Yes, I’m still here.
You may be wondering why it took me almost a full semester to post another one of my highly expected thought pieces. Short answer? I’ve been posting this whole time, just not in the way you’d expect.
Last time we were here, I pondered how authority can be leveraged as a medium to amplify a message, especially when tokens come into the picture as the dots-to-be-connected in the endless puzzle that is surfacing a truth.
That thesis has expanded a bit now that we’ve got tools like ChatGPT at our disposal. The dream of making our organizations more autonomous seems almost within reach. Yet there’s still people pooling into web3 everyday, asking where to sign up for a full-time salary collaborating with DAOs. It seems like these two trends are at odds.
Well, I’ve got exciting news for you on that front. I feel like I've taken an interesting new step towards cracking the code on how to be an outstanding contributor without being just another laborer (what I commonly call “not being just a pair of hands”).
After watching these new technologies unfold, as well as being in the front-lines while looking to explore the value of my work moving past the transactional. I’ve been feeling more and more that the perfect storm is approaching. We’re heading towards a small window of time where crypto and AI meet for the first time (in a meaningful way), and as Venkatesh Rao’s excellent essay “The Dawn of Mediocre Computing” says:
Via seemingly unrelated computational pathways, these two realish domains have succumbed to computerized automation. Incompletely, imperfectly, and unreliably, to be sure, but they definitely have succumbed. And in ways that seem conceptually roughly right rather than not even wrong. Large language models (LLMs) are the right way for software to eat language. Blockchains are the right way for software to eat money. And the two together are the right way to eat everything from contracts to code.
And it’s true, these two entwined technologies will indeed bring on the next big paradigm shift. The real web3 is knocking at our doorstep. And I’m sorta wincing at the thought most people are barely scratching the surface of what can be done with the crypto side of things while AI comes in like Thomas the tank engine at 200mph.
We need to define what DAOs are and how to work for them better. Because if we don’t, we run the risk of automation swooping over us with no real way to complement it with the much-needed human component the digital world needs to unlock all our wildest dreams. We must figure out how to verifiably source truths and attribute trust, cause there’s a tidal wave of misinformation, hyper-reality and post-truths coming our way.
So, what have I been doing these months? I’ve been wracking my brain at addressing three big breaking points in the journey of every DAO contributor. Looking for ways to nip our troubles with reputation and nepotism at the bud. And most importantly, trying my hardest to find a solution that doesn’t require more tech. We better rawdog this one with our very own monkey brains.
Every DAO contributor faces three key moments, similar to the three paths I explored before. There’s the plight of not being enough, the toil of being valuable while conserving your energies, and the calling to leverage your renown in a way that actually helps other people reach the reward of being able to share their truth without sacrificing their own reputation.
When looking at where we’ve failed in the past (and that includes what we used to do in web2 platforms as well), I think it may be worth considering how tokens and governance and the whole song and dance might actually help us break the wheel of extractive power structures. But most importantly, how can we as people learn to navigate the path in a way that doesn’t lead to us perpetuating the same stale cycle of underdog-opressor we’re all too familiar with.
Here’s the part I explored in the Contributor’s Trilemma, as well as the three possible paths I identified as the builder’s journey in the digital age. To give you a refresher, I proposed that
People want to help the missions they resonate with in meaningful ways.
Once they reach a position of comfort, they’ll naturally gravitate towards the places where they feel their own needs are fulfilled best.
When their reputation breaks the confines of their inner circle, they must find ways of fulfilling the previous two points without sacrificing what made them want to help in the first place.
I also explored how media could be an interesting approach to checking these boxes for people like myself, though in general terms, there should be an endless amount of ways to do so.
Then, when we come back at this overarching point of “How can you maximize the amount of people you help when you’re only human?”. A new way of seeing the problem popped up. What if instead of looking at it from a “You helping them” perspective, we saw it as a “You inspiring them to help themselves”?
Without getting too cerebral, here’s what I’m trying out with my recent onslaught of media appearances:
I may or may not have accidentally typecast myself as both the “work full-time for DAOs” Guy, and the “Publish your writing on Mirror” Guy. And while those are two topics I’m sure I could offer some nice insight on, I’m usually not too keen on becoming a niche.
That’s because when it comes to web3, I want to be a person, not a topic. I want you to read and enjoy my writing because you’re interested in my personal journey. That’s the reason I stray away from writing instructionals or educational content when it’s not for one of the projects I work for. My approach to audience building is to build friendships first.
Most of the creators you see out there want to become like the influencers of the past decade, just “better” (which I don’t believe to be possible anyways). Me? I want to be the Fred Rogers or Bob Ross of web3.
They weren’t teachers, or mentors, or leaders. And yet they were all of those and much more without even setting out to do so.
