Peer Production, the Creative Commons and NLP / NS

A long follow up to the previous article, linking ideas from Open Source and Creative Commons to development of the fields of NLP and Neuro-Semantics.

Peer Production
In an earlier article I picked up a reference to Yochai Benkler’s paper Coase’s Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm in which he identifies the growth of a socio-economic phenomenon. Historically the combination of human talents and resources to produce value has been governed either by the market or the firm. The new, third, form of organising production that Benkler sees emerging (typified by the Open Source software movement) he calls “Commons-based Peer Production”

The common factors in this sort of production are the involvement of many people in production, and the inability of any one individual to dictate how a product is used or developed. The products of such networks are often highly innovative and tend to respond rapidly to changes in perceived needs.

Benkler notes that peer production is particularly relevant to information products because the impact of cheap computers and omnipresent networking has lowered the costs of co-ordination. He observes that the key advantages (in the arena of information or cultural products) of this form of production compared to the pure market or firm models are:

  • It is much better at identifying the right person for the job – i.e. the person whose talents are best fitted to solving the problem at hand with the resources (information) available.
  • It shows very strong returns on an increasing number of participants – allowing large groups of potential collaborators to interact with large sets of information resources in the search for new projects and opportunities. In other words it grows the total market

To allow participants to benefit economically from their contributions, without destroying the necessary openness and exchange of information, peer production requires a shift to indirect means of drawing money from the system – for example by selling services relating to the use of the created information rather than the information itself. This also implies changes to intellectual property (see for example Creative Commons or the GNU GPL)

The World of NLP etc.
As I was reading Benkler’s paper today I found myself making links to the world of NLP and other forms of personal development. In recent years the whole area has been known for a level of acrimony over ownership of particular approaches, now mostly settled by the courts in favour of the public domain. Notwithstanding that, most economic operators in the field appear to plough lone furrows (there are a few notable exceptions of whom more later…) and have not grasped the potential of the Net to develop and disseminate their ideas … and thus increase both their reputation and the value of their in-person interventions… remember all markets are conversations

Many training companies, coaches, therapists, consultants sell themselves as if they had some unique and secret knowledge – you only get to read the manual when you pay the course fee… I’m not disputing that everyone’s talents are unique, but I am suggesting that in general the true value that these people bring is when they apply those talents to an issue, not through the information they create around that process. In a world dominated by the scarcity model this behaviour is unsurprising – but not only does it undermine the message of abundance and possibility that so many of these firms seek to deliver, it may even constrain the market for these skills below it’s natural limits. That at least is my hypothesis!

How does “Peer Production” relate to this?

The link I want to explore is whether the concepts of peer production could be usefully applied to NLP and related fields to increase the quality and coverage of techniques available and the size of the market for the application of these skills.

I offer a vision and a couple of presuppositions.

The vision is a world where those of us skilled in fields of NLP, Neuro-Semantics and allied fields can make a material difference to the human condition by helping people to be more balanced, more successful and find more meaning in their lives; and in turn develop satisfying, meaningful, successful lives for ourselves. Others have expressed these ideas better! [1] [[2][9]]

I also suggest the following pre-suppositions may be useful:

  • The corner-stones of skill are information and learning from others.
  • The higher quality information we have access to, the more we are able to deliver at our best potential, and the more openness there will be to these approaches.
  • The wider the range of NLP/NS patterns and models we have, the more aspects of human life we can improve.
  • The greater the quality and applicability of our knowledge, the greater the market for the application of that knowledge through our skills

Given those presuppositions, I suggest that everything we can do to produce an open discussion of ideas in our field and encourage as many people as possible to participate in creation, experimentation, review and improvement will take us closer to achieving the vision.

Intellectual property

This is not a call to ignore copyright and rip people’s ideas off for private gain. That behaviour has been rife in the past in the field, and when you examine the websites of the people I cite below as examples of leaders who are (IMHO) going in the right direction, they are all careful to use copyright and (explicitly in the case of Hall & Bodenhamer) espouse values of acknowledging sources and paying relevant royalties.

That approach encourages people to build on the work of the pioneers in an ethical manner but is insufficient to create a self-sustaining network – it only penetrates one iteration of work away from the originators.

This is where we have to thank the vision of [Lawrence Lessig][10] and others at the Creative Commons project. They have created a variety of licence forms which explore the many options between full copyright and complete abrogation to the public domain. I will come back to this at the end of the article but the key point about the Creative Commons approach is that it offers ways for information creators to place some control on the use of their work (and indeed gain direct or indirect remuneration from it) yet still contribute to the common pool of knowledge available to advance the culture.

Who should be involved?

Everyone who wants to be. The design of the network (especially in the areas of values, intellectual property rules, quality review processes and methods of appropriating value) has to assume that it is open to all yet motivate and encourage the emergence of high quality products


Benkler examines closely (p55 ff) the motivation factors behind peer-production. The key factors are money (M) and socio-psychological (SP) rewards (which may effect one’s social standing &amp reputation and/or provide internal satisfaction). An individual’s motivation to contribute will depend on the combined reward exceeding some threshold that is relevant for them. SP rewards in particular are sensitive to a range of factors, including the nature of the project, the size of effort required to make a contribution, the economic status of the participant (e.g. if you are starving M becomes over-riding), the balance of direct and indirect monetary gain, the perceived fairness by which monetary rewards are appropriated etc. Quoting Benkler (p61), the sort of conditions to sustain peer-production are likely to be:

First, there is the case of projects that are broken down into fine-grained modules, where market remuneration would likely be too costly to sustain, but where hedonic and social-psychological rewards can provide contributors with positive rewards. […]
Second, there are instances where the value of monetary return is small relative to the value of the hedonic and [SP] rewards, particularly where the cultural construction of the [SP] rewards places a high negative value on the direct association of monetary rewards
with the activities. [for example] Teenagers and young adults with few economic commitments and high social recognition needs [or] individuals who have earnings sufficient to serve their present and expected tastes, but who have a strong taste for additional hedonic and
[SP] benefits that they could not obtain by extending their monetarily remunerated actions. Individuals whose present needs are met but whose future expected needs require increased monetary returns might participate if the [SP] returns were not negatively correlated with future, indirect appropriation, such as through reputation gains. This would effectively mean that they do add an M factor into their valuation of the rewards, but they do so in a way that does not negatively affect the value of SP for themselves or for other contributors to collaborative projects.

