[We’re pleased to welcome author Marc-David L. Seidel of the University of British Columbia. Seidel recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Questioning Centralized Organizations in a Time of Distributed Trust,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Seidel reflects on the inspiration of his research:]
Technology has always fascinated me. This fascination led to many interesting opportunities including working for the creator of the first Campus-Wide Information System (CUInfo) and the first online counseling service (Dear Uncle Ezra) well before HTML and the web existed. I learned the true potential of networked communication at this point, and was always trying to figure out ways to get non-technical people interested – yet frequently failed miserably.
In graduate school, while I was procrastinating on my dissertation on the airline industry, I started reading about proposals of the HTML specification and I started to feel outdated technologically. It struck me that this new protocol may finally help bring the potential of the internet to non-technical people. So I decided to learn how to develop an HTML webpage to “get back up to speed.” This ultimately led to me creating the first online airline portal (Airlines of the Web) in 1994 prior to the consumer commercialization of the internet. As others entered the online travel space, a distributed community formed. This was highly collaborative at the start. As the consumer internet started to commercialize, I was fascinated by the interaction of those interested in online enabled communication and those interested in online profit. That experience of seeing how communities formed online around a common interest, led me a bit later to co-creating the first crowdsourced telecom consumer information rates and fees database (ABTolls) with a mission of helping people get the best consumer information possible. All of those experiences, combined with my strong academic interest in organizational theory, led to my interest in Community Forms (C-Forms) of organization. It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of organizations as technology has enabled inexpensive direct peer to peer communication.
Similar to when I first learned of HTML in the early 1990’s, when I first learned of blockchain I got a very similar feeling including the need to “get back up to speed” and have immersed myself in the growing communities of people working on the technology. Through learning about the technology, and distributed trust more broadly, I have recognized that many of our assumptions about formal organization are being fundamentally challenged by shifts to distributed forms of trust – where individuals previously unknown to each other can enter into direct peer to peer trusted interactions with no need for a central organization to vouch for either of them.
Removing the need for central organizations in many domains is a drastic shift to many underlying assumptions of the theories in our field. So my goal with this piece is to introduce the basic concepts of distributed trust to the non-technically inclined in our field, and to highlight how we need to address the future which is coming quickly. Implicit assumptions about the legitimacy and power of central network positions no longer ring true. Many core aspects of our field are being called into question at a fundamental level. I hope reading the Generative Curiosity piece helps other scholars to start to recognize what is coming, and how their own individual research domains will be impacted. As the technology develops, insights from organizational theory can help to shape our joint future so that the societal impact of this shift is designed in such a way to ensure a better more equitable future for all.