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S03 E01 – Dormancy

Our first episode in Season 3 features the members (and our intern!) of We Are Open talking about their predictions for 2022 and our cooperative policy of “dormancy”. What’s the difference between a sabbatical and dormancy? Listen to find out!

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  • How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.


Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:23] Welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Doug Belshaw.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:34] And I’m Laura Hilliger. This podcast season is currently unfunded. You can support this podcast and other We are open projects and products at open Today we are going to be talking to our co op colleagues about their predictions and hopes for 2022, And after that we’re going to talk a little bit about dormancy, how it’s different from a sabbatical and how we use the idea in our co-op. So let’s get started.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:08] So I thought it would be really interesting if we thought about what predictions or things we’re looking forward to as a co-op. So we’ve invited members of our co op and our intern Anna to kind of have some input here. So why don’t we just go around and everyone says hello and then we’re going to kind of go through what kind of predictions or things are looking forward to this year. So we’ve got Brian, this is Brian’s voice.

Bryan Mathers: [00:01:34] Hello everyone.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:35] We’ve got Anne. This is Anne’s voice.

Anne Hilliger: [00:01:37] Hi.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:38] And we’ve got John. This is John’s voice.

John Bevan: [00:01:40] Hello there.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:41] Cool. So let’s just go in that order. Guess we’ll add Laura and I’s in there as well. Brian, what kind of predictions or things are you looking forward to in 2022?

Bryan Mathers: [00:01:52] Well, as you know, Doug, only fools predict things or try to predict things. But I do have some things I’m looking forward to I think, I’m looking forward to new adventures because adventure, especially whenever things are adventures are sort of restricted. Adventure, I suppose, gets our hearts racing, doesn’t it? So I thrive on adventure anyway, and I’m looking forward to finding some new stories. So I quite enjoyed that in the second part of last year of sort of unearthing some stories in particular in Ireland and then. Finally telling some of those stories. So obviously in often in a visual way. I think that’s where my heart is pointing me towards sort of telling telling some new stories in the coming year. And that’s what I’m looking forward to anyway.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:51] Cool.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:52] Laura let’s do you and I last so let’s go on to Anna. Anna what are you looking forward to? Predictions. Although Brian said that only a fool predicts things. So I feel like I can’t do my predictions now. But anyway, Anna, what predictions or things are you looking forward to in 2022?

Anne Hilliger: [00:03:08] Uh, well, the thing I’m looking most forward to is the beginning of the end of my time at the university. So even though I still need some time, like a year or something, I will start writing my bachelor thesis and think about my bachelor thesis. And this is very exciting because it’s like an end boss or something. And yeah, I can, I can feel it, but I’m excited for it. And yeah, that makes me happy and I think I’m a fool. So I have a prediction. Um, I think we will. Or and I also looking forward to it. And I think we will hug more people again this year and I’m looking forward to it. And I think that’s a nice thing for me.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:55] Oh, hugs, hugs are good.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:01] Good stuff. Shall we move on to you, John?

John Bevan: [00:04:04] Yeah. What am I looking for? I think this year I’m going to be looking a bit more here on, you know, as a guest on the Tao of WAO. I’ve started to look at Daos again. So decentralised autonomous organisations and with a bit more time to look now interested in looking again, I guess. So a few years ago started to see these things popping up and was and still am interested in the very fuzzy lines in this space and where some of them are starting to overlap into the world of co-ops and credit unions and the future of decentralised finance. And over the course of this year, we might get some clues as to whether something in that space turns into the equivalent of Lloyd’s of London or whatever for a new phase of, you know, financial organisations or the whole thing crashes and burns and takes the planet with it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:06] Are you predicting that you’re going to be a crypto millionaire by this time next year?

John Bevan: [00:05:11] Uh, no. Or, well, possibly. But that might not translate into, you know, a Fiat millionaire. I think you can have billions and billions.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:21] Oh, because worthless tokens. Yeah. $1 is like 5 billion Shiba Inu or something.

