Missions and Institutions

Over the past few months I've been deep in the process of reflecting on what I've learned over the past decade and playing with different ideas regarding how they might come together in a relevant way considering the times.

Between the teaching work, our programs at Orbital, and the community rituals from our membership program, there's a fairly wide surface area of options to consider, which are clustered around some pretty clear broad themes, such as:

  • how we scale support in an increasingly turbulent world
  • how we teach people to navigate and confront uncertainty

Both of these are notable in that they feel very "mission-oriented".  The primary goal isn't to exploit an opportunity in the market, it's to have an impact on people.

One of the pitfalls for projects like these is that it's easy to make assumptions regarding the best strategy forward, such as "mission-oriented" projects should be non-profits, or that they should be structured or financed in a certain way.  These assumptions typically manifest from the outside (i.e. people's reactions), but they can also surface from the inside (i.e. how you look at the problem).

The pitfall here is that when you have a socially-minded goal, you need to be careful about recreating the present-day institution.  That might be the right answer, but if so, it should be a deliberate design decision rather than an assumed pattern.

Ultimately, you need to zoom out and design a system that "works", specifically one where:

  • you have an understanding of how money flows: where it's coming from and where it's going to
  • you understand the key behaviors that need to happen, and have a hypothesis for how such behavior will emerge and be sustained over time
  • you understand what changes will need to happen as your system grows

Through this you might land on a solution that is either identical to an existing institution, or which closely resembles it.  But you really want to ensure that you've taken a first-principles approach to doing so.

It is important, however, to understand how current institutions work, what their  limitations and strengths are and why they exist.  Through this, you'll have a realistic understanding of the current complexities, tradeoffs and pitfalls and can take that into consideration in how you design whatever this new thing will be.