Our Origin Story
The Yak Collective is a loosely coordinated network of over 300 independent consultants, coaches, and freelancers with varied technical and creative skills. Nearly 30 of our members contributed to our inaugural report, released on April 30, 2020, Don’t Waste the Reboot. These numbers will evolve as we take on more shared projects, both internally initiated, and on behalf of clients.
Though we launched formally in March, 2020, the network underlying the Yak Collective has been growing in the background since early 2019. What began as a conversation among a handful of indies swapping notes turned into a broader conversation among dozens, then hundreds of indies, around the world.
When the Covid19 pandemic struck, some of us decided it was time to come up with an indie alternative to what has been called the literary-industrial complex – the assemblage of worlds like traditional consulting, MBA programs, business book publishing, and TED talks – that serves as a sort of Hollywood to organizations in need of external support.
We wanted a way to generate alternatives to warmed-over output from the last crisis, hastily repackaged as a response to this one: A new crisis that is like nothing in living memory. Too much is at stake now to repeat old mistakes. At the very least, the Yak Collective can promise you an opportunity to make interesting new ones.
We have nothing against consulting firms, MBA programs, think tanks, design agencies, TED talk givers, and the ideas of famous professors per se. In fact we happily and liberally steal and use their ideas where they fit – and you’ll see evidence of such influence in our work. Many of us are in fact veterans of the literary-industrial complex. Some of us even have current, active affiliations in those worlds. And many more of us have productive collaborations and cordial friendships with people in those worlds. In fact we fully expect our friends in those worlds to help us bootstrap the Yak Collective.
But crucially, not all of us are from those worlds, or affiliated with them, or actively connected to them. Or truth be told, welcome in them. Each of us has chosen to grow our network in a much more open, promiscuous way than any traditional institution can afford to, connecting liberally beyond the boundaries of the literary-industrial complex. We’ve chosen to do so because we believe many other worlds have as much value to offer, perhaps more. We believe, in fact, that the long tail of Other Worlds inhabited by indie consultants is rapidly creating and accruing value with greater volume, velocity, and variety than the literary industrial complex.
Call us arrogant – but we genuinely think we are the future because we already live there. We are getting smarter, faster, than the literary-industrial complex, even though we’re growing from a much smaller, younger base.
What makes us different – and what makes the indie alternative a real alternative – is that we are organized very differently, allowing us to bring very different values to the party. This we believe is the crucial difference. It is very easy to simply profess alternative “networked production” values. It is much harder to believably embody alternative values in patterns of organization and operation.
Who We Are
Each of us has our own consulting practice or small freelancer business, but we also work together on larger projects – and we want to do more of that. We range in experience from newbies who have yet to make their first buck from indie work, to veteran hustlers with long-established independent practices who have already billed thousands of hours and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars through independent consulting work.
Our members are from all over the world: The Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Our politics range from anarchist and socialist to unrepentant neoliberal shilling and classical-liberal business conservatism.
Our approaches are diverse, and we mean really diverse: our membership includes hard-headed sociopath types as well as sensitive artist types, and every other type in between. We count both head-in-the-cloud philosophers and roll-up-sleeves doers in our ranks.
Our functional experience spectrum ranges from industrial R&D and software development to marketing and anthropology. What allows this to work is that we’ve been building our network the old-fashioned way: by earning each other’s trust in the slowest, most reliable way possible – one small collaborative effort at a time.
Our Skin in the Game
All of us went indie because we wanted to work on real, hard problems, as best as we could, and enjoy the genuine intellectual challenges and meaning-making that result. We have all been willing to give up significant comfort and security for that. We went indie because we valued a sense of accomplishment over easy money for bullshit work. We went indie because we wanted to bring the right capabilities to problems, not distort problems to match our capabilities.
This means sometimes we try weird new ideas and untested methods, and wander from our zones of expertise into our zones of amateurishness. We are open to really trying new things and owning the inevitable failures that can sometimes result, as well as the successes, because if we aren’t open in that way, we can’t land gigs or make money.
As independents, we do not have the luxury of hiding among dozens of interchangeable people just like us, or closing deals on the basis of ancient existing relationships among sclerotic institutions that have been enabling each other’s dysfunctions for decades. We are nobodies from the internet, showing up in executive email inboxes or sliding into CEO DMs on Twitter, sometimes with nothing more than a tweet backing our play. And unbelievably, it works well enough that we can make a living out of it. Because as the saying goes, real recognize real. We make rent – or not – based purely on whether people find us credible enough to talk to.
The inventory of methods, tools, and processes we bring to any problem range from wild, untested crackpottery, to approaches that have been really tested and validated under live fire on serious business problems. We do not dismiss any approach simply because it is unformed and new, or is being proposed by a young, inexperienced contributor lacking in confidence. Nor do we uncritically accept supposedly gold-standard approaches from grizzled veterans simply because they come with Famous Names and Glowing Halos attached.
- We’re not in it for high-priced bullshit work, but we do know how to pragmatically navigate a real world where bullshit is an environmental hazard one must deal with.
- We’re not in it to produce cover-your-ass paper trails, but we do know how the game is played and how to sneak real work past checkpoints designed to only allow bullshit through.
- We’re not in it to lend a halo and boost your brand by association, but we do know how charisma, influence and and socialization of