John Bevan: [00:05:28] It could be like as we speak, it could have gone up by that amount, I guess. And back down and back up and back.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:36] Back down. Okay. Any any other predictions or things you’re looking forward to?

John Bevan: [00:05:42] Um, partly off the back of that. Also looking forward to the tech in that space continuing to evolve and uh, there’ll be more clarity around the carbon impact of those technologies. I’m one of the people who is not as concerned with the overall carbon impact of blockchain. Et cetera. Because I think the tech will improve. And I think when you measure it against the carbon impact of the infrastructure required to stand up, you know, the United States plus its army, plus everything that, you know, you need to run existing established currencies. Bitcoin doesn’t look quite so scary.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:30] Hm. Interesting. Okay, Laura, let’s move on to you. What predictions do you have or things that you’re looking forward to?

Laura Hilliger: [00:06:38] Well, I’m no fool, but I still have two predictions. Number one, I think that 2022 is going to feel slower than the last couple of years. So even though the pandemic had a lot of people forcibly slowed down in terms of what they were doing in the world, I don’t think anybody felt like, you know, kind of grokked that emotionally. And I think this will be the year that people feel that slow down and can take it in and digest it and even get more done because they understand rest in a different way. So that’s one prediction. And the other prediction that I have for 2022 is that the new superfood will be insect based, and everybody in the zencaster at the moment will become addicted to some kind of insect something. Listeners, my colleagues here are shaking their heads as if it isn’t possible.

Doug Belshaw: [00:07:40] I am not shaking my head Laura.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:41] I’m not some some of our colleagues are shaking their heads, but I still predict that by the end of the year. There will be a lot more insect based foods.

Doug Belshaw: [00:07:54] Well, on that, right. I went to Future Fest, NASA’s Future Fest, about five, six years ago, and there was a few food futurologist talking about that. And I often say because I’m vegetarian and I often say to people who eat meat, do you really like kind of char grilled steak and stuff, or do you just like the burnt kind of caramelised bit of it? Yeah, because often when you present to someone, something which is vegetable based but actually has that kind of caramelised char grilled thing like, Oh, this is really tasty, which I think proves my point. So I would say with the insect bit, if you cover it in sugar, it’ll be really tasty.

Bryan Mathers: [00:08:35] I would suggest that necessity is the mother of all invention. As I say, every other five minutes. And so if there’s a problem that causes people to then switch to eating insects, then maybe, maybe that’ll that’ll take place. But I can’t see it happening.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:55] One more thing to say catastrophe. There is already insect based pet food, for example. Yeah, well, there’s already that’ll be the boom industry.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:04] So there’s already insect based human food too. And my prediction is that it will become superfood status, so it’ll be all over the streets of L.A. And, you know, people wear yoga pants with their insect cereal bar. Everyone should see John’s face right now. He looks totally disgusted.

John Bevan: [00:09:23] I’m just thinking of what can I feed to my insects? So, I don’t know. Can I feed, you know, the neighbour that I’m in dispute with two termites that I keep or something like that? I don’t know.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:37] I feel like I should.

Doug Belshaw: [00:09:38] Insect based crypto start-ups is are hot prediction for 2022.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:43] Yes. Doug, what are your predictions?

