Knowledge Management Lessons from Rocket Scientists and the Iron Law of Oligarchy in DAOs


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Aug 28, 2023

4 min read


Knowledge Management Lessons from Rocket Scientists and the Iron Law of Oligarchy in DAOs


In this article, we will explore the fascinating worlds of knowledge management at NASA's Goddard center and the governance structures of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). While these two subjects may seem unrelated at first glance, there are valuable lessons to be learned and connections to be made. We will delve into the importance of collaboration, the role of social media in enhancing learning, the benefits of learning in public, and the inevitable evolution from democracy to oligarchy. By understanding these concepts, we can gain actionable insights for better knowledge sharing and governance within organizations.

Knowledge Management at Goddard: Empowering People to Share and Reflect

NASA's success relies on the collective knowledge and collaboration of thousands of brilliant individuals. At the Goddard center, the focus is on empowering people to share and reflect on what they know best. Knowledge Management is not just about creating systems to overcome knowledge deficiencies but rather understanding the individual's learning processes, structures, and needs. By fostering an environment that values knowledge sharing and reflection, Goddard enables its scientists to continuously learn and grow.

Social Media's Role in Enhancing Learning and Relationships

Social media has tremendous potential in facilitating learning and innovation. However, it is important to recognize that the strength of relationships plays a crucial role in harnessing the full benefits of social media. Developing strong ties with others allows for rapid, trustworthy answers, enhanced thinking, and quick problem-solving. By facilitating different types of relationships, both online and offline, organizations can leverage social media to accelerate business outcomes and foster a culture of collaboration.

Learning in Public: Difficult but Rewarding

Sharing knowledge openly during a project can be challenging, as it requires vulnerability and the willingness to admit gaps in one's understanding. However, learning in public allows others to contribute their specific knowledge, leading to time and cost savings. While the process may be difficult, the feedback, support, and improvements gained from learning in public far outweigh the initial discomfort. Embracing this approach can foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement within organizations.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy and the Evolution of Governance

The concept of the Iron Law of Oligarchy states that all organizations, even those committed to democratic ideals, will eventually succumb to rule by an elite few. This evolution from democracy to oligarchy occurs due to the strategic capabilities of an elite group. Direct democracies, while idealistic, are impractical due to the time-consuming nature of decision-making and the information problems associated with voter education. To counterbalance the risks of mob rule, many democratic societies, like the United States, opt for representative democracy, where small groups can organize effectively.

Challenges Faced by DAOs: Striving for True Democracy

DAOs aim to bring the benefits of democracy to ownership and governance levels. However, the inherent challenges faced by democratic governance structures persist. The cyclical theory of governance, known as anacyclosis, highlights how over time, the elite few in an oligarchy develop values that diverge from the rest of the group. This gradual shift perpetuates a self-serving system that contradicts democratic principles. It is essential to acknowledge that DAOs, like their predecessors, will face similar challenges in maintaining true democracy.

Actionable Advice for Enhanced Knowledge Management and Governance:

  • 1. Foster a culture of knowledge sharing and reflection within organizations. Encourage individuals to openly share their expertise and learn from one another's experiences. This can be achieved through regular team meetings, knowledge-sharing platforms, and mentorship programs.
  • 2. Invest in building strong relationships and networks. Social media can be a powerful tool, but it is essential to prioritize meaningful connections. Encourage employees to engage in both online and offline interactions, facilitating trust, collaboration, and the exchange of ideas.
  • 3. Continuously evaluate governance structures to mitigate the risks of oligarchy. While the default trend in democratic organizations is to evolve into an oligarchy, DAOs can incorporate financial incentives and pre-programmed rules to slow down this process. However, it is crucial to remain vigilant and actively revisit governance structures to ensure alignment with democratic values.


By understanding the lessons learned from rocket scientists' knowledge management practices and the challenges faced by DAOs, organizations can enhance their knowledge sharing initiatives and strive for more inclusive and democratic governance structures. By fostering a culture of openness, embracing the power of social media, and remaining mindful of the risks of oligarchy, organizations can empower individuals, drive innovation, and continuously evolve towards more effective and equitable decision-making processes.

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