The Anarchists and the Bankers

By GPaul Blundell
If you really want to learn how to make organizations work, try organizing demanding and productive consensus based organizations composed of feisty and opinionated anarchists.  Rewards, punishments, and hierarchies are convenient crutches that you just don’t get to use.  This is our theory on why the FEC communities generate process consultants and facilitation trainers.  It’s like Frank Herbert’s theory of the Sardaukar but with group process.This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Las Indias, an anarchist transnational cyberpunk commune currently based in Bilbao.  Delightful folks, really.  They, like many other modern communards, have gotten into the organizational consultation business and operate a worker coop providing consultation.

Somewhere in Bilboa

Somewhere in Bilboa

Over the years, they’ve been hired by a long list of impressive and, for an anarchist collective, unlikely seeming clients.  Then, in 2006, they were approached by one the biggest banks in Latin America and Spain.  It was suffering from organizational malaise and wanted help for fueling innovation in its ranks.  Las Indias took the job and, after analyzing the situation, decided, like the good transnational anarchists that they are, that the bank was suffering from two major ills: they had too much hierarchy and they were too divided nationally.  The prescription was simple and radical.  They insisted that the bank stuff -more than 120,000 workers- should learn to talk and work out of the hierarchy with a focus in internal open conversations rather than communication segregated by nation or department.

And so they built up the first internal blogsphere used by a big multinational corporation.  And what did they see?  According to Las Indias, the new open transnational space immediately started fostering innovation and quickly six new products where designed by volunteer teams. What is probably even more important: the conversation changed the atmosphere and allowed a collective and wider reflection on including differing perspectives.

eyes surreal

As part of this wave of rediscovery, with workers rediscovering their own environment and the future living inside and around it, the bank financed the first book series of collected of essays by living authors released under Public Domain in Europe. The books, on such at-the-time arcane subjects as P2P systems, the sharing economy, and workers’ transnational cooperativism, were both free for download as ebooks and as a paper edition. The commercial success of the print version was a rare and surprising success in the Spanish editorial scene: even though everybody had the option to have them for free as e-books, thousands of copies of every single title were sold in traditional bookshops.

However, anarchist transnationalist organization was a bit too much for the bank in the long run. The “Innovation Department” who contracted las Indias closed (their members were all promoted) and the bank turned progressively towards a flashier policy of buying dotcom businesses and trying to integrate them into the existing organization. Emphasis on internal conversation was decreased and emphasis on promoting external blogs and marketing was increased. In 2010, after a few years as a successful but then orphaned experiment, they closed the internal blogosphere, the first massive conversational space in a big worldwide organization.

monkey with gun

The bank weathered Spain’s financial crisis in 2008 relatively unscathed. Las Indias suspects that the reflection and innovations fueled by the open conversations had outside of the structure of the hierarchy helped them to avoid dangerous policies then common in other banks. Las Indias walked away from the project, but with a recognized and salable experience that later opened doors for them to more big institutions and businesses of the European Union and Latin America.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

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