posttitle = An illustration of the adjacent-possible meta-team vision titleClass =title-long len =57

An illustration of the adjacent-possible meta-team vision

While queuing up the 100× vision post last week, I realized I hadn’t published another vision doc that I wrote awhile back and had been sharing with people, so I figured out would be good to get that out too. In contrast to the 100× vision, which is imagining the 2030s, this one is the adjacent-possible version of the vision—the one where if you squint at the current reality from the right angle, it’s already happening. I wrote this one originally in November 2020.


This is intended to evoke one possibility, not to fully capture what seems possible or likely.

In fact, it is highly likely that what happens will be different from what’s below.

Relatedly, and also central to this whole thing: if you notice while reading this that you feel attracted towards parts of it and averse to other elements (even if you can’t name quite what) then awesome!

Welcome that.

Integrating everyone’s aversion or dislike or distrust or whatever is vital to steering towards the actual, non-goodharted vision. And of course your aversion might be such that it doesn’t make sense for you to participate in this (or not at this phase, or not my version of it). My aim is full fractal buy-in, without compromise.

The diagram

A diagram depicting 3 nested circles, each with people in them, and different projects that people are working on.
An illustration that I made for a friend to try to point at my vision. This piece of writing was then written to explain the illustration.

This diagram (except for the part where one of the people is marked as me 😉) could apply to any network of people working on projects together, that exists around a closed membrane, but I want to elaborate a bit more specifically about what I have in mind.

The Collaborative self-energizing meta-team vision public articulation 2020-10-19 is describing the outermost regions of the above diagram, without any reference to the existence of the membranes. The open-network-ness is captured by this tweet:

This is a beacon—want to work with people doing whatever most deeply energizes you? Join us!…how? There’s no formal thing.

Joining = participating in this attitude.

The attitude is one of collaboration in the sense of working together, and in particular working together in ways that everybody involved is excited about and finds energizing and life-giving. Where people are motivated both by the work they’re doing as part of the collaboration, and by the overall vision. That’s not to say it’ll all be easy or pleasant or straightforward—working with people is challenging! And that’s where the other layers come in.

I’m now going to jump to the innermost, closed membrane, because the dotted-line teal group kind of exists as a natural liminal area between that and the wider group.

This innermost membrane would be a small (4-7 people) intensive working group of people who have a top priority of developing world-class mastery in collaboration, integration, and trust-building. Aiming for as much synergy & coherence as is possible between people at this phase in human history, as part of bootstrapping Game B. Economically, this coherence would allow fluid movement of resources from individuals or projects into the “middle” and then back to where they’re needed. Emotionally this would create a profound sense of deep psychosocial safety for the members, although it does so by welcoming and integrating distrust rather than by trying to get people to feel more safe than they can non-naively trust that they are (a little more on this below). Psychosocial safety as a lag measure.

There’s an open question here about how one would get a core bunch of people who are focused on this together. Who decides who is part of that group? There are important questions to address here that this document leaves unspecified at this point. My current best guess is actually that the core team would not necessarily be comprised of people who are maximally committed to each other per se, but rather a group that particularly wants to iterate on the meta-protocol, with each other. I think that will ultimately be a lot more fluid than trying to make the core membrane be committed to each other anyway.

So: on this meta-level, they actually all share a project, but I omitted that one from the diagram because I wanted to show other more concrete projects between them. This meta-level project is that in the course of their interactions with each other, they would be explicitly using & thereby refining the meta-protocol for human trust-building (if you’re not sure what that is, give it a quick read before continuing; in the original draft I had a whole interlude here about it).

The Non-Naive Trust Dance is one framing & articulation (by Malcolm) of the meta-protocol. In some serious sense there is only one meta-protocol, while simultaneously there’s a different sense in which everyone needs to reinvent the meta-protocol themselves in order to deeply understand and integrate it.

As part of the process of refining the NNTD, this core working group would likely also share various insights they have about trust-building and human nature, out with the world, via blogging or tweeting or creating videos or podcasts, and via direct collaboration with people who aren’t in the core working group!