This would predict that the sorts of people who may be interested in the application of peer-production methods to the fields of NLP and Neuro-Semantics would tend to be:

  • Students of the field
  • People who are already successful in the field but who wish to grow it for a combination of values-based and monetary-based reasons
  • People with portfolio careers that provide sufficient material rewards at present but who are looking to grow their involvement in (and long-term remuneration from) the field

Quality Control, and other issues

Quality control is essential to any information production system. Benkler cites (p68) examples of four approaches used in commons-based production:

  • Hierarchically managed review
  • Peer review
  • Norm-based social organisation
  • Aggregation and averaging of redundant contributions

For our purposes peer-review would seem appropriate, and the internet offers many technologies to help with this.

The other area of possible concern is “defection” – i.e. behaviour by network members that threatens production (free-riding) or the motivation of members to contribute. Again referring to Benkler he observes (p65 ff) that peer-production is resilient to free-riding because:

  • The modularity of projects [a pre-requisite for this approach] allows redundant provision of modules
  • A ubiquitous network leads to a very large pool of contributors, diluting the effect of even a number of free-riders
  • The public goods nature of the end-product means that the value of the end-result to contributors is not reduced by the presence of free-riders

In relation to risks to motivation he observes that these are most likely to come from unilateral appropriation (where an individual seeks to hijack the project to their own ends, including disproportionate monetary gain) or simple commercialisation for private gain. The factors to consider when designing the network are the espoused values of the community, possible controls in the peer review process and the selection of appropriate forms of intellectual property or licencing.

Who “gets it”?

Earlier I mentioned some honourable exceptions to the “lone furrow”. Interestingly (but perhaps unsurprisingly) these are all leaders in their specific areas (both commercially and intellectually)

In this country, [Penny Tompkins and James Lawley][11], who between them have effectively built David Grove’s work into the field of Symbolic Modelling have a website packed with papers by themselves and others, all copyright of course, but also almost all marked “free for personal use”.

Robert Dilts and his colleagues at [NLP University][12] publish loads of excellent material, make explicit their approach to copyright, and have published [Shared Values of the NLP Community][13] – including “Creating Artful Community: To foster bonding and friendship for future projects together […]”

Michael L. Hall and Bobby Bodenhamer, founders of the field of [Neuro-Semantics][14] are probably the closest to “getting it”. They are explicitly seeking to create a community of practice, via the [International Society of Neuro-Semantics][15], with very strong [values][9], some of which are:

  • Giving due credit for materials
  • Sharing newly generated patterns
  • Paying royalties that are due
  • Reciprocating the generosity of others
  • Acknowledging the value of others even when we disagree
  • Co-leading, co-training, and co-writing with others as possible

And next?

I started all this with a presupposition – that a shift to a commons-based peer production model for developing knowledge in the fields of NLP, Neuro-Semantics and related areas will lead to a significant increase in the quality and applicability of material generally available, and therefore a growth in the market for the skills to apply that knowledge to improving the human condition.

We have the basic technology of dispersed co-operation and co-production – the ubiquitous internet. The other things we need are a set of values and some rules about who can do what with the information.

For values IMHO it’s hard to beat those [espoused][9] by the founders of Neuro-Semantics.

For the rules about who can do what with the information then we have to look to licencing conditions – and as I have noted above the [Creative Commons][16] are a rich source of ideas. They offer eleven different [licences][17], based around combinations of variables. The two that seem relevant here are

This licence allows others to use work however they like, including the production of derivative works, provided that they attribute the source, impose similar conditions on their derivative works and do not use the material for commercial purposes. There is nothing in this that stops the author of a work from licencing it for commercial use, but that is not an automatic right with this licence. This means that original authors get the chance to negotiate a monetary reward for commercial use of their material. [it’s also the licence I use for all material on this site including this article]
This licence removes the non-commercial constraint, allowing anyone to use the work, or derivatives, for commercial purposes provided they attribute the source and apply a similar licence to their derivatives.

I can see benefits and drawbacks to both these approaches as applied to a network of peer-production – the choice inevitably interacts with the motivations of the participants, the possible methods of appropriating monetary value from the enterprise and the possible de-motivating factor of one participant gaining a disproportionate monetary gain. Benkler notes (p. 70) a hybrid form of appropriation inspired by David Johnson where reputation gained in contribution to the project leads to initiation into a co-operative who jointly hold the rights to appropriate monetary gains for use of the material. As he says in the footnote “this would give contributors […] a more direct mechanism for keeping body and soul together while contributing, rather than simply awaiting for reputation gains to be translated into a contract”

All of these factors mean nothing without contributors to the network – hence this advocacy piece. If you are involved in NLP or related fields in any way, drop me an email or make a comment on the site – let me know what you think…

[9]: NEURO-SEMANTIC VISION “The Neuro-Semantic Vision” [10]: [11]: [12]: [13]: [14]: [15]: “INS Defined” [16]: “Creative Commons” [17]: “Licences Explained | Creative Commons” [18]: “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” [19]: “Attribution-ShareAlike”

Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change