Change will take swarms-Rick Falkvinge

February 22, 2012

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: As usual, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, nails it. We need a new method for activism, one that incorporates the Internet. Here in Thailand, activists try to include everyone’s opinions. That inevitably means radical policies get diluted into wimpiness beyond recognition and it takes a lot of time to get everyone together. This is pretty PC, touchy-feely but there needs to be a new paradigm for activism. I don’t know about you, but I hate going to meetings; for one thing, I’m too busy. I’d rather do it than just endlessly talk about it: just give me some direction. On the other hand, there’s a snowball’s chance anybody will actually answer your carefully-crafted email which covers every conceivable point and took days to draft. “The Swarm” is way more my style and sounds like it might well prove to be unstoppable activism. See something needs action, act on it. Make sure no one feels excluded. Rick thinks the person acting is a ‘lead-er’ but, in my experience, all leaders eventually get burned-out, become corrupt, autocratic and/or lazy. We hope we can make FACT a swarm. So join us!]

Selling Your Vision With A Swarm

Rick Falkvinge

Falkvinge on Infopolicy: February 19, 2012


People’s friends are better marketers than you, for the simple reason that they are those people’s friends, and you are not.

But first, before we go into marketing, let’s take a moment to reflect on the nature of the swarm.

In the last chapter*, we talked a lot about formal structures of the swarm. Keep the working groups to seven people in size, split the informal groups that approach 150 people in size into two. This will have come as a surprise to some, who would believe and maybe even insist that a swarm must be leaderless and fully organic. (*This is an excerpt from an upcoming book, Swarmwise. That “last chapter” has not been published yet.)

I do not believe in leaderless organizations. We can observe around us that change happens whenever people are allowed to inspire each other to greatness. This is leadership. This is even leadership by its very definition.

In contrast, if you have a large assembly of people who are forced to agree on every movement, including the mechanism for what constitutes such agreement, then you rarely achieve anything at all.

Therefore, as you build a swarm, it is imperative that everybody is empowered to act in the swarm just through what they believe will further its goals – but no one is allowed to empower themselves to restrict others, neither on their own nor through superior numbers.

This concept – that people are allowed, encouraged and expected to assume speaking and acting power for themselves in the swarm’s name, but never the kind of power that limits others’ right to do the same thing – is a hard thing to grasp for many. We have been so consistently conditioned to regard power as power, regardless whether it is over our own actions or over those of others, that this crucial distinction must be actively explained. We will return to explore this mechanism in more detail in chapter five, as we discuss how to create a sense of inclusion and lack of fear as we mould the general motivations in the swarm.

As a result, somebody who believes the swarm should take a certain action to further its goals need only start doing it. If others agree that the action is beneficial, then they will join in on that course of action.

The key reasons the swarm should not be leaderless are two. You will notice that I refer to ”its goals”. Those come from you, the swarm’s founder. If the swarm would be allowed to start discussing its purpose in life, then it would immediately lose its attracting power of new people – who, after all, feel attracted to the swarm in order to accomplish a specific goal, and not out of some general kind of sense of social cohesion.

The second reason is these very mechanisms, the swarm’s culture of allowing people to act. These values will be key to the swarm’s success, and those values are set and established by you as its founder. If the swarm starts discussing its methods of conflict resolution, meaning there is no longer any means to even agree when people will have come to an agreement, then the necessary activism for the end goal will screech to a halt.

Therefore, I believe that leaderless swarms are not capable of delivering a tangible change in the world at the end of the day. The scaffolding, the culture, and the goals of the swarm need to emanate from a founder. In a corporate setting, we would call this ”mission and values”.

But I also believe in competition between many overlapping swarms, so that activists can float in and out of organizations that best match the change they want to see in the world. One swarm fighting for a goal does not preclude more doing the same, but perhaps with a slightly different set of parameters.

So the sum of this little introspective reflection is that the vision of the swarm’s end goal comes, and must come, from you – its founder. However, as we shall see, this doesn’t mean that you can control the message being told to every single being, or that you should even try to do so. Rather, you should encourage the opposite.

You do the vision. The swarm does the talking.

Traditional marketing says that a message needs to stay constant to penetrate. My experience says that’s total hogwash.

It may certainly be true that you can influence routine buying patterns or even routine voting patterns with simpleton messages of the one-size-fits-all type. But if you want activists, people who walk an extra mile to make a difference, then it’s a different ballgame entirely.

