Holding Ourselves to a Higher Standard — Seven Steps to Mitigate the Human Flaws in our Bitcoin World

Bruce Fenton

— A call for a Voluntary Code of Conduct —

Nearly all that can be said about the internal technical debate in Bitcoin has been said. Those in the industry know that a disagreement generally between a majority technical opinion and a majority corporate opinion has caused a rift. It looks like the technical side of this will be resolved in the coming weeks. This is great news. What we need to do in conjunction with the technical solution is to work on the human side and prevent likelihood of such hard rifts in the future. This issue has been 95% human and 5% technical.

First off, we all need to make the decision to let go of the past. Matt Corallo made an excellent blog post the other day using the term “reset” to describe letting go of past disputes and issues. Matt’s post was right: we can reset, but it just will take some work and concrete steps reviewed below, maybe more. We have no choice but to make this work.

To paraphrase the scene in the program From the Earth to the Moon discussing the Apollo disaster:

Whose fault is this Bitcoin rift?

Well, clearly, it’s Gavin Andresen’s fault. And it’s Adam Back’s fault. And Wladimir’s and Jeff Garzik’s and Greg Maxwell and every core developer. It’s Theymos and Reddit’s fault and Brian Armstrong, Balaji and every VC and CEO’s fault. Gavin could have done better on maintaining relations with core devs and the impression of using his popularity to promote what is seen by some of them as a minority opinion. Adam and the core devs could have communicated more and earlier and addressed the perception (or reality) that they were non responsive to industry. Core devs could have worked harder on recognizing that there is more to the industry than the technical issues. CEOs could have engaged with core development more, treated engineers with more respect, funded more developers and more constructively stated why they feel what they feel.

It’s also my fault. And Erik Voorhees and Matt Roszak’s fault. We are not devs but decent at human relations and know lots of people and the three of us, as well as Roger Ver, Steve Waterhouse and two dozen others could have all worked to smooth over communications a year ago and, with a few phone calls and meetings, possibly could have prevented relatively minor disagreements from piling on layers of bad blood and spiraling to where we are now.

We all could have done better. Going forward from today we all need to. Our industry depends on it.

Disagreement is healthy but this debate long ago jumped the shark. If we add up the value of the hours spent on it, we’re in the tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. Our best and brightest engineers have become demoralized and spent time in debates that they could have (and would have preferred to) spent on code. Our CEOs and VCs are experiencing added frustration and stress in a market that is already full of its share of ups and downs. New investors and partners have been scared off and the price of Bitcoin has been affected.

Bitcoin is an experiment. None of us know if this will work and none of us know the challenges we will face together. What we do know is that we need all the help we can get. It’s time to internalize that by participating in division we are slowly cutting off our nose with a rusty knife.

So how do we move forward:

1). Make a decision to let go of the past technical issues. We don’t care whose fault it was, who broke protocol, who harmed who’s feelings or egos, who lied or who was technically or morally wrong. The time has come to move on. We can start fresh and work together to prevent or react to any new human issues.

2). Express your issues/ pain and your responsibility. It’s okay to acknowledge what was harmful to you, what hurt, what broke rapport, interfered with development or comms and why. Go ahead and talk to the person on the other side, write a letter with a bit of self-examination…You don’t even have to send it. Just get it off your chest once and for all. If you are on the receiving end of such comments, respect and acknowledge that their concerns are valid, even if you disagree. Thank them and move on. If direct discussion could make things worse, tell me or someone else who can anonymously convey the sentiment to whomever you want.
We are not passive bystanders in our own lives and this saga. Everyone could have done better and everyone should acknowledge how they could have done so.

3). We need to stop being victims and do our jobs. Many involved in this feel wronged. But remember, actions that are now in the past have no power over us that we do not give them. You got a bad deal and were treated badly? Okay. We are now talking about today. Something upsets you, okay — but our mission here isn’t to win arguments on Reddit our mission is to change the world. Let’s spend less (or no) time on division and instead do some more coding, building companies, innovating, communicating and investing. I know this is all easier said than done, but do it we must.