Doug Belshaw: [00:09:47] I have three and I pity the fool. So first one is I’m looking forward to meeting up with people in person. I realised that I need for my mental health in general. Optimistic outlook on life to meet up with people in person. I’m looking forward to meeting up with all of you lot. I haven’t seen any of you in person since January 2020 and yeah, some of you I’ve never met like Anna, so looking forward to meeting up with you in person. I don’t know where that’ll be because of travel restrictions and stuff. And a few people have mentioned rest and recuperation and kind of cadence of the year and stuff. I’ve been thinking about that recently. And so instead of trying to take Wednesdays off and failing at that, I’m looking forward to planning to take April, August and December as much as possible off co-op work, which might mean that I end up doing other kinds of work. But it might mean that I go camping for a week or do a long trip or do some research or whatever. So I’m looking forward to making space for that. And then the third one is a bit left field, but kind of meshes with what John said. I have started to see crypto regulations step in. So this we’ve already had the existing machinery of state, the existing world order kind of see crypto as an enemy. Then there’s been a bit of a truce and I think now you’re going to see because of climate fears or whatever, proof of work, things like Bitcoin being banned in certain countries either because they honestly think it’s a good idea or because it’s a bit of a climate smokescreen, greenwashing kind of thing. So they’re my three predictions or looking forward to meeting up in person and taking some months off. And crypto regulation. That’s what I’m talking about.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:40] So today we want to talk about a policy, a standard, a I don’t really know what to call this exactly a I’ll call it a policy that we have. We are open, we call it dormancy. And essentially what it means is that we enable our members to take some time off from the co-op while remaining members. And so today we kind of want to talk a little bit about where it came from, why we came up with it and how it is a bit different from quitting your job or earning a sabbatical. And I think to kick us off on the conversation, I would love to ask one of the other co-op members if you would like to describe dormancy better than I just did.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:37] Well, we’ve got this on our wiki. So at wiki we open co-op, we have some guidelines about membership and in that we’ve got what dormant membership is. And this is something which we’ve iterated over time based on necessity. So we can go through that I guess just to give people a flavour.

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:57] Yeah. You want to go for it?

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:01] Um, yeah, I could read them all out, but basically the summary is that when you’re dormant, you’re not expecting expected to come to our weekly meetings or make decisions based on proposals. You’re not asked to work on projects, you still have to pay your yearly membership dues. Um, which we. Yeah, which we pay each year. You’re welcome to join co-op days and get involved. You still have a voice. You can be asked things etcetera, but you might not have a vote if you’re dormant. Um, and there’s a decision that needs to be taken and you’re not around, then you might not get a vote unless it’s about the structure of the co-op. And I think we decided that a member can be dormant for up to a year. And then after that the remaining members can kind of retire. The member Although, yeah, we’ve never done that. We don’t really want to do that and it’s just in there as kind of a failsafe, I guess. Have I missed anything?

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:57] No, I think that’s a basic flavour. And I just want to talk a little bit about the why we came up with this. And it actually started a couple of years ago when we had a member who was working on other projects alongside projects at the Co-op and the responsibilities or the expectations of other members got to be a bit too much and this person was feeling stressed. And so we wanted to make sure that the co-op as a structure remained intact without, you know, without actually having to let a member go or have somebody quit. And we wanted to make sure that there we had a way to allow people to take space when they needed it. And that’s kind of where the dormancy came from. So we’ve had two members who have taken advantage of this policy. John, I’d love to ask you to talk a little bit about your experience with dormancy, because you have just come back from a dormant period.

John Bevan: [00:15:02] Yeah. So like Laura said quite recently, I went dormant towards the end of last year, towards the end of 2021. Um, so I guess the bit of backstory to this is I’m one of the founder members alongside Brian, Laura and Doug. But then quite quickly after the formation of the Co-op, I ended up getting a full time job somewhere else. Part of the understanding for that job was that I would be still doing about a day, a month as part of my co-op commitments. Um, but then over ebbs and flows of time I did more or less. But towards the end of last year I was feeling burnt out in my full time job, really wanted a bit of space. I’d kind of got trapped in. I think I had made the decision that I wanted to to leave my full time other full time gig. Um, and being able to officially declare that I was going dormant and release myself. It’s usually self-imposed pressure, I guess, to feel that you need to show up to the meetings and keep on top of developments and know what people are talking about when there’s a new client or some issue. And being able to put that to one side gave me the space I needed to then make the decision to leave my other full time employment and start 2022, working full time back inside inside the co-op. So I think, you know, as intended it did for me what I needed it to do, which was really make a, you know, make that space in my brain to be able to do what I needed to do to move forward, I guess.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:58] And Doug, do you want to talk a little bit about your experience with dormancy?