I believe having an established presence based on your curiosity rather than authority has the power to solve the influencer authenticity problem we’re currently living through.
You don’t trust people like Beanie or SBF because you know they are gaining more from your relationship than you are. You trust Mr Rogers or Bob Ross because you know they’re just doing their thing because they enjoy doing it, audience or not.
And yet, you also know they’re driven to spread their message to as wide an audience as possible because they believe just taking part in the journey is worth sharing.
The big “But” for the previous point is two-fold. First, how does all of that actually translate into building a reputation as a builder and a valuable participant in this frantic space? And second, when I say “Inspiring them to help themselves” aren’t I taking my own role (and therefore credit) out of the equation?
Well, yes to the latter, in a way; but that’s where the former comes in.
It is true that whenever widening your area of influence, you must sacrifice some of the laurels that come with being in the trenches. But at the same time, it’s also an opportunity to find a new and more rewarding type of impact.
Sure, making that spreadsheet or writing that article will get you kudos and recognition among your peers. But there’s nothing quite like being to one that sparked the idea or the conversation in the first place.
If you manage to juggle the building part and the thinking part of the creator economy, you’ll have the winning formula to an ever-lasting legacy. Though of course, that’s not an easy balance to achieve.
On this front, something I’ve been trying out has been using this newly-found place of influence as a quoted source to fuel the fire of these conversations:
Wanna decide whether or not to publish on Mirror for X DAO? Here’s an entire podcast episode with me exploring the pros, cons and opportunities of the platform!
Wanna understand what public goods are and contemplate the idea of funding your project through a Gitcoin grant? Here I am offering my take on the matter with Frisson after I called him out on being against them on twitter! (Amazing conversation btw Frisson ILY)
It’s not only about saying the thing. It’s about being part of the conversation when the decision is being made, and having the track record to back your claim up.
We often explore just one side of the coin in this aspect of contribution and work. We’re either talking or doing.
I gotta admit, I’ve felt a bit inadequate this semester after slowing down my contributions to projects while exploring this new media experiment. But I feel the next step will involve combining all of the talking the talk with a new level of walking the walk.
The secret is somewhere in there. It’s just a matter of grabbing these sources I’ve accrued for myself (and that you definitely should for yourself), and putting them together in a way that has a semblance of cohesion. That’s when the bigger picture becomes clear, and your curiosity gets rewarded with a more sustainable and approachable kind of authority.
I may not be on top of the DAO world, there’s plenty of more efficient contributors, as well as better known ones, and I honestly don’t plan on conquering that proverbial summit, ever. But I believe there’s one thing I have to offer to this space that no one else can.
I care about understanding power, without wanting power for myself. Much like the philosopher’s stone, it will only show itself to those who seek it without wanting to use it for personal gain.
And that’s exactly the code we’ve been trying to crack this entire time. Decentralized contribution, execution, knowledge, etc. They are all looking to answer the question of “how do we distribute power in a way that’s not exploitative, yet effective?”
And sure, the textbooks and thinkbois will give you their own take on this. But the truth is, no one has a definitive answer that doesn’t buckle under duress.
Which is why I believe looking at it from an individual perspective may be a path to consider when the universal solutions fail us at every turn.
Power means enough people believe in you that it’s practically impossible for you to fail. This may look like money, or an audience, or trust. It’s all the same. Power lies in having the ability to act beyond your own means. But it comes at the very delicate cost of maintaining it.
SBF defrauded hundreds of thousands. Beanie showed his greed, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Musk took us for granted. No matter how your power manifests, your one and only responsibility is to use it in a way that fulfills your promise and helps other people.
Bringing that back down to earth. That means not letting your reputation or authority compromise the integrity of the decentralized systems we’re building.
We see it time and time again. Governance votes going for the popular candidate even when their proposal may not be the best (and even if it is), shitty projects that add nothing to this space skyrocketing on the backs of recognizable names. All of these examples are the biggest threats to web3, and we’re acting as if they’re gonna solve themselves with more tech.
DAOs are the virtual watering hole of our primitive monkey brains. It’s where we’re learning to trust and collaborate online at scale for one of the first times in human history (the first one being money). And that’s why they should also be the testing ground for a more conscientious and aware humanity.
I have been asked time and time again to make content for aspiring DAO contributors. Helping them land their first paid contributions, learning how to make a full time income out of it, etc. Truth is, there is no clear pathway to getting there. While this business (and non-business) model is still being explored, your mileage WILL vary, there’s gonna be very little overlap in the way I got to where I am, and the way you’ll get to the heights you’ll eventually get to.
So, this piece is my way showing you three core pillars (and breaking points, if not addressed) of the contributor journey. They may seem insignificant when all you’re thinking about is the next paycheck. But believe me when I tell you, the answer to being a long lasting participant in this space lies somewhere in there.