Superordinate Goal

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Superordinate Goal

A superordinate goal is something that is big enough and compelling enough to aid individuals and groups overlook personal differences in order to achieve something significantly beyond their current reach, something that cannot be privately held by any of the members, and is instead closer in nature to a Commons.

Anatomy of a Superordinate Goal

  1. One person can't get there alone; most often one group can't do it alone either
  2. Working on a superordinate goal should create bounteous indirect effects
  3. The goal itself is important for individuals to overlook the personal differences of fellow strivers
  4. Superordinate goals never conflict with each other; they are only ideas at their root
  5. Attempting to tackle a superordinate goal alone can lead to neurosis and anxiety
  6. Secret Sauce: the goal can't usually be attained.
    1. Think "mission to the moon," linux, a National Park, or a return to salmon spawning levels in 1955
    2. In essence, the goal cannot be privatized as this undermines the potential for collaboration of members

Background and Research

Relationship with P2P

It might be easy as first hand to dismiss superordinate goals as a simple trick of psychology. Superordinate goals, however, are one of the most important components of P2P networks and the secret behind their productivity.

magnet and iron filings
gigantic magnetic cube

In P2P systems the rights, responsibilities, actions, and voluntary participation of the individual are of absolute primacy. There is no other king before the participant, and only peers as far as the eye can see. Some peers may be more deft at this, or more daft in that, but they are peers, and a P2P system or participant compels no action. No participant need ever submit, even in the face of meritocratic superiority.

So, a superordinate goal is like a tuning fork in a P2P system, already awash with heightened individual agency. Imagine a magnet in a pile of loose iron filings. A goal, a superordinate goal, like the pole of the magnet. It serves as a lodestone, a place for people to look; when they look they build their own impression and ideation around the goal. Peers construct their own pathway to reach the goal in their minds. The peer compares this pathway with the route they were already taking and assesses what, if any, deviation would be required to accomplish the goal, and whether the product of participation will help them to reach their goals.

Superordinate goals are the very definition of overlooking personal conflicts in order to achieve something greater.

Every large project in Open Source was created as a collection of additive individual efforts on individual goals mixed with individual efforts towards superordinate goals.

Employing Superordinate Goals

Superordinate goals are easily constructed once their anatomy is understood. In a given setting a group of people will agree to work towards that superordinate goal once it becomes compelling enough. It could be said that any given group of people is capable of working towards something together, however small that goal may be. The capacity to work towards a goal that is beyond one's own ability to master is like a muscle; when exercised regularly the capacity grows, and greater rewards can be had.

The metaphor of the magnet can be extended here. In any Commons-Based project the magnet is the ever increasing utility of the Commons. Peers line up to maximize and extend the utility.

The question of how to employ superordinate goals is to gain familiarity with the current superordinate goals being proposed to extend the utility of a given Commons. To employ a superordinate goal is to find a task interesting and collinear with your own direction and to take the task on as a personal responsibility. To join the community of peers surrounding the commons-based enterprise is to take personal, public responsibility for the task. To enrich the commons is to take responsibility for the task before, during, and after, until the work that was completed no longer serves the Commons or the community.

Superordinate Goals and Communication

The communication of goals is a key element of P2P networks. When a group of peers is aggregating under the auspices of self-organization it is implicit that individuals will be taking it upon themselves to broadcast their intentions to the rest of the network. P2P networks usually provide a way for peers to aggregate interest in their proposal over time so as to gauge the reception of their interest. The aggregation of interest and feedback allows the author to communicate with individuals whose goals are closer to his own, and who are better able to provide relevant information as well as the potential for real collaboration on the project itself.

Examples of Superordinate Goals

Superordinate goals are an integral component of participatory systems that rely on voluntary cooperation. The examples listed below assume a voluntary system, and are not meant to be exhaustive or entirely convincing because it is assumed that a group of people are creating, evaluating, and discarding the goals as necessary. In a voluntary world the occupation of evaluating potential goals is a large part of our high level cognitive activities. These examples show explicitly the difference in scale for a superordinate goal. For that reason these goals may seem a bit implausible, but that doesn't negate their validity as superordinate goals; it merely points to their current relevancy.

  • In a cooperative context
    • For a Red Tomato Food Cooperative (Coop Grocery of Dallas, Texas, USA)
      • Individual and Group Goals
        • Identify and contract with a local supplier of organic(bio) tomatoes
        • Create the newsletter for the month
      • Superordinate Goals
        • Create an accounting system that can be managed by the 1000 members without paid staff
        • In that there is 5 years worth of minimum operating expenses stored in the bank
  • In a Commons Based Cooperative Context
    • For a Commons-Based Food Cooperative (Tomato Commons of Dallas, Texas, USA)
      • Individual and Group Goals
        • Study the resources required, in our region (within 100km), necessary for yearly supply of bio tomatoes for 1000 people
        • Create a financial plan to increase access to resources at a pace that helps us reach our target of 45% supply in 10 years
      • Superordinate Goals
        • Insure the perpetually ample supply of bio tomatoes for the people of our region at the same cost as normal tomatoes +/-10%
        • Create a suite of free applications so that self-governing cooperatives can autonomously govern themselves and lower their own barrier to entry for doing business with the Tomato Commons

Many P2P Commons based networks owe their success to the fact that daily tasks are numerous and easy to accomplish while still being immediately relevant to the superordinate goals that insure the long term security of the utility of the Commons around which the community is organized.

In the context of a food cooperative normal activities might be stopping by the market twice weekly to purchase tomatoes or volunteering a few hours a month. In the context of the Tomato Commons, which has a different vision than the Red Tomato Food Cooperative, daily tasks run the gamut from research on tomato cropping to the creation of code for their software package. In each case the goals and tasks are aligned to the goals and construction of the organization.

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