Hi, I’m Rob, I’m a work psychologist, and a few weeks ago I attended Cosmoverse in Istanbul and met a bunch of you, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my observations and thoughts. Just FYI, I’m not much of a crypto expert, and I’m not technical at all, but I’m a friend of Sebastien’s, and I’ve had a positive opinion of the Cosmos ecosystem after having attended the past two Nebular Summits. I knew a little bit about the history of Cosmos and some of the related dramas – and, in my line of work, drama and conflict are things I gravitate to, so I’ve been intrigued to learn more for a while. Cosmoverse did not disappoint.
Let me start by saying that I love (and seek out) working with people who have two key traits: a passion for building a better world, and a humility that building a better world is really, really hard. I felt that authenticity and curiosity from almost everyone I talked to – that’s not something I see in every organization I meet, so it’s worth acknowledging and applauding.
As a whole, Cosmos exhibits very strong shared values, some of which are: kindness, curiosity, fairness, intelligence, industriousness, humility, autonomy, and democracy. I’m sure I’m missing some, and I could go into more detail on each of these, but for now let’s just leave them here.
Cosmos is – especially compared with other blockchain communities I’m familiar with – not a cult! There is true diversity in the ecosystem, as well as a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s a big tent, which is ideal for growth at the levels of ambition it has. There is an impressive level of self-awareness throughout the ecosystem. This is accompanied by relatively low defensiveness. People tend to own up to mistakes and often set aside their egos. This means there’s massive learning going on.
The collective intelligence of Cosmos is staggering. As a whole, Cosmos displays evidence of widespread complex thinking and an impressively low level of black-and-white thinking. This ability to “encode” at a meta-systemic level is Cosmos’s most unique asset (On this last point, I just remember two Nebulars ago, Sonny cheekily declaring that he had become a “fiat Maxi” – this ability to see the value in the systems you wish to replace was the first sign to me that Cosmos was operating on a higher level.)
And finally, there are just such good vibes among you. I know I’m repeating myself, but I enjoyed meeting so many of you…
But I have to mention some of the things that concerned me (as a business psychologist), too.
First, there’s a lot of raw pain and even trauma in the community. There have been conflicts that have left scars, there was the Atom 2.0 thing which some people are still reeling from, and there have been a lot of people stepping into leadership and management positions for which they were never really properly trained.
Next, there’s a lot of burnout. You’ve been going nonstop for years now, first through a bull market, then the current bear market. No time is ever a good time to slow down. But you can’t sprint forever. And when I look at Cosmos, I see a shared vision that goes decades (if not longer) into the future.
There doesn’t seem to be a great culture of managing conflict in the Cosmos ecosystem. Conflict is an essential part of human communication, but if handled poorly, it can be very unhealthy. I saw evidence of aggressive, passive, and passive-aggressive communication, catastrophization, avoidance, and other suboptimal approaches to conflict.
Management skills seem to lag the “real world” (or at least Web 2.0). I didn’t hear of anyone investing in management training, executive coaching, team coaching, etc. – and not too many people were raving to me about the quality of their managers!
The “Big Bang” that happened at the center of the Cosmos ecosystem has created disparate and distant centers of gravity. The leaders of these centers of gravity are playing dual roles of visionaries and managers (long-term thinking vs. day-to-day thinking), which is challenging and often not optimal.
Perhaps directly related, but perhaps also for other reasons, collaboration and coordination among various parties (the Hub, the Foundation, validators, companies, etc.) are a challenge that people feel acutely.
I didn’t see evidence of a shared long-range vision (beyond the substance of the Atom 2.0 paper). Maybe you think this isn’t necessary, but shared trust is built on shared vision, and shared trust is, well, everything.
Many people I spoke to identified the most central institutions of the ecosystem as being some of the worst examples of many of the negative traits I’ve mentioned here.
Now, maybe you agree with the challenges I’ve observed in the Cosmos ecosystem, but you don’t think they’re that big a deal. And maybe you’re right, but I thought it might be helpful if I listed some of the risks I see:
Risk #1: The collective intelligence that has driven so much of the innovation of Cosmos erodes as collaboration becomes more difficult. The cutting edge of the design of the blockchain of blockchains moves elsewhere – sadly, probably somewhere less ethical, less kind, less curious, less fun and with worse vibes.
Risk #2: Widespread fatigue and cultural debt make the existing ecosystem unable to successfully compete in the coming bull market.
Risk #3: Being “right but not rich” (rigid thinking) winds up inhibiting the Cosmos project as the vision and values fracture – by not reckoning with power in an honest and assertive way, someone else’s values win out.
Risk #4: This all just becomes less fun (e.g., the vibes go the way of Web2).
Overall, I think Cosmos can overcome each of these risks and realize its full potential (whatever that means). But I think you’re going to need to do this with a level of intentionality that might feel uncomfortable. This has something to do with governance, but it also has a whole lot to do with the most off-chain elements you can imagine: human relationships, organizational culture, and vibes.
Recommendation #1 (this is a fantasy, but I’ll put it out there): Create an ad hoc representative working group with some of the most powerful people in the ecosystem – 6-8 people, not aligned but committed to finding a shared vision. Have them meet regularly for 6 months with team coaches to prepare a long-range, extremely high-level vision for the Cosmos. Maybe even share video of these meetings so people can see how exactly the sausage is made.
Of course I’d love to do this, but I can also put you in touch with other professionals who are widely admired in the field.
Recommendation #2: Make the core institutions of the Cosmos ecosystem the best in the world at communication, collaboration, and well-being, thus cultivating collective intelligence and reducing cultural friction. These behaviors will then radiate through the ecosystem.
Recommendation #3: Provide leadership development opportunities (coaching, training, peer groups, workshops, offsites, wellness programs, etc.) to core managers. Provide contacts and resources to ecosystem leaders.
Recommendation #4: Focus on the well-being and thriving of everyone in the ecosystem. As well as being an end in itself, it’s also a great way to attract users!
I would love to hear your reactions and thoughts as to possible next steps. If I met you in Istanbul, please say hi! And if we haven’t met, feel free to drop a line.
Robert Kelley Ayala