The Swarm's Activation Ladder

In any swarm, it is essential to know where the paths to individual success coincide with the success of the swarm’s mission, and to bring new recruits into alignment with one of these paths as soon as possible.

When somebody joins a swarm with a particular mission, they don’t go immediately from first hearing of the swarm to being its leader. There are many, many steps in between. This is obvious, but for being so obvious, surprisingly few organizations respond to it. We call this the activation ladder, and the swarm must understand each step on the ladder and make it as easy as possible for everybody to climb it.

In my last post about swarm management, I wrote about how the swarm only grows on its edges. The activation ladder is equally important to understanding recruitment: the edges of the swarm are not sharp, but quite fuzzy, and it’s hard to define the moment when somebody decides to activate for the first time. Is it when they hear about the swarm? When they visit its web pages? When they first contact a human being in the swarm? I would argue that all three of these are steps on the activation ladder.

The key insight here is that from the center, where the people leading the swarm are located, the swarm looks like a flat mesa (with just one steep step to climb), but from the outside, it looks like a rounded hill (with many small steps). This is key to making it easy for people to move to the highly-active center of the swarm: wanting to activate people in the swarm, it’s important to understand that this is a gradual process with many steps on the activation ladder.

The key action that is needed from the people leading the swarm is to identify as many steps as possible on the activation ladder, and make each of these steps as easy and accessible as possible. Again, it sounds obvious, but many organizations fail miserably at this. Some swarms or formal orgs make it easy to become a member but explain nothing about what they do, while others go out of their way to explain how important they are but make it impossible to come in contact with an officer of the swarm.

The problem with these organizations is usually that they have chosen one key metric that measures their success, and so, the organization reshapes to focus on that metric alone rather than the full activation ladder.

There are several key things that need to be done. Some of the least obvious are to always make sure that all people in the swarm can respond meaningfully to questions from people who are just hearing about the swarm about its purpose — normal social growth should never be underestimated — and that there are always plenty of empty boxes in the organization chart for people who want to take formal and real responsibility for the swarm’s daily operations.

Apart from this, asking ten people do describe each step that led them to join and activate should be a good start to discover the activation ladder for a particular swarm.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Razor (@razorfeeds) (@razorfeeds) (@razorfeeds) (@razorfeeds)

    Falkvinge: The Swarm’s Activation Ladder

  2. jan lindbom (@gotlandsandra) (@gotlandsandra)

    The Swarm’s Activation Ladder – Falkvinge on Infopolicy

  3. RT @falkvinge The Swarm’s Activation Ladder #management #swarms

  4. Randolph Rokosz

    [..] The Swarm’s Activation Ladder – Falkvinge on Infopolicy [..]

  5. That "Ball" Guy

    “When somebody joins a swarm with a particular mission, they don’t go immediately from first hearing of the swarm to being its leader.”

    I thought swarms were leaderless and decentralized.


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