Lunch with Rick Falkvinge

“Your most valuable asset isn’t your employees,”

I told the executive.

“Your most valuable asset is the thousands of people who want to work for you for free, and you don’t let them.”

It’s the beginning of SWARMWISE, “the tactical manual to changing the world” written by Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge. He presented his ideas at an informal lunch organized today by a Bruegel colleague. The swarm, a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers, is according to Falkvinge the key to the Swedish Pirate Party’s success in the last European elections. And his roadmap to promote change within organizations, businesses, and political movements. But is it really a new formula?

One of the differences between the Pirate Party and mainstream politics is the former’s effort to be more inclusive in the decision-making process. But in theory and at early stages, every new political group is willing to embrace and represent as many people as possible. Falkvinge’s explanation was an obvious one: “the difference is we like to practice what we preach.” However, the fact that improving openness and governmental organization has been a  struggle for a while made me think that rather than a new way to organize the masses, the swarm may just be a new formulation for an old known solution. Earlier on, the same philosophy may have been called “grassroots movements,” and earlier, earlier on, just “democracy.” At some point, they were all disruptive organizational ideas that once used, got polluted, and needed to be substituted by a new formulation of a recycled concept. Will the swarm’s success kill the idea?

Falkvinge’s book attributes the Pirate Party’s success to the swarm, but after today’s talk, I attribute it to his smart grasping of the context of his time. Unlike the Occupy movements or Anonymous, pirates chose a specific and tangible goal. Perhaps even unknowingly, they did so at a time of high political discontent, attracting many protest votes against the establishment. They were also ahead of their time understanding the relevance of online tools for the completion of these goals. And last but really not least, Falkvinge created the party in a country whose political system and structures would allow the entrance of new players. Was the party’s management style more important than this context?

Success is hard to dissect, but in hindsight, is clear that through swarm strategies, or luck, or a mix of both, Falkvinge got it. He is one of those few players that can now look back and try to go through the steps that led him where he is. Whether this will be applicable for others, and whether the swarm can stay the strategy for a Pirate Party that may grow big is still to be seen.

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