Imagine you want to vote on someone next election in your country. Then, you look at the options, and you like none - you feel limited and without options. You’re fed up of people telling you that you have the choice, while in practice the candidates weren’t chosen by you. Maybe the problem is corruption, maybe the problem is bad leaders, but you just feel everyone should stop following these hierarchical rules and demand other candidates.

Or imagine you’re on a team, you have been hired to work as a software engineer and the manager gives you full autonomy upfront. You ask yourself whether you’re ready for this level of autonomy and whether you could benefit from mentoring - could it be dangerous to receive the autonomy without being ready for it?

Have you been in situations like this?

I have received questions like this after the last article I wrote, The problem is not hierarchy, but lack of accountability, and I think they are legitimate questions, so I decided to write this new one trying to clarify these points.

I will try to answer with my point of view.

Freedom rule

In the last article, I tried to express characteristics that good leaders have and I had defined them as more free.

To make the idea less abstract, let’s imagine a rule with 2 extremes:

  • 0% free -> this represents a society that lives in slavery.
  • X% -> this represents a society in an evolution process, like ours. I don’t know how much X is, because I don’t know how far from 100% we are.
  • 100% free -> this represents a totally free society.

Non free society

What does a 0% free society looks like? Probably something we already know, as this has been part of human history - people can buy others, they neither care for each other nor they are concerned with others, they are concerned primarily with themselves and it they are good while others suffer, they are ok with that.

Can you imagine characteristics of people in such society? What I call “non-free” people are not the slaves, “non-free” is anyone whose mind belongs to such society. A slave owner fits in this kind of society, as he might be the one oppressing, but his mental model belongs to a society where people enslave one another.

So, we all can imagine a list of characteristics that individuals on such society have:

  • They don’t feel empathy for others
  • They need a ruler to be able to organize themselves in groups, where some obey and some rule
  • They like to be served, not to do themselves
  • They blame others if they can
  • They are arrogant and don’t assume their own mistakes
  • They are corrupt
  • … can you think of more?

Free society

Imagining what a completely free society looks like is much harder, do you agree? We never lived in one to know what it’s like. I can try to imagine, and that’s what I am trying to do in here, but we are limited by our own biases… Our minds never lived in a free society, so we know we want to get there, but we can only imagine, guess, try and try again, evolve, until one day human kind can reach such state.

But what is a free society then? By definition, it’s a society where there is no slavery, so a society where people don’t enslave each other, they can organize themselves in groups, they can generate resources to share, be productive enough to generate these resources, without having to enslave each other in any way.

Even limited by my biases, I can imagine individuals who would live in this society would be like that:

  • They are independent
  • They can organize themselves in groups, either with centralized decision making or distributed
  • They have clear delegation of tasks
  • They are accountable
  • They lead by example and generate more free people like them
  • They are humble and open to new ideas
  • They are honest
  • … can you think of more?

These characteristics are my opinion, feel free to leave a comment here if you think it can aggregate to the discussion of how free individuals look like.

So, do you need mentoring?

We are probably somewhere in the middle of what would be a perfect society (you could argue it’s an utopia - I can’t prove we can get there) and a totally non free society. So, what’s the role of managers in software companies in the process of making the society better? Is it better to receive mentoring instead of receiving full autonomy?

From the point of view I am defending here, whatever helps you an individuals in general to get to the free society better, is better. That’s the metric we want to use, and it’s something really hard to measure. I think the practical answer is - it depends on who your mentor is.

If you have a mentor whose mindset is closer to the non-free society, it won’t help you, it will hold you. If you have a mentor who is closer to the free society mental model, then he will probably lead you by example and give you increasing levels of autonomy as you get ready.

But how can we know whether the mentor is a good one? That’s the tricky part - we have never seen a free society, so we don’t know!.

The best thing we can do is probably choosing mentors who are as far as possible from the non-free mental model.

And what if you go without a mentor? Well, keep focus on the vision - as long as you have clarity that the goal is reach the free mental model, you can yourself imagine metrics and forms of detecting whether you’re getting there or not.

Pragmatic tip: ask yourself, from time to time, whether the decisions you’re making are leading you and others to a free society

But what about corruption? How will society change?

You might be asking - ok, this is all good, but nothing will work while we have corrupt leaders, we have to eliminate corruption from the system, otherwise it won’t work.

That intersects with the fact that bad mentors will hold you back instead of moving you forward, and the same mental model applies. It’s useful to have a mentor if it’s moving you in the right direction, but hierarchy to hold you back is just useless.

Should we make a revolution then? Is the only way forward removing people from power and putting better people in their place?

I will leave it up to you, reader, to decide whether or not a revolution would be beneficial and move us to a better society - if you understand well the mental model in this article, you can think about it yourself and this is not a question easy to answer. BUT!

But I am confident that a revolution won’t ensure on its own that we are closer to a free society - you could have an oppressing power, then you remove the ones in power in the hope it will solve the problem, and the replacements which enter are even worse. We have plenty of evidence of this happening in many countries recently, by the way.

Remember that changing who is in charge won’t necessarily move you from non-free to free, you might just be changing the oppressor.

If you stop being a slave to be the enslaver, that’s not victory, it’s a defeat! You still in a non-free mindset.

What will actually change the society is a shift in the mental model of the population, so even people who are in power won’t want to be corrupt, as they will understand this is ignorance. If we think about more in deep, people who can enslave aren’t privileged, they are ignorant, as they believe they will be better by being the ones in power. That’s not true - you’re not better when you’re the ruler, you’re better when you don’t have to rule.

Compare it with the past - if you had a time machine, would you prefer to go back in time as a king, and have a lot of serfs? If the answer is positive, I feel really sorry for you and I hope someday the words you’re reading in this article touch your heart, but I can tell you I definitely wouldn’t. Being a ruler is meaningless for happiness, we are a tiny piece of cosmic dust, power is just but an illusion and it’s more likely it will control you rather than put you in control.

There is nothing better than living on a free world, and I wouldn’t exchange this by any power in the world.

So even if we don’t create a revolution against the corrupt people in power, we must come to the realization that society will change with a shift in people’s mental model - when they shift to a mental model of being free and wanting others to be free, their actions will change as a result, their acknowledgement of power will change, and the change will come as a natural consequence.

Please keep making comments

I hope this article was useful and hopefully it made the last one less abstract. I am still improving my write skills and I am touching subjects which are really hard to touch right in the beginning, it’s hard to remove abstraction when we’re talking about things so generically. I would love to be more specific and provide more examples, but some ideas really require a level of abstraction to be discussed. I want to do more articles like this, though, reacting to comments and getting deeper in the specifics of such situations, so we can raise the level of the debate.

I hope this reading aggregate something for you and please keep raising comments and questions - hopefully we will move together in the direction we all want, helping each other.