I was chatting with Robin Frey Carey last week and I mentioned that Jim & I will consider ourselves wildly successful if every one of our constituent groups – the market as a whole, our members, our expert facilitators, our market research customers, and ourselves & any employees – feel as if they get much more out of The Community Roundtable than they put in – even though each group will participate in different ways and what they get out will be different as well. Her laughing comment was… so you want to build a Ponzi scheme huh?
Yes… and no, not at all. But the comment got me thinking (edit: and it turns out I was confused about the difference between a Ponzi & a pryamid scheme too. While I thought Ponzi schemes are predicated on a hierarchy – the higher up on the hierarchy, the more you win – those are really just good old fashioned pyramid schemes.) Your level on the hierarchy is determined by how willing you are to take advantage of and use others. Thinking about corporations… while not a straight analog… the hierarchy forces relative winners and losers. The people at the bottom of the hierarchy typically are the most isolated and have the least information…and therefore they have no power and no matter how hard they work (assuming the cover the basic responsibilities), they get the same reward. That led to some disturbing thoughts – are most hierarchical organizations a version of a Ponzi pyramid scheme? What does that imply about managers and senior managers? That they are willing to use the information, knowledge, and skills of their staff for their own benefit? I don’t necessarily think that is most managers’ intent and yet… there is a element of truth there. And in fact, hierarchies are the best organizational structure to concentrate power/money/information.
The corollary thought was this. People have always joined communities because they get more out of them then they put in – there is no other reason to join. Not everyone puts as much in and what people get out varies accordingly. However, networked social architectures allow everyone to get more out of them then they put in. So it is like a Ponzi scheme… except everyone wins. We really like that model, call it the Happe Storer Scheme if you want. We think it’s a model that can be used in for-profit organizations as well and proving it with The Community Roundtable would make me incredibly happy.
And thanks to Doug & Jon for teaching me about Ponzi schemes today 🙂