The Wisdom and Folly of Systems Thinking
Michelle Holliday
95

Smart contracts do not a living system make.

“A firm, then, is not a bundle of assets belonging to owners, but a bundle of dynamic, smart contracts between people.”

I fear he misses most of the living systems elements of what a firm is (and I say this as a decentralized systems builder). It is neither a bundle of assets nor smart contracts. Maybe you could get away with calling that a project. But firms (companies, organizations, institutions, etc.) are structured communication flows which yield cultural patterns, power dynamics, relationships, learning, and more. This reductive thinking which sees only finance-related inputs and outputs (Inputs: the stuff purchased like materials, labor, services. Outputs: the stuff sold like widgets, services, etc.) misses the whole human ecosystem. It’s like thinking of beehives as honey factories and ignoring their role in the larger ecosystem.

All that said, there can be some real power in replacing stuff currently encoded in legal documents (like bylaws, contracts, licenses, etc.) with decentralized structures (like smart contracts). But let’s not confuse the issues. A pile of legal documents plus some financial assets is just a pile of symbols. It’s people organizing themselves according to those symbols that make it a living system. In fairness, he does say “between people,” but the way he frames theprogrammability of the enterprise seems to place people as an afterthought.