(In which my mild annoyance at a particular garbage bin outputs an essay that I think is pretty generalizable and important, but maybe is just a rant. *shrug*)


There's an important skill, early on in the Hufflepuff Skill Tree, which is something like "Collaborative Leadership."

The Hufflepuff strategy of "everyone pitching in to keep things nice" requires a mechanism to cause there to be a lot of people pitching in. If you're going to attempt to keep a place nice this way, you need such a mechanism. This requires a certain kind of leadership.

It doesn't need to feel like bossing people around – it can feel like "people making friends and helping each other out". But it does require a certain kind of assertiveness.

If you're pitching in and helping out just because you like to and okay with the notion that others might not do so, coolio. But if your goal is to keep a place nice, instead of making it nice for this particular afternoon, this skill is really important.

Background on Fighting Entropy

AFAICT, there are roughly two good strategies for making sure your environment can regularly fight entropy (i.e. keep a room/office/area clean, organized, both physically and interpersonally).

Specialist/Systemization Strategy – Have a dedicated person/people create a formal, automated system that keeps entropy at bay. (This includes things like hiring maids, designing the space such that people tend to automatically put things back in the right space without even thinking about it, and having recurring, automated deliveries that keep things well stocked)

Teamwork Pitch-In Strategy (aka the Hufflepuff Strategy) – People are expected to help out, clean up after themselves (erring on the side of cleaning up a bit more than they think is fair to account for bias) and proactively notice areas where they can improve things.

(The intersection between these two strategies looks something like "each person on the team focuses on specific roles. One person makes sure food is stocked, another person does dishes, etc")

When you can afford to do the Specialized/Automated strategy, I think you should. It's worth the investment. but there are a couple reasons you might not be able to:

  • The start-up costs are high. For new orgs or spaces that are still figuring themselves out, thoroughly solving the Entropy Problem may not be high enough in the priority queue to be worth doing in the first few months.
  • For underfunded/understaffed spaces, thoroughly solving the fight entropy problem may just never be an option at all.
  • If your space involves lots of people coming/going and causing small amounts of trash, the rate at which you need to fight entropy may be so high that it's just not practical to solve it with a maid or whatever. Hiring a maid once a week is reasonable. If you want people to be able to arrive at any random hour of the day and not have the place cluttered... unless you have the resources to hire a fulltime maid (or equivalent volunteer), you basically need a culture wherein people clean up after themselves (plus a bit extra to account for bias)

I think a healthy rationalsphere will have lots of new organizations forming and trying out ideas, which means there will be a lot of early stage orgs who don't yet have the resources to implement the systemization strategy. ("New Group House" counts as a type of organization here)

Those orgs need to either be okay with things getting cluttered, or address it with some kind of collaborative solution.

One thesis of Project Hufflepuff was that rationalists need to be better at the collaborative strategy. After a lot of conversations with people who have pretty different outlooks, I've shifted my stance towards "the systematization strategy is an option, and this should be an important part of Hufflepuff Discourse."

But I still think a case can be made that the idealized in-person-rationalsphere has a lot of projects going on where collaborative-pitch-in is the best strategy. At least during the early stages.

Collaborative Leadership

This is all a build up to I think a fairly simple pitch.

If you're the sort of person in space where people come-and-go a lot, and as such, it's continuously important to be building Fight Entropy Capacity...

...and you have a natural impulse to, say, see that the garbage needs taking out and do so...

...then whenever possible, you should try replacing that impulse with something like the following:

  • Find another person who can see the garbage from where they're sitting
  • Say "Hey, want to help me take out the garbage?" (this works best if there's multiple bins, recycling, etc, so you legitimately could use some help)
  • Show them how to actually do so (since it's often not clear what to do with a full garbage bag), and then where to get a new bag for the newly empty bin.
  • End the interaction, not with a pitch for them to help takeout the garbage themselves in the future, but to ask other people for help the way you just asked them, so that the body of people who've ever thought about how to keep the space clean can grow.

(How to generalize this to other small things that pile up and could use doing is left as an exercise for the reader)

A subtle, important bit here is that this isn't just about the object-level of growing the base of people-who-sometimes clean. The Hufflepuff Strategy is a cluster of approaches that also ties in with making new connections, getting to know people, helping people feel invested in a shared space and shared resources and shared social network.

If you're doing it right, you're not just, like, manipulating people into helping you clean – your bid for help is an earnest expression of "hey, fellow human, want to start becoming the sort of people who like each other enough and trust each other enough and share goals enough to Fight Entropy together?"

There's a cluster of related skills here, summarized roughly as:

  • Assertiveness (enough to make the bid for help)
  • Earnestness/Friendliness (such that the bid for help comes across as friendly rather than commanding)
  • The ability to notice things that need doing – in particular, new things that don't have a cached handle and then...
  • The ability to distill "hmm, this sort of thing regularly becomes disorganized" into a) "how can I actually fix this myself", and b) "how can I decompose this into an easily learnable task?
  • The ability to followup on this with actual subsequent build-up-of-relationship, which helps make the system robust (because there's actually enough trust going around to support it)

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:46 PM

I feel like asking people to do a favor for you is a lot more credible/enjoyable/smooth* if you're also doing them a favor or have done them favors in the past, or have been seen doing favors for others. This is a lot easier in certain environments, eg if a bunch of people are helping put a large structure** together, it becomes second nature to offer to hold something for someone briefly, or to ask someone to hand you a tool or a piece of the structure. Environments that are less goal-oriented have a harder time with this because the tasks that need to be done are less immediately seen as for a specific person or needed by a specific person.

*in the sense that gears turning is smooth

**perhaps a geodesic dome

I think this is true, but ultimately this sort of thing needs to work in environments that aren't perfectly tailored to it. (And in particular, think it's real valuable for, early-on when someone has entered a new space, they get a sense that this is how you do things here – we pitch in together. It still needs to be done in a way that feels like they're getting something out of it – in particular, a sense of ownership of the space).

It also matters a lot that you're not handing them a task, you're doing a task together. It's not an accident that Hufflepuff is both about putting in the gruntwork that needs doing and camaraderie.