4). Appreciate. Step back and look at where we are. Take a moment to breathe in the wonder of this amazing technology. We have put our hearts and souls and time into this crazy experiment. We’ve taught the tech to strangers, we’ve spent days in front of a computer screen and we’ve flown exhausting flights to meet and learn from our peers. We’ve learned and grown. We have come a very long way. You’ve done a damn good job. You’ve given a lot and we thank you for it. Pat yourself on the back and roll up your sleeves, this ride is just getting started.

5). Forgive. I’ve been fortunate to speak with a variety of people with varying opinions on this matter and I’m absolutely convinced that every one of them means well for this technology. We are on the same team. Without engineers, CEOs have no company and a mission critical app that never evolves and without CEOs, engineers have a garage science project with 1000 global users. We need each other. We agree on more with each other than 99.99% of humanity. Recognize that we all have human flaws and no one wanted this situation to be this way.

6). Place logic above emotion. Judge messages and opinions on the content not the person and evaluate and discuss them in a logical manner. It’s not about the people it’s about the message. One trick I heard of when interacting with someone we’ve had past issues with is to pretend they are someone we immensely respect like Richard Branson. Even if they are challenging, rude or a jerk, we can give them the same leeway we would with Sir Richard …had we happened to be speaking with him when he was having a bad day. We’d adjust and be sympathetic, we’d try harder and we’d assume the best intentions. For most of us, it would take a hell of a lot for us to trash talk Branson or whomever (fill in your favorite celebrity or leader here). Maybe we can treat everyone as if they were Satoshi…because one of them may very well be.

7). Let’s Make a Pledge. Mudslinging and defense of mudslinging covers us in mud. Let’s start with a new clean slate and a new clean rule book, voluntary set of guidelines, opt in contract, non-binding pledge or Code of Conduct. If, for example, you are unhappy with how press interaction has been, unhappy with the way people behave during the technical review process or unhappy with the interaction regarding this on social media, let’s agree to some simple, basic ways we will work to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t have to be the Magna Carta, just a simple step.

Signing such a document reminds us to hold ourselves to a higher standard and gives us all peer-driven incentive to take a higher ground. When a technical or other debate starts to take a wrong turn it doesn’t get muddled by the other party in the debate pointing out we’ve done wrong, it is more likely corrected because of an open and public agreement that many have bought in to. Human beings will still break this code, they will still be humans, but we can raise the bar quite a bit. If we support such a code together then we can all work to constructively bring back those who sway off course, or, if necessary work as a community to lower the influence of those who repeatedly and willfully veer off a positive and productive communications path.

When fingers are pointed with claims of whose fault is what, those on the outside of that communication have little means of judging the truth objectively. When we have a written, public and clear code we agree on, those outside the communication can more easily judge if someone breaks it and we can all work to fix it. It also decreases the chances of such actions in the first place.

We can hold ourselves to a higher standard, maybe the standard we have when we are face to face. In a couple weeks I’m glad to be a part of the Satoshi Roundtable, a private gathering of 60–70 of the top developers, thinkers, investors and CEOs in our industry for a weekend retreat. I know that everyone will get along and have fun because that’s what happens when you put people with a lot in common in a fun and relaxed setting. One of my greatest hopes is that we all remember the face to face relationships and humans behind the handles when we go back to our respective desktops.

A voluntary code can help us keep that face to face standard.

If this idea makes sense, let’s work on it now and compile a simple, easy and clear set of actions we can take to mitigate our human flaws.

I’ll start off the list with the suggestion of item #1 on the code: as hard as it may be, let go of the past.

Bruce Fenton is a Bitcoin geek, economic advisor, founder of Atlantic Financial and part-time volunteer Executive Director at the Bitcoin Foundation.