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:03] Yeah. So I had I was working on a on a project that was so by that point, we were two years in. There was a lot of stress at that particular point in time. So we’re talking, what, like September, October 2020? Was it something like that? And I’d already decided I was going to do four days a week for this for this employer. So like John founded the co-op, but kind of stumbled into a kind of a full time gig, but did four days that I did doing one day a week for a co-op. But it was so difficult to balance that, Um, and going, we invented this dormancy thing so that I could still be part of the co-op. And it’s worked out so well because it’s like when, when that baggage is taken off you that you don’t have to pay attention to a thing that you’re, you’ve only kind of been paying attention to because you’re busy doing this thing over here. As soon as someone says you don’t have to pay attention to this for a bit, it just frees up so much mental space for you to focus on the thing that you need to focus on at that time. And then when that’s done, in my case, it was, um, I came back when I quit that job like, like John did. And you can walk straight back into something that you know that you’re going to enjoy, that you like the people that you’re working with, and it gives you the space. John you didn’t say this explicitly, but it sounded like like my experience was it gives you space to decide if I focus on this other thing full time, Do I even really want to do this anymore? And then when you do that and look at it and you’re like, I don’t want to do this anymore. You can go back to doing something that you know that you can step into and enjoy. So I really value dormancy, and we’ve iterated it since I went dormant. And it sounds like it’s been really useful for John, too.

John Bevan: [00:18:52] Yeah, absolutely. And I think part of our motivation back in the days of forming we are open was. What’s the wrapper that goes around a few freelancers that have previously worked together in various different forms and what’s a shape that can accommodate these different different people’s working patterns and needs at different points in their career. So it really has lived up to to that part of what we were hoping it would when we started this experiment, I guess.

Laura Hilliger: [00:19:29] Well, what do you guys think? I mean, instead of going dormant, you could have quit the co-op. Maybe you want to talk a little bit About what? Why dormancy worked for you. Why? What do you see the difference between quitting the co-op, which means that you would stop paying membership and stop fulfilling the responsibilities, be removed as a director versus going into dormancy and whether or not you actually thought before going into dormancy, if you thought about quitting the co-op or just a little bit about what the difference is for you. Either one.

