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The untapped potential of weird rules
We talk a lot about tech protocols — code that ensures things happen a certain way.
I’m fascinated lately with social protocols, which function based only on rules people agree to follow.
One of my favorite examples is Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step model.
The 12-step model has been hugely successful in helping people recover from “hopeless” addictions and live lives of great virtue. What you may not know is that the 12 steps followed by individuals are supported by the 12 traditions followed by the groups themselves. The 12 traditions have enabled the 12-step model to perpetuate itself very successfully, without centralized governance.
I’ve bolded some parts that seem counterintuitive or unique. Check them out:
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
I’ve hardly heard of any corporation, government, nonprofit that has rules like these.
They’re super weird!
Yet, these groups are outstandingly effective, self-replicating, and long-lived.
I can’t help but wonder what other problems could be solved just by coming up with the right sets of rules for small groups to follow voluntarily.