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One of the great lessons of becoming older is that one starts to understand a younger self. I see the 20-year-old Dave Volek, so full of energy, ideas, ambition, education, and strength. The world was his for the taking. I also see someone who made a lot of mistakes. He mismanaged his engineering career, despite a few good opportunities to advance it. His first business failed. His second business failed.  

As my life moved on, it gave me more knowledge, experience, and wisdom I did not have before. I was starting to see the mistakes of my 20s and 30s. Why could I not have seen those mistakes as I was making them?

There is an axiom I heard many years ago that goes something like this:

“One makes mistakes if one does not have experience, and one gets experience by making mistakes.”

While this axiom has a lot of truth to it, we should ask ourselves: “Is there a way we could get experience by not making so many mistakes?”

Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG) is my alternative democracy that I have been working on for 24 years. If you take a quick look at the TDG, you will see a new and interesting electoral structure. If you were to say something like: “This electoral structure looks nice, but eventually it will become corrupted like our current democracy,” I would agree with you. The electoral structure itself is not enough to bring about the changes we are yearning for. This TDG needs new humanistic features.

The most important humanistic feature is “consultation.” Consultation is a process of collaborative decision making where we expect, accept, and welcome that other people around us have knowledge, experience, and wisdom we do not have. As we add that outside knowledge, experience, and wisdom to our own knowledge, experience, and wisdom, we should be utilizing a higher level of knowledge, experience, and wisdom—in the same way the 25-year-old Dave could have used the 62-year-old Dave to make better decisions when he was 25. 

The combining of the knowledge, experience, and wisdom from others leads to different and better decisions than had we been thinking and working independently. In other words, I am gaining knowledge, experience, and wisdom just by talking and listening to other people. I need not make all those mistakes to learn important lessons.

In essence, I—and the other decision makers—won’t be making as many mistakes when we engage in TDG consultation.

Let’s contrast that TDG consultation with western democracy. In our current system, we have too many people who believe that they already have the right answer. They have no need to listen to other perspectives. Their task is to ally with similar thinkers and work the democratic system to implement their version of how the world should work. So, should we not be surprised that after the battle of competing strong wills, the winner of the conflict really has not enhanced his/her solution beyond what he/she had originally envisioned. He/she has only won the contest of democracy.

I have had quite a few life experiences where consultation was used. Not only was the final decision something everyone could agree to, it was also beyond the vision of any individual at the decision-making table. The process also brought a great sensation that the team, not individuals, put the solution together.

I will be the first to admit that consultation is not easy. I still fall too easily into individualistic thinking where I am right and they are wrong. Too often, I have to deliberately pull myself into a more consultative mindset. But for this TDG to work, we MUST make consultation a cultural trait, something that comes almost automatically.

The early days of the TDG will be mostly about governing itself. It will be asking things like:

How many executive committee members should we have?

When should we hold the election?

What are the boundaries of the neighborhoods to elect representatives?

These and maybe another 50 self-governing issues will need to be addressed and resolved. Yes, they sound trivial and unimportant and boring. But as the early TDG builders will assemble their TDG, they will be practicing their consultation skills. Consider this possible dialogue:

Bob: Next, we need to consider how many members are to be elected to the executive committee.

Fran: I think four. That should be enough.

Diane: Why?

Fran: Smaller government is better government.

Diane: But what does our TDG really need?

Marvin: Four might be enough. But what if one person can’t make the meeting?

Fran: Maybe five would be more appropriate. That means at least four should be there for each meeting. Four should be sufficient voices to discuss things and make a good decision.

In the big picture, it probably does not matter whether this local TDG has four, five, or six members on its first executive committee. But these are the kinds of discussions that provide the forum for the early TDG builders to practice consultative decision making—and make it part of their culture. Everyone brings in their initial viewpoint; everyone listens to other viewpoints; knowledge, experience, and wisdom is exchanged; eventually a consensual decision is reached. Then they try the decision out to see how well it works. Isn’t making early TDG decisions such great training?

The best part is that the stakes in building the early TDG are not that high. So nothing can be construed as a “life-or-death” issue, such that “it has to be this way or else.” Learning to yield to consensus will be a useful attribute to acquire.

Have a good discussion about each of those “trivial” features of the local TDG. Talk about alternatives. Express the pros and cons. Reach a decision. Then implement it. Let the decision run for some time and  evaluate. Make changes if need be. If you still think something is wrong with the consensual decision, have confidence that it will be fixed later.

In the early TDG, consultation practice in these simple matters will mean be gaining experience for the more complex matters that will come later. Today’s early builders may be tomorrow’s serious builders. Or maybe the early builders of today will be teaching consultation to the serious builders of tomorrow. In essence, TDG is building that culture of consultation before it really needs it.

Now I’m going to give my readers a little challenge. I am asking, “How consultative are you?”

I bet most of you believe you already have a good consultative attitude. But really?

In Chapter 4 of my TDG book, I give a lot more detail of how to combine knowledge, experience, and wisdom from several people into one consultative decision. It will take you about a half hour to read this chapter to learn some new insights into collaborative decision making. Will you investigate Chapter 4 to gain some new insights into consultation?

What would a truly consultative person do?

Published on Medium 2021

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