Hufflepuff Leadership and Fighting Entropy

(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)