype with the proper time, we can continuously create consensus that is more grounded and create projects that are more expedient and focused. That was really it.

Table Y

One can get jammed and never get the results. In this case, the organization that closes the customer takes the initiative of the problem. They decide to, in order to make it, to explain it to them and communicate to other organizations and other patterns. They break silos and then they are able to present. So that’s our solution. Breaking down of information, and also taking ownership of the issue.

Table 9b

Table 9b

We seem to have two 9s. We are sidestepping proprietary interest and stale thinking. There were a couple of examples. One was from degrees that MIT has a blockchain-based degree issuance and the way that collaboration came together, it was critical that nobody owned the result. And that’s also the experience that I have had in trying to bring together essentially legal and tech. And their endless conversations with various groups that do have ownership interests, they proceed slowly, then suddenly a few group of students in the law school picked the thing up, taught themselves, and now they are charging ahead. They don’t own any of the ecosystem yet, so they are not inhibited by the problem of who owns. It might be, as I think our keynote has commented on a wonderful tweet, it might be the that the blockchain solves the ownership problem by using permissionless innovation. It’s about shedding the concern about who owns the ecosystem.

Table 10

Encourage early-adopters with hands-on play. SVG started off in 1998. Nobody was using it until 2010 because it wasn’t in all the browsers. Before it was in all the browsers, there was an Adobe plugin, which allowed a large community to play with this and see what you were doing. You could change the code, see in the browser the changes immediately. That encouraged a lot of play and experimentation. If it weren’t for that early phase of having that plugin, that thing in the browser that everyone could use that was widely deployed, then it wouldn’t have had any legs to carry it into the long slog of getting into each browser. Another user story from our table was that your first bitcoin transaction, to be able to do that your first time, is really empowering experience. Letting people play with the tech, giving it into their hands, and having something that they can viscerally experience for themselves is a really important part for the community building adoption.

Table 11

Talking does not equal communication. I see a lot of familiar faces in the room. I know that many of you hope that I finish this as quickly as possible. I have been involved in this type of group before. Our time is precious. If you don’t have specialized knowledge about this, and some other people are making progress, then please exercise restraint and let that progress happen. You can probably find other productive roles. If you feel like you are being left out, and you want to participate, that’s often a good human instinct, but recognize when your own desires might be holding back the group’s ability to make progress.

Table 12

We were talking about the distinction on deliberating about a solution and coming to a consensus about what the solution ought to be. Often these two are confused, and people will push to finalize something before it has been fully deliberated. You might look at the debates about block size. I am from the UK. If you turn on the news, you might see something about the dangers of voting before delibrating.

Table 13

I work here at DCI at the Media Lab. We are an interesting group. We have computer scientists. We have journalists. We have an interesting mix of people. Someone was presenting an idea once. The computer scientists immediately found security holes in what they were talking about. This offended the presenter. The comp sci people said this is what we do, we find rough edges. I think the point is that setting up the conversation is important. In this case, it’s very important for the journalist and the scientist or whatever type of research these people do, understand how we are going to communicate in this meeting. If I should tell these people that hey there’s a point where I am going to be putting on my security researchre hat, and I will attack your idea like that, then maybe that should be told to the speaker. So that yo ucan recognize the interesting things behind the idea, you should also put on your cap that isn’t for security. Setting up the conversation might be important. These assumptions about putting on these hats is really important to get messages across.

Table 14

Diverse groups finding common ground through … the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. You can think about a bee hive having a lot of resources at its disposal than individual bees. We also talked about connecting to impact. Having an end-goal of some sort in mind that you are going to achieve. Some of those things, if you think, influence by default to being open, is a good way to go. We had some of us talk about our different areas, which was having an open doors policy literally. Another person had the opportunity to have an open forum with artists and engineers were invited. Just having diverse groups finding common ground through mutual discovery, defaulting to open, and having an end goal and connecting through impact.

Table 15

We talked about diversity, openness, and other things. The story that we want to talk about is that at Samsung two years ago we tried to solve web payment solution for merchants. Because of the business interest, because it was one company, we had the backing of a bank, and Samson Pay was one of the payment options on Samson. We tried to solve the problem for that band. It worked. The solution was there. After few years in browser, I learned that any solution for web is a disaster, it’s not going to work. So we joined the payment group, we shared our experience, and in 8 or 10 months, we had just more diverse group looking at this, more eyeballs trying to solve that problem and more use cases. The collaboration blew our mind it’s just the best way it could happen. No matter what, openness is the way to go.

Table 16

Open communication and listening to one another. The team was building out on other people’s stories. So that worked out really well. We had a story where you could give negative feedback to build consensus. We talked about going into details and getting down to the model level that really matters, and once you get there, you get to the consensus type that W3 operates at. Also experience with cloud sourcing, and building that out in terms of building a larger source of consensus. We had that talked about. Getting the context. Helping people to realize what exactly they are trying to agree on, and building that context with that foundation and you can build on that agreement. You can build out on that experience, and finally we agreed on the storyline on in corporate .. which is called… and here you have to build consensus among people who are actually illiterate, and they used to sell milk individually and to agree and get together arms and across religions and across towns to build out a cooperative society that would work together with each other preserving individual interest as well as the community interest as a whole. The idea behind the story is that if you build the bigger vision, and can show that personal interest can multiply, if the group has a lot of parallels in blockchain and the themes we are seeing with the DAO where if individual interest can be held back a little bit for a later time, and the group interest can be suppoted for a little while longer, then we can… and with that we hope we can build consensus as well. Thank you.


I encourage you to keep your cards. They are useful. Dazza is collecting all of the sheets. If you did not bring up your notes, can you please make sure that Dazza has your notes so that he can record them. Thank you very much. Okay folks, we are running a little late, we have a break right now, let’s keep it to 5 to 10 minutes. So let’s meet back here in 7 minutes. Bathrooms are down the hall. When we come back, we will have Arvind giving us a speech to inspire us all.