Why is it important to focus on hats, not heads (or roles, not souls)?


DAOs are sovereign and are collectives of self-sovereign individuals, with three important properties:

  1. The collective has goals it wants to achieve

  2. The collective (not an individual) governs its shared resources, so no individual member has power over any other

  3. The collective only governs its shared resources, so it does not have power over any of its individual members

Roles are a shared resource that the collective can govern in order to achieve its goals without infringing on the sovereignty of its members.

When first introduced to Hats Protocol, people often wonder why, if Hats is supposed to facilitate human-first organizations (vs the dehumanizing corporations we all know and hate), does it focus on hats and not the people that wear them?

This is an excellent question, and the answer is supremely important: it strikes at the heart of what we’re all doing here in the DAO space.

The A in DAO

Does the A stand for the organization’s autonomy, or the autonomy of its members? This is one of the most common debates in this space. To me, the answer is clear: it’s the organization’s autonomy — which is really just another way to say that the organization is an agent of its own, not captured by any agents within or external to it.

Individual member autonomy is, however, an important property of a DAO. It is a result of the DAO’s autonomy, not a cause. It’s only because no individual controls the collective that all individuals in the collective are in full control of themselves.

If we want to ensure that individual members remain autonomous, we must ensure that the collective is itself autonomous.

Put the collective first, but not at the expense of its members

Another way to say the same thing is that putting the collective before any individual is the best way to ensure that each individual is self-sovereign.

What does putting the collective first look like? In governance terms (often demonstrated through voting), it requires a broad distribution of executive power. In terms of actually achieving the collective’s goals, it translates to empowering the collective to manage the responsibilities, authorities, and accountabilities necessary to get shit done.

The collective cares not about who does the work, just that it gets done effectively, efficiently, and in a manner that does not lead to capture of the collective’s shared resources. From the collective’s perspective, its sufficient to be able to create and manage the roles corresponding to the work to be done.

This is good, because roles (the work) are a shared resource that should be governed by the collective. Since the members are sovereign, they should retain control of their own private resources (time, attention, money, identity, etc), not the collective.

Roles enable a collective to manage its work without controlling its members

Roles vs. souls is not a dichotomy; in truth, its one part of a trichotomy: collective, roles, and souls.

The collective (not any individual) needs to manage the work required to achieve its goals. But if the collective has control over any of its members, they cease to be sovereign and their value to the collective declines. Separating roles from souls allows the collective to have direct control over the work without having power over its members.

By focusing on roles rather than souls, Hats Protocol empowers collectives to achieve their goals without diminishing the sovereignty of individual members.