These collaborations would also be profoundly important to the refining process itself. According to the NNTD, the meta-protocol necessarily operates as a mutual learning process, and without active connection with people outside the core working group, it would be much more possible for that working group to develop calcify collective blindspots and end up thinking they’ve cracked the meta-protocol code when really they’ve just created yet another shared protocol. Another assumption of the NNTD is that any group or individual, no matter how internally coherent, has some blindspots that people outside will readily encounter (even if they aren’t able to articulate them) and that will generate distrust that needs to be worked with in order to collaborate effectively.

So from the perspective of the people in the core, there would be some notable difference between the people they’re working directly with and other people they’re aware of who are just broadly collaborating on stuff. Probably a pretty good way to articulate the dotted-line teal membrane would be something like “these are the people who are aware of the meta-protocol (whether by that name or not) and who are actively wanting to develop mastery of it as well, but who aren’t in the closed membrane that is that core group.” They might be interested in joining the core group if such an opportunity arose, or in starting some other closed membrane, and many would probably preferentially try to collaborate with people who are also actively engaged.

However, part of the point of focusing on a meta-protocol, rather than some object-level protocol, is that proficiency with the meta-protocol would tend to improve peoples’ capacity to collaborate with everyone, not just other people who are also following some same protocol. This is true of protocols (eg Non-Violent Communication or Radical Honesty) to some extent, but in practice, to the extent that their own best approximation of a meta-protocol is inadequate, people end up attributing their feelings of unsafety or experiences of unworkable collaboration to others’ lack of commitment or buy-in or follow-through to their protocol. Whereas to the extent that a given lens or practice is able to function as a meta-protocol, it consciously doesn’t fixate on peoples’ apparent buy-in or lack thereof, instead recognizing that:

  1. inasmuch as people do want to achieve some shared purpose, there’s some amount of buy-in for feedback etc
  2. inasmuch as there’s resistance to certain kinds of feedback, that’s not due to lack of buy-in but due to people not knowing how to integrate the feedback workably or safely (ie without tangling up their psyches)

(Of course, there still might not be adequate resources/context to facilitate all of that happening, which might result in things like: the project getting dropped; someone deciding to leave the team; the project getting completed by with some unresolved interpersonal friction.)

Based on point 2, some amount of therapeutic reconsolidation of childhood traumas and other relational tangles is needed if you want to get to high levels of each of:

  • trusting others (because otherwise others will trigger alarms in you that aren’t directly about them)
  • being trustable (because otherwise others will rightly anticipate you having such emotional flashbacks yourself that make certain topics or situations unworkable)

So people in the inner membranes would need substantial access to a combination of self-directed techniques for emotional processing, and/or therapists or coaches who can help them work with what arises. See Dream Mashups for more about how I think about this.

At least as important as knowing a formal technique or having a weekly therapy appointment though is having a deep understanding of emotional coherence and the reconsolidation process in general, along with what the Coherence Therapy folks call “coherence empathy”, which is the capacity to hold a stance that every thought and behavior makes some kind of necessary sense according to the underlying adaptive emotional learning generating it. This is vital both for:

  • having space to not try to get others to immediately change their behavior, instead acknowledging that whatever change you would like them to do needs to integrate with whatever’s actually generating their existing behavior, which you almost certainly don’t yet fully understand and they likely don’t either
  • doing the same for yourself—if someone tries to point at a blindspot of yours, being able to acknowledge that they’re probably seeing something even if you don’t know what it is (and even if half of what they’re seeing or 90% of what they’re speaking to is their own projection onto whatever is actually going on in your system) and acknowledge unwanted impacts of your behavior while also recognizing that your behaviors, however harmful, have an integrity and aren’t simply wrong.

Without this perspective both conceptually and as an active stance, people end up trying to “fix” behaviors in themselves and others, which involves layering compensatory structures on top and structurally generates compartmentalization, resistance, or resentment.

And this framing is part of what’s powerful about the NNTD: it offers a way to integrate emotional reconsolidation into the live process of collaborating, as much as that’s possible given the resources & capacities of everyone involved. And to the extent that that’s not possible, it’s designed to fail relatively gracefully, rather than causing people to overextend or compartmentalize.

For more on the NNTD framework, check out:

I’m orienting using the frame in this post to my various collaborations with friends & colleagues, whether the Complice team or one-off art commissions.

If you want to see where I think this can go, have a look at my 100× vision.

If you found this thought-provoking, I invite you to subscribe:    
About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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