Better Work Together

A photo of the book

There is a trickle of human energy going into solving the greatest challenges of our time.
How do we turn it into a river?

Better Work Together is a book about Enspiral, a network of businesses and organisations pursuing the mission “More People Working on Stuff That Matters”.

After pre-ordering the book during a crowd-funding campaign, it appeared in my mailbox with serendipitous timing, a few weeks before I left my job.

What is Enspiral?

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about how hard it is to explain something when people don’t already have a pre-existing mental model for that thing. When I tell people I quit my job, the question on their lips is “what’s next?” And the answer is I am looking for the thing that is next. I can sense that thing, but I cannot name it. To understand more, you have to know about my life experience, desires and perspective on the world.

(I did try to set this out a few years ago, although my outlook is always changing.)

So what is Enspiral? It’s hard to answer because we don’t have a mental model for what kind of thing an Enspiral is. It’s also constantly evolving, and is many things to many people.

This book seeks to answer the question through a collection of essays and reflections written by different people within the Enspiral network. Some of them are more fact-based, setting out the mechanics of how certain aspects of the organisation operate and fit together. Others are more focused on the values and visions which create the glue to bind the pieces.

It’s a reminder that a more human world is possible. It’s a rebellious ‘no’ to the status quo. It’s an earnest attempt at hacking the normal way we work in society. It’s a prioritisation of the important parts of being human. And it’s a reminder that together we can create islands of sanity, networks of trust and hope, and new organisations that practise what they preach. In Enspiral, it’s the being, and not just the doing, that is important.


Here’s a brief overview of the book:

Preface

This is an essay also available online which Douglas Rushkoff wrote when he interviewed Susan Basterfield and Anthony Cabraal about the book for his Team Human podcast. It basically makes the point that if we want to see a different world, our first task to to find others who share our values, with whom we can develop ideas together, rather than sitting alone dreaming up some ‘perfect plan’ and then looking for people to join us.

Solidarity is not the result of world-changingly good ideas, it is the cause.

1. More people working on stuff that matters

Joshua Vial recounts how Enspiral got started back in 2010, and some of the principles that have emerged over the years: prioritising relationships, a culture of experimentation and distributing leadership.

Early on, I realised that by far the most important thing at Enspiral was our relationships with each other. If we lose all our money and businesses but keep our relationships, then we can build it all again.

2. Evolving Enspiral

Alanna Irving writes about how she joined the Enspiral network, building the Enspiral Foundation which holds it all together, and ‘leadership which grows leadership’.

3. A radically good livelihood

Susan Basterfield shares her story of growing up in the US, riding the dot.com boom in London, moving to New Zealand, losing faith in the corporate world and then finding Enspiral.

Even within a system that’s rigged, at some point we all need to make a decision. Whether from exhaustion, inspiration, or an event that shakes our core and changes everything, we can all ask ourselves: How do we want to live?

4. Welcome to the age of participiation

Francesca Pick pulls together the threads of the global movement ‘that is leveraging the power of community, networks, and participation to work on systemic challenges’. She analyses the common themes and patterns, and then provides examples of organisations working in this way from around the world.

Rather than sacrificing ourselves for a cause and perpetuating a ‘work harder to save the world faster’ mindset, there has been a collective realisation that the path to more impact leads straight through our own personal development.

5. Saying yes to purpose – Vagas: A case-study

Sandra Chemin describes a ‘cross-pollination’ between Vagas, a company in Brazil that wanted to incorporate more horizontal management practises, and Enspiral.

6. All things being equal: when community is the business

Anthony Cabraal talks about the work of building community within Enspiral.

An organisation built with the social bonds of belonging, relationships, care, and a sense of purpose is much more resilient than one stuck together using employment contracts and job descriptions.

In the middle

Next there are 15 slightly shorter pieces which tend to deal a bit more with practicalities of how Enspiral works. It’s a bit hard to summarise them all so you’ll just have to read the book!

7. Finding the stuff that matters

Chelsea Robinson descibes the Impact Canvas, ‘a tool to find what matters’.

Regardless of who we are and what we have to work with, the more we are able to question and understand our own thinking, the more impactful we will be.

8. Out beyond consensus there’s a field: I’ll meet you there

Richard D. Bartlett tells his story of joining Occupy and using non-hierarchical decision making. He saw an opportunity for a software platform to make this possible over the internet, and co-founded Loomio within the Enspiral network.

These are people who have stared into the void, acknowledged that civilisation may be approaching collapse, and consciously chosen optimism, creativity, and solidarity as our best strategy.

9. Start with I

Kate Beecroft explains how individual personal development is essential when working in a co-operative community, so that we can avoid the trap of replicating the same problems we seek to solve.

Many well intentioned revolutionaries aiming to overthrow sick systems quickly became dictators. Egos, political manoeuvring, and competition to stay on top create black holes into which would-be heroes quickly fall.

10. 21st century leadership

Silvia Zuur reflects on what it means to be a leader in a non-hierarchical organisation.

Power is like dust in a house: it settles and accrues in the corners.

11. In service of change

Damien Sligo-Green examines the different forms that Enspiral has taken over its evolution, and sets out the pros and cons of each iteration.

Where to from here?

The final chapter is a story about some people gathered around a campfire, discussing what Enspiral means to them.

I encourage you to to buy the book to find out what happens!


The world that will exist 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, is being built today. It is our conscious attention, put into action, that is building that future.

Where do we choose to put our attention?