TEDx Orange Coast

This week I had the amazing opportunity to speak at TEDx Orange Coast about one of my deep rooted passions - the participation culture, chaords and the principles which allow people from all around the world to connect, share, collaborate and contribute to make things better.

While the wonderful folks at TEDx are preparing the video of my talk, here is the full speech plus the slides I shared on stage.

It is important to note that I am merely the storyteller and literally stand on the shoulders of giants. My work is based on the amazing and visionary writing and actions of Dee Hock (founder of VISA), the thoughtful and inspiring leadership and work of John Lilly (Mozilla’s former CEO and currently partner at Greylock VC) and Dia Bondi, the best speaker coach the world has seen. Thank you!

TEDx Talk “The Participation Culture”


Let me ask you a question. Do you recognize this logo? Did you buy your TED ticket using one of these? Do you have one of these?

Did you know that per year VISA processes 4.4 Trillion Dollar in payments, handles 64 Billion transactions and operates in well over 200 countries.

Do you think VISA is a financial institution employing more than 20,000 people worldwide?

40,000 people?

100,000 people?

In truth, VISA is an established, trusted global company that until just a few years ago, employed only 3,000 people in 21 offices across 13 countries. Strangely small for the impact they’ve had all over the world.

They’ve had that impact through delivering their service using an intricate web of a small core and a vast network of tens of thousands of connected local banks. A model of connected but sometimes distant nodes agreeing on core principles and yet fiercly competing for customers.

A model that functions in something VISA’s CEO Dee Hock named a “chaord” — the unity of chaos and order.

VISA’s model was prophetic. It was developed and proven nearly 40 years ago and right around the same time the Internet was born. And, when mapped, these two systems are nearly identical in their structure. Grown separately, but a reflection of each other.


Enter the age of participation. The action of taking part.

Germinating and growing on and through the Internet, the participation culture is its own “chaord” with a set of rules unique to itself.

It’s decentralized, open and inclusive — and not controlled by a single gatekeeper. It connects talents and passions all over the world.

So how can we define the participation culture? Participation culture is a culture in which private persons (the public) do not act merely as consumers, but also as contributors or producers.


Last year a Stanford professor opened his entrepreneurship course to the world. He invited students to not only listen to his lessons but also to openly share and collaborate through an online platform.

Literally thousands of students from all over the world joined this call — often coming from places far away from Stanford’s campus and from walks of life which would never be able to attend this institution.

These students not only learned how to be entrepreneurs — but became entrepreneurs. And went on to create dozens of companies which set out to change the world for the better.

These students were nodes interacting with distant nodes.

Today Stanford opens up more and more of its courses — instigating change all over the world.

But there’re more — and all without permissions granted by a gate keeper: The 99% movement, the Arab spring, fashion and sporting good manufacturing practices changed for human good, food handling, consumer product safety, child education, higher education, encyclopedias, flash mobs, crowd funding, micro loans - even car design or superbowl commercials… those who participate are the ones who begin to make the decisions — from politics to how our food is grown.

But it’s not only about revolt, only about political revolution. Like we saw from the Stanford class, it’s about participating in making things “better”. Solving problems that we’re compelled to solve, it’s about coming together and truly collaborating. But this kind of working together, participating requires us to show up ready to play but it’s rules.


To participate in a “chaord” we must tolerate that tension between chaos and order. For some of us that’s easy, for other’s it’s hard, and for some — it’s just plain confusing. So, let me share with you the “rules” of the system and help you engage. Whether you’re an organization, a single human or a cause — and either to participate or to attract participation.

Here we go:

Rule #1 – Make something magnitudes better than the status quo. Build superior products — as mediocrity is boring and exhausting.

People will participate when the stakes are high and the vision is clear and ambitious.

Nobody roots for something which is only marginally better. So be bold.

Rule #2 – People can’t just feel empowered, they must be empowered. That means that the decision-making process must be pushed to the edges. Allow people to make decisions. And allow the nodes in your system to route around the structure. Sounds simple and obvious but to some it’s a real switch: Nodes don’t ask permission.

Rule #3 – Allow participation and participate. Be open about your decision making process, allow people to participate and become part of it. If you let this happen, you turn outsiders, supporters and bystanders into committed insiders.

This is how you grow organizations build on the principle of participation.

Rule #4 – Treat and expect to be treated as a community of citizens. They are you — and you become them. This is the essence of participation.

It is these four simple mechanics which, when combined with the power of technology and networks will turn into unprecedented opportunity.


Adopting these principles is hard. If it’s not what we grew up in, it can take some letting go to engage in a meaningful way. And as we’ve all experienced one time or another in our lives, letting go of something to make room for something else, is a cornerstone of transformation.

So what do we have to let go of to lean into this participation culture - to leverage our own passion and the talents and passion of other nodes far across the world or right next door?

First, let go of command and control, it dies in the face of the participation culture. It can not survive.

Second, let go of perfection. Don’t wait for something to be perfect before we share. Set the vision, the big hairy audacious goal, and let participation happen.

Let go of hierarchy. This is a tough one — because it means that YOU are the one to grant permission and WE are fully empowered to insert ourselves and act on the vision or change we believe in. WE act on it. WE are the ones to work on the HOW the problem gets solved. There is no one to ask, no one to give you a key, no one who says you are either in or out. And, no one to take the “blame”. No king to behead if things don’t go as planned.

Let go and you’ll be nurturing and accelerating the evolution of new way of being.


Let me leave you with these last thoughts:

The participation culture is here. It is thriving, growing, emerging.

And like the Internet, it is connecting people and movements in a way we haven’t seen before.

Soon there will be too many examples to point to. Too many to say it is the exception, instead, it is my belief that it will be the rule.

So, today we have a choice to say “yes” to it and lean in, or say “not yet” and be dragged into this new way of being.

A global society of humans connected in a “chaord” participating, empowered and validated by hearing our own voice in this new world.