John Bevan: [00:20:11] For me, I guess there maybe on different time scales. So I kind of thought of we are open as a long term play and my full time gig that I stepped into after having started, we were open. I’ve never had a full time job for longer than a couple of years. Two, three years is a long stretch for me. Whereas I thought where previously I’d left full time employment and stepped into the world of freelancing or consulting completely on my own and thought, Oh well, maybe next time I rage, quit a job or get fed up or get the sack. Wouldn’t it be great if I could step into something that was a bit more structured than that? And not only have that in place for myself, but I know several other people who would probably appreciate that and benefit from that. So yeah, I’d always thought of and when we talked about setting up the co-op and we’ve banded around things like, you know, we’ve made a ten year commitment in some terms to this experiment. And so it was always on a different kind of underlying time frame versus like my more even though some of them have been full time, they’ve still felt like, you know, gigs rather than a career maybe.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:44] Yeah, mine’s very similar to John. So, um, I would add, I don’t know about John’s position, but not only have I only really worked anywhere for two years in Mozilla for three years with two different roles, there was the longest I’ve ever been anywhere, I think. Um, but also I’ve never been promoted in a job. And I’ve always promoted myself by moving between jobs. And that kind of continual hopping is tiring. You have to get to know and work with new people. And there’s just something about working with the same people, people that you get on well with and work well with and and like and like with John thinking about this on a different time scale. And when you’re burned out and you’re not enjoying a job or you’re finding things difficult, that’s the worst time to be thinking about, Oh, I’m going to set up my own business or I’m going to like go job hunting or whatever. So I yeah, I’ve had times when I’ve wanted to quit the co-op and I’ve been very pissed off, of course, but most of the time I find solace and amazing advice and just solidarity. And it the co-op is or a co-op is something that you own as a member. It’s something which is yours. It’s not a hole that you are filling within an organisation. So it’s a very different it’s a very different vibe, it’s a very different way of thinking about the world, I would say. So it’s not like a sabbatical where someone is maybe paying you or not paying you to go away from this job. It’s like you’re making the decision yourself that you need some space away from something that you yourself created.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:23] I wonder about the, you know, the a lot of organisations after you’ve been there for a certain amount of time, allow you to earn a sabbatical. So some organisations, if you’ve been there for seven years, then you are entitled to a three month either fully paid or partially paid sabbatical where you can go off. And they, they usually have some sort of a programmatic structure around it. So I know of organisations that have sabbatical programs where you have to take a sabbatical. Once you’ve been at the organisation for seven years, the sabbatical is three months long and you need to learn something new. So you choose what it is that you want to learn. Whatever it may be, from learning a new language to learning pottery, whatever. But you actually have a control thing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:11] Yeah, it’s still yeah, it’s still your employer saying, Yeah, you can have some time off, but let’s not go crazy here. Like, let’s, let’s make sure there’s some structure around it. Whereas the way that I see dormancy is as a pressure release, like you’ve got pressure on you, self-imposed, whatever it is. And it’s a, it’s an escape valve. You don’t have to say, and I will do I promise to do these things while I’m doing it. You can just ride off into the sunset for a bit and everyone else will sort things out and then you can come back at any time. That’s the way that I see it.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:43] Yeah. And that’s, you know, that’s, that’s the big difference that, that I was getting to is that a it feels like a sabbatical. Exactly what you just said this, this control thing where an organisation is sort of forcing you to have a look at your mental health after seven years on the job. And by God, you’re also going to take a workshop. Please submit your receipts from the workshop. We’re not going to pay for it, but we need to know that you actually did it, which feels very, very strange. At the same time, I, I wonder in terms of dormancy and the way that we do it, which is self-imposed, I wonder if there’s a conversation to be had here around whether how how do you know that you need to go into dormancy or that you need a sabbatical? And are people like, how often are people actually able to self impose that this conversation gets to, you know, how how you actually pay attention to things, including yourself. So for example, I know a lot of people in the tech space that cannot ignore Slack. They get a slack message and they react, they get an email and they react. Whereas I myself don’t have a problem, I can ignore my email for a good long while and I don’t immediately feel like I need to to react. And so there’s something there about self awareness and dormancy and, you know, using dormancy when you need it as opposed or when you want it as opposed to when you need it, maybe.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:18] Yeah, it’s permission as well. So your have to be careful with the way that I phrase this. But you’re not seeking permission from other members to go dormant. You’re notifying them that you’re going to and giving them enough time and and fulfilling your obligations as opposed to asking their permission because they’re your boss.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:40] Yeah. What else should we say about Da Vinci? I wish we had some listener questions right now. They be really helpful.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:50] I’ll be interesting to bring in Anna and Brian at this point. So, for example, Brian’s views on dormancy. Anna’s views on like having worked elsewhere or in different organisations, whether it feels weird or like just, yeah, how, what your views are on these things.

Bryan Mathers: [00:27:10] Well, if I jump in. Yeah. As the members of Co-op already know, I intend to go dormant at the end of this month for a period of three months. Um, and, uh, yeah, my, my motivation for that is Laura is looking surprised. Fo surprised? What do you mean? My motivation is that I suppose boils are, goes back to the sort of what I have always got from the co-op and that I have a business that I that predates the co-op visual thinker that but that sees me working by myself. And what the co-op has always given me is working with other people on projects and therefore you get different work and, and different opportunities I suppose. And the trouble is that it has all got very successful both as a co-op and, and.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:09] That’s a big problem.

