Two weeks ago, about 50 people gathered in a room to discuss the values that should underpin Project Catalyst. The setting was the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the 2022 Cardano Summit. Many participants have worked side by side in the Project Catalyst ecosystem for many months and were meeting in “In Real Life” for the first time! As introductions and greetings were made, there were exclamations about how unexpectedly tall or short someone was, jokes about how good it was to see each other's legs and feet, and hugs between close pals, finally meeting in the flesh.
I found it especially refreshing to hear new acquaintances explain their projects and proposals in person, one on one. Many of them were project ideas I had read on Ideascale as a Proposal Assessor, but this time I could ask them questions directly as we talked and share with them what I liked most about their ideas. After three years of the Global Pandemic and our ever-growing ability to work “remotely” on almost anything, it was a refreshing reminder of the value of gathering together in the same terrestrial space.
Those gathered likely share the view that Project Catalyst is an important, ground-breaking experiment in decentralized innovation and that what is learned in the experiment could really change the future. There was also a shared sense that the experiment had reached its awkward teen years, with gangly limbs, embarrassing blemishes, and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. Moving into this next stage of growth, Project Catalyst was put on pause - sleeping in on the weekend, as it were.
Project Catalyst has moved through 9 funding rounds, growing each time in budget size, number of proposals, number of voters, or all three; sometimes, the growth between rounds is best measured in multiples, not just increments. This growth marks a kind of success, but it has also stress-tested the simple structures we started with, exposing all the weak spots. After Fund 9, IOG paused the project to avoid that famous mark of insanity: repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. To that end, leaders at IOG have posited that Project Catalyst needs a charter: a formal statement of the scope and purpose of the experiment. Something we can all aim toward and measure against. Thus far, measuring the success of Project Catalyst has been done with pretty blunt tools: attracting participants and voters, and the mere fact that many funding rounds have been executed was really the first measure of success! But now it is time to mature, put away the yardsticks and measuring tapes, and agree on more sophisticated metrics.
The meeting in Lausanne focused on discussing what values should form the foundation of the new charter. Six potential values were presented. The participants gathered in small groups to reflect on the proposed values and to offer new ones if there were important ideas that we saw missing. Then the sharing moved to the large-group level, where we shared summaries of our reflections. In the end, all the ideas were represented with a flurry of colorful post-it notes grouped on the wall.
As we went, I took a few notes about what was discussed. There is no way to capture all of the ideas that came out over 2 hours and in many small groups. Here we offer a taste of the discussion, and an invitation to join the conversation: in the comments here, on Twitter, or with your small group of co-conspirators, wherever you meet!
Here are the six proposed values and some notes I heard concerning each:
This value seemed to hit a good note for most participants. There was some discussion about wanting to take the idea even further: that Project Catalyst be not merely open-minded but actively INCLUSIVE. It was inspiring to hear the passion in the room for a future that really is for everyone!
Collaboration has always been at the core of Project Catalyst, and the group seemed to echo this value in the large and small discussions. There was an interesting discussion about how COMPETITION interplays with collaboration. In a system where some win funding and others don’t, we must recognize that competition is a factor. I heard around my table that competition is motivating and inspiring for some people, while it is intimidating and demotivating for others. We see this all over in life: some types of people thrive under competitive pressure, and others simply don’t prefer that mode. How can we inspire and include both kinds of people in Project Catalyst?
This interesting word inspired some of the most wide-ranging reactions, from positive to negative. First, there was an oft-repeated consensus that it’s a strange, uncommon word, which may not be the best choice in a global community where many speak English as a second or third language (and where we will inevitably have to trust translators to convey the meaning in other languages). In addition, framing a “value” in the negative (i.e. “anti-” anything) struck a sour chord for many, who noted that stating our values in an affirmative voice is preferable. Numerous people posited that RESILIENT would be a good alternative, but a few insisted that “antifragile” was still better than resilient. This quote from the book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder sums it up like this:
>> “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
One enthusiastic booster of antifragility shared an oft-repeated refrain from his favorite annual festival: “Burning Man was better next year!”
Despite the obvious appeal of this strong ideal, a table of participants brought vehement opposition to the idea of antifragility as a value. To understand their opposition, it’s helpful to consider the classic example of antifragility, the Hydra. The Hydra is not just Cardano's answer to speed and scaling; it is a Greek mythological creature with many heads and an extraordinary power: when one head is cut off, two grow back in its place. When we consider that the many heads of Project Catalyst are us - real people, not mythological beasts - we can see the rub. We should be cautious of any values and systems that may treat humans as disposable resources in the name of antifragility.
The group broadly approved the value of transparency. If anything, there was energy to double down on this value in subsequent iterations of Project Catalyst. Some participants wanted to build on this idea and see the ideas of accountability and professionalism reflected more strongly in the project.
While the session's objective was to focus on values, not necessarily specific issues, the irresistible pull of a few gripe sessions was inevitable. The problem of projects that are proposed and executed (or not-executed) without oversight and professional behavior is a thorn in our side. The widespread messes in the proposal assessment process, from bots and bad actors to simple inefficiencies, is a hotbed of raw feelings. The question of how to build greater transparency and accountability into an ecosystem that also values the possibility of anonymity and autonomy is undoubtedly one of the trickiest problems we must solve as we move forward.
This value wasn’t particularly controversial, although there was some question as to whether it represents a value or a goal. The idea is if we are Open Minded, Collaborative, Antifragile, and Transparent, for example, our actions will have an Impact. We didn’t specifically talk about “goals” for Project Catalyst in this meeting, but that might be one of the next useful conversations to have as we think about developing a useful charter. Values lie at the heart of any organism, and from them spring actions, which build toward goals. This legendary Ted Talk speaks to this idea of how putting the WHY (values) at the center allows us to build toward the HOW and the WHAT (goals) with greater effectiveness.
An additional piece of the Impact conversation centered around the need for greater MEASURABILITY in our work. “Trust but verify,” as the old saying goes. Many feel that early rounds of Project Catalyst have been a little light on the “verify” side of this equation.
The last of the proposed values was “Inspire Innovation.” Again, the only particularly debatable facet of this value was whether it should be classified instead as a goal or, indeed, as part of the overall Mission of Project Catalyst. However, there was little doubt in the room that we certainly value innovation!
What will we be?
In addition to discussing the relative merits of the proposed values, attention was given to thinking about those missing from this list. Should we add more values? Should some be taken away? Should the final list of Project Catalyst “values” be shorter? Surely a strong list of three top values would be easier to remember! For the most part, these additions and detractions, as I remember them, have been reflected in the summaries above. There was one more idea that arose that I wanted to mention, coming from one table that insisted on framing values differently, as action statements. From this table the following suggestions arose:
- Be nice!
- Be helpful.
- Be supportive.
- Be patient.
- Be persistent.
- Be the change you wish to see in the world.
If you were in the room for this meeting, comment below with your recollections of what you heard that day. If you have a picture of the Post-It wall, please share it! If you were not there in the flesh, join the conversation now. What values would you like to see reflected in the Project Catalyst charter?