A Review by Rivera Sun
The Occupy Movement ignited popular awareness of “horizontal” concepts, yet many years have passed and few movements – and even fewer organizations – have really figured out how to embody those ideas. Samantha Slade’s new book, Going Horizontal, offers practical tools and tangible practices for all of us seeking to walk our talk . . . and go horizontal.
Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-Hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time may have been written with the workplace in mind, but its concepts and practices are perfectly applicable to our movements and social justice organizations. It’s no secret that our non-profits (workplaces for many of us) can sometimes be as domineering, hierarchical, and oppressive as the injustices we’re fighting to change. As Slade points out in her thought-provoking book, when we’re all steeped in a hierarchical culture, we replicate its worldview and behaviors unless we actively shift them.
I read the book as an activist, a small business owner, and a novelist who writes about nonviolent movements for change. The Dandelion Insurrection featured a self-organizing movement based on leaderful principles. I turned to Slade’s non-fiction book in preparation for diving deeper into those ideas for the third part of the Dandelion Trilogy and I was not disappointed. Going Horizontal is meant to be a practical, applicable manual, and it succeeds. My personal copy is filled notes and sticky tabs with reminders of practices to try and concepts to revisit for my work, activism, and writing. It has earned both a place on my bookshelf and a spot on my recommended books list. Its concepts and ideas will show up in my speculative fiction and imagineering writings. Its practices are already infiltrating my workplace(s) in exciting ways.
I’ve been waiting for this book without knowing it. I’ve been searching for it through stacks of other (excellent) reads on horizontal organizing, emergent systems, and grassroots democracy and movements. The tangible, down-to-earth immediacy of Slade’s book turns conceptual ideas into useful tools that you can wrap your hands, heart, and mind around. She’s designed the book to be used, including practice suggestions and check-in questions, and the result is a truly useful book. The ideas come out of her direct experiences with Percolab, a laboratory for self-organization that works internationally with businesses and civic/public engagement projects. Her writing style is approachable, humorous, and relatable.
Going Horizontal covers fields such as autonomy and self-accountability, how horizontal practice is exactly that: a practice; the role of purpose in replacing hierarchical leadership, the nuts-and-bolts of meetings, the effectiveness and efficiency of transparency, decision making and sharing power, the role of learning (particularly self-directed learning), and the sticky problems of relationships and conflict.
For activists, Going Horizontal is a must-read. We are all replicating oppressive systems of hierarchy . . . and we often know it. What we don’t know is how to change those behaviors. That’s where Going Horizontal can support us. One of the endearingly pragmatic parts of the book is Slade’s reminder that even if the organization we’re working with is not ready to incorporate horizontal practices, there is still a lot we can do individually in how we’re interacting with others. Its a stealth campaign for horizontal practices, a way of infiltrating and subverting the dominant paradigm of hierarchy. (The rebellious streak in me delights in such opportunities. How about you?)
Aside from working individually and stealthily, Slade’s book embraces the full spectrum of opportunities that might unfold if an organizations decides to go horizontal. Her practices can be applied to small and large groups, tiny non-profits and huge corporations. If all of our movements and social organizations read Slade’s book and tried out even one of its practices, we will have made great strides in dismantling hierarchy within our own systems, structures, and selves.