Bryan Mathers: [00:28:10] It is a big problem and visual thinker and especially in the last two years. And I sort of find that there is no more room and yet my creative self needs room. It doesn’t know what it needs room for, but it needs to create space for some of those new adventures and some of those new creations. I suppose so. And going dormant is a perfect vehicle, I suppose, for allowing that, allowing that to happen. So, um, so yeah, I’m on one hand really looking forward to having a little bit more space than I had. But in another way, I’m, I think we’ve already talked about that. There are seasons, there are, there are seasons with any work where you’re on top or when you’re not on top. Um, and therefore we all want to make wise decisions, don’t we, in terms of what we give our energy to and how we get through a season, which is maybe a little bit tricky and therefore being reactive in my opinion, isn’t the way forward. So, you know, being to create space feels a lot more adult to then be able to make good decisions or to be able to come back in and, and also maybe realise what you, what you actually get from being part of a co-op. So it just seems to be lots of very grown up advantages of dormancy as far as as far as I can see.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:49] Yeah, I think the the fact that we allow dormancy up to a year really speaks to that. The seasonal thing, like, you know sometimes in life you just. You need a break. Sometimes it needs to be longer. You need a change of pace. And so I think if we had said, okay, you can be dormant for a month, but then either you have to come back or, you know, that’s that’s the control thing. Whereas a year is both protective for the co op because it gives other members a opportunity to reflect on that past year and what’s actually real and present in the business. And it gives whoever the dormant member is a pretty good chunk of time to to really consider how they feel about being part of this organisation and what they really want in life and in work.

Anne Hilliger: [00:30:43] Yeah, I feel like I can also say there something. I mean, I’m at the beginning of my career and learning about these things is, I think, very valuable because I think young people don’t get taught how to work without like getting burnt out or what you do when you get burnt out. It’s just about you have to learn your whole life and you have to be present and career and yeah, everything like that. And also now at university with Covid and everything, there is no space to talk about what what happens when you feel sad or burnt out or overwhelmed? What are steps that you have to take and everything. And I feel like talking about the future of work and everything, it’s important to. Talk about dormancy and sabbaticals and all these kind of things. And it’s important to know that when you start your career that you don’t go for the career always, but also for your breaks. So that’s a very present topic for me as well. Right now.

Laura Hilliger: [00:31:55] I feel like I feel like this topic, the the future of work and how we work in a way that’s better for us as human beings is something that has happened in the last years. I.e. I started my career and didn’t really have any conversation about all of this. I was in my mid 30s before I learned what a sabbatical that there are organisations that give you a sabbatical after a certain point and I feel like the we learn or we’re socialised to understand Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, which I know that Doug has read the book How to Be Idle, where it talks about the aristocratic invention of the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday workplace, but with internet technologies and with the way that the world has been moving because of technology, I feel like we have where we need to have a fully different conversation about what work is supposed to be at this point in time because we don’t work in factories anymore. 9 to 5 does not make sense for everyone, especially me. I hate 9 a.m.. Um.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:03] Laura I think we should do a whole different episode about like the cadence of the work week. Maybe digging into the history of, um, you know, and John you might be interested in come on. Talking about like the, the labour movement and, and how we got to the situation where, you know, I remember at Ana’s age being younger and just not even thinking about the way that the world structured and organised in terms of our norms around work and how liberating it is to own your own business in conjunction with others, where you get to decide what normal is and and how you want to be as well. And it takes time. It’s never done. It’s always kind of a work in progress, which is why, you know, before recording this podcast, we’ve had our Cob Day. We’re thinking about what it is we want to do. We make tiny decisions about the placement of text on a badge through to like what kind of work we want to do in the future as an organisation and do we need to change our organisational structure? Like these are all things on the table as opposed to being put in a little box somewhere and being told that you can take this holiday at this point, at this time and make sure you report back. Yeah.

John Bevan: [00:34:11] Yeah, I already feel one step ahead because I haven’t read How to be Idle, which surely is the point of the book.

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:19] Maybe we will, well, I think we’ve linked to the book in show notes of past episodes. Actually, it made a big impact on me, this particular book. But yes, we will definitely, in future episodes of The Dao of Wow. Talk more about the future of work, Internet culture, co-op stuff. It’s kind of what we do. How about we all say cheers for now and we will see you later!

John Bevan: [00:34:55] Cheers for now!