The consequences of outdated institutions and corporate organizational models that lack community-driven economies and infrastructures are heartfelt across industries. Societies face challenging uncertainties, from climate change and economic instability to rising inequality and the fragility of democratic institutions. We need alternative decision-making frameworks incorporating different types of solutions and experiment-driven mindsets with expertise across industries, cultures, and society to address novel conditions for change. To reach beyond the confines of traditional research, foresight, and organization design practices, new organizations must clarify whom they design for, deepen their understanding of how communities will be impacted, and explore the potential of playfulness and creative knowledge systems. They need to envision how agents with entirely different profiles and skills—from designers and software engineers to architects, biologists, social scientists, or cultural practitioners—can contribute and facilitate the imagining of new work models, products, or services based on regenerative and rehabilitating designs.
the Unconventional Bureau explores the possibility of aligning diverse groups of specialists from various disciplines to pool their skills in support of broader organizational visions and purposes. It moves away from the economics of individual affirmation and participation to propose a contribution model that builds alternative work cultures and supports collaboration between practitioners on broader social, cultural, economic, and political aims. The project offers alternative ideas and expressions of collective design, contribution, and ownership; governance and community accountability; shared commons and vocabularies of value; democratic work practice and transparent decision-making; and the possibility to create purpose-driven community ecosystems.
Through this project, we aim to establish several components. First is an elaborate argumentative and theoretical model explaining the principles behind the alternative organizational design. Second, blueprints, pilots, case studies, and discussions with visionary organization designers to test the theory in situated contexts and environments. And third, an open-source prototypal organization model where everyone is encouraged to playfully imagine and experiment with new organization assemblies for visionary situations, products, or services. The model is, to a minimal degree, inspired by the political theory of “lottocracy,” a purely fictional scenario where politicians do not represent people anymore, but instead, they represent their interests. “Lottocracy” suggests that we need to randomly choose the people who will be politicians and represent us—but it is based on inefficient, arbitrary, opaque, and counter-functional randomness. We depart from this theory to propose a more rational and future-oriented model of randomness for communities, collectives, organizations, and institutions.
the Unconventional Bureau imagines a decentralized architecture of conception, structure, governance, and accountability policies by testing the possibility of consolidating and employing different human capacities to create elevated goods and values. We understand that how we usually create is often predetermined and can be undermined by how we organize, govern, and ultimately perceive ourselves. Prevalent models of organization are designed with a bias to reinforce ideas of humans as self-interested individuals, leading to riddled conceptions, behaviors, and attitudes. We propose an open-source space and skills pool where different collectives challenge the status quo’s paradigms and self-reinforcing power structures to imagine other structures, formats, tools, processes, systems, philosophies, and purposes. This is a means to unlearn the predetermined conceptions we usually internalize via daily habits and cultural norms. It is a call to move away from the deliveries, bounded responsibilities, and methodologies of soft control that are predominant in most companies and organizations and generate ineffective, often exhausting, and sometimes harmful frameworks, operations, and outputs. Our model is not based on offsetting externalities and responsibilities, softening management hierarchies and faux principles of care, or softening performance metrics and persuasive methodologies—it focuses on profound change in how we interact with the world and each other and how we envision our society.
Faced with realities that demand collective action—from climate breakdowns, technological advancements, or dysfunctional policies to social and political unrest and deteriorating life conditions—we need to design better ideas of the good we bring to the world, ideas that are fully embedded in their contexts, environs, and the broader ecosystems. If change has to be systemic, design transformations must also be systemic; they must enable different ideas of agency, adoption, adaptation, and acceptance. By proposing a development structure of interchangeable and permutable collectives, we probe the potential for reformed decision-making. As an exploratory organization design model, the Unconventional Bureau is inspired by and continues the reformative work of other enterprises such as metalabels, DAOs, or design fiction practices to traverse collaborative imaginaries and provide alternative frameworks, outputs, and foresight. As a practice, the model could be described as what Carl DiSalvo has named “adversarial design”—that is, a set of means and forms of design that challenge beliefs, values, and what is taken to be fact; a practice that is contestational, agonistic, and strives to question, challenge, and reframe conventional approaches.
the Unconventional Bureau is a project currently in development and is expected to launch in 2023. Identity design developed in collaboration with Echo Branding © Stranger Projects OÜ, 2013 / 2021—2023. Images © Shubham Dhage are used here only to illustrate the current design direction.