You don’t want a routine pattern when you’re looking for activists. You want people who are energized, who feel like kings of the world and who can’t wait to make a difference with their bare hands.

Try to do that with a TV ad. You can’t. No matter how many millions you spend on it, it cannot be done. (This disregards the fact that swarms form in money-strapped environments in the first place.)

”A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Our language is a social marker. Our choice of words matter, as do minute details in their pronunciation and timing. Our language is a marker of group inclusion, and more importantly, of group exclusion.

If somebody comes up to you and tells you a factual statement in a language that you identify as that of a group you dislike, you are very likely to discard that message as false, despite its actual truthness. In the same vein, if somebody that dresses, speaks, and acts in a manner consistent with your social standards tells you a factual statement, then you are likely to accept it as plausible and maybe examine it on its own merits later.

This sounds obvious. Yet, it has not been used in the marketing of ideas before swarms arrived on stage.

The recipe is ridiculously simple: communicate your vision to everybody, and let the thousands of activists translate your vision into words that fit their specific social context. Don’t make a one-size-fits-all message that everybody has to learn. It will be a one-size-fits-none.

Let me give a tangible example. When I speak about the opportunities associated with the obsolescence of the copyright industry, I can do so in many different languages. If I were to speak about this before a liberal entrepreneur crowd, I would say something like this:

”There is tremendous opportunity in the cutting of this link from the value chain. The copyright industry intermediaries no longer add value to the end product or service, and so, on a functioning market, they are going to die by themselves. There is a problem here, as their monopoly prevents that. Therefore, we must assist in this cutoff, as removal of that overhead allows for growth of the overall market, future opportunities for the artist entrepreneurs, and for new jobs that take the place of the obsolete ones.”

However, speaking to dark-red communist groups that celebrate the Red Army Faction as heroes, I would choose a different language:

”I think it is fantastic that the cultural workers have finally assumed control over their means of production, and that we finally have the ability to throw off the middlemen parasite capitalists who have been profiting for decades off of their hard labor. We should help our brothers and sisters to make this transition happen, and help them turn the captured middlemen profits into new jobs for our culture.”

Factually, these two statements are completely identical. I am saying the exact same thing. But one wording would not work for the other group; you would get thrown out of the room and the curiosity in your swarm discarded for good.

Granted, these two settings are extreme contrasts to make a point. But even a subtle sign of not belonging can be enough to get your idea and vision discarded in a conversation.

This is why you need the activists – thousands of them – to translate your vision into many different social contexts as you have activists. Only then will you be able to electrify their friends with your vision, once that vision is clad in the language of that social context.

Don’t think you can do this yourself for every setting. You don’t master every nuance of language and social code. Nobody does. I may be able to switch languages rudimentarily from years of training in different settings, but I can’t easily change appearance. If I arrive in a suit at a place for a presentation, and they turn out to be laid-back hippie types, then that’s it. No word I say after that can change their perception of me.

It is also important, and imperative, that your activists not only are encouraged to translate your vision, but also to interpret and apply it to specific scenarios. In a political swarm, for example, that means they need to be able to translate general principles into specific policy on the fly, and express it in appropriate language for the context – always without asking permission. A three-activist rule can apply here, or you can empower everybody straight off the bat. When this starts to happen without any central planning and control, the swarm starts to really fly.

[FACT: Pay attention here]–There will be people in the swarm who object to others’ interpretations of the vision and general principles, of course. This brings us back to the distinction between empowerment of the activist self, versus the power to crack down on the work of others. The golden rule of the net springs to life: ”If you see something you don’t like, contribute with something you do like.”

This rule is absolutely paramount, and it is you who must enforce it.

One of the worst things that can happen to the swarm is the emergence of a back seat driver culture, where those who do are punished for it – and it is your responsibility to make sure that people who do things are rewarded, even – importantly – even when you think they weren’t exactly on the money.

Otherwise, a back seat driver culture will emerge that punishes those who take risks and do things they believe in, a mechanism that is critical to inspire others in the swarm. If this doesn’t happen, because people become afraid of doing so, the swarm dies.



This is a draft part of the upcoming book Swarmwise, due 2012. It is an instruction manual for recruiting and leading tens of thousands of activists on a mission to change the world for the better, without having access to money, resources, or fame. The book is based on Falkvinge’s experiences in leading the Swedish Pirate Party into the European Parliament, starting from nothing, and covers all aspects of leading a swarm of activists into mainstream success.



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