What is the potential of web3 to revolutionize the "intangible" side of org design?

There’s no question that web3 opens up a whole range of organizational possibilities, by providing designers with more sophisticated formal mechanisms. But does it also advance the informal side? What I mean by that is culture, norms, lore, what you might call the goopy stuff or intangibles? Answering this is important because it influences how much a forum like SCRF should even engage with the non-mechanistic dimensions of decentralized design.

I see four main answers.

  1. Orthogonal. web3, having been designed to advance the “tangibles,” is agnostic to the intangibles, leaving them just as mysterious and important and elusive as they are in traditional orgs.
  2. Helps. web3, by “solving” the tangible side with ever greater rigor, leads to some kind of renewed focus/clarity/creativity around the importance of getting the intangibles right as well. This would be maybe an “explainable variance” story: organizational outcomes are the result of tangible and intangible components; web3 succeeds at explaining enough variance in the tangible component to bringing focus to the other component with the most variance to explain.
  3. Hurts. web3 brings attention even further away from the intangibles and their importance. This would be the “lamppost effect” story: organizational innovation in web3 will be driven by the joy of pushing the tangibles as far as they’ll go, because that’s what it give us to push.
  4. Substitutes. web3 makes it possible to replace all goopy intangibles with mechanisms/tangibles, revolutionizing org design by making all of its important dimensions rigorous, trustless, and secure. “Intangibles? What intangibles?”

What do you think? What should I think? Where I am right now, I’d love to believe it Helps, but I currently believe that it is Agnostic or Hurts, and I’m not a believer in the Substitutes answer.

(This post, by the way, is a fork off of this project update. It develops my reply to @dwither’s comments)


I’ll reply to your previous post here, as well as this one.

I think the question you posed in your previous thread really hits the nail on the head: “What is the potential for decentralized/web3 structures to revolutionize how we build for the intangibles?” This is the question I’ve been asking myself for a few years now.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the question you pose here is more important than the four answers you outline above. In my view, the design space is still wide open here right now so answers 1, 2 and 3 are all equally possible. The overton window is open, so to speak. However, I outright reject the 4th as possible right now (just as you said you aren’t a believer). Perhaps one day when we gain a much more thorough understanding of humanity might we be able to quantify what we now see as intangibles, but I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

As for the options, I am optimistic here personally. Right now, I think it’s a mix of orthogonal and helps. I think the dynamics you describe in ‘hurts’ are present, but less so than in the real world. There are a lot of projects that are agnostic, people just working on tangible system design.

But at the same time there seems to be a real recognition of the importance of the intangible both in terms of protocol design, as well as at the coal face. At the protocol level, I think this is present around social consensus. The recognition that no matter what, people are still involved at the base layer. There isn’t a separation between man and machine in crypto. It’s still always about stakers or miners, and the incentives they operate under. Crypto just structures these incentives in a transparent manner which provides legitimacy.

At the coal face, I think the importance of intangibles is present in the recognition of how critical a strong community can be. You can see this narrative everywhere these days, though I’m not sure anyone’s mastered community building and sustainment yet. Somewhat tangentially, I also think this is helped by growing recognition of the irrationality of the market and humans. For a long time, the narrative has been all about an evidence base and the base assumption that humans are rational economic actors. These days it’s becoming clear to many that there’s more to things than just evidence (ie intangibles), and everyone watching the crypto market has had a front row seat to the irrationality of humanity.

I believe that the way web3 works allows for the possibility for us to better incorporate intangible’s into decision making. By structuring the tangibles consistently and systematically in the way that crypto does, it allows for the importance of the intangibles to become more readily apparent. Just as close observation of the observable universe reveals the existence of dark matter.

However, we still need better tools to represent or ‘see’ them. While they may not be directly measurable, we can use proxies. In this line, I’d like to add a second question to the one of yours that I quoted above. ‘How can we structure and aggregate what people think at scale?’ If we can’t quantify the intangibles, the only way to access them is by analyzing what people think. And to do this in a structured way at scale. I believe web 3 provides tools for this that until now have only really been present in qualitative research which is limited by cost.

For this reason, I am very interested in what a decentralized social graph would look like. I think that attestations to profiles, which could allow us to sort opinions by things such as demographics or what type of subject matter expert they are, would allow for a very useful delineation of what people think that can be structured and scaled with far lower costs than anything we do traditionally.

But that’s still some ways in the future, though all the building blocks are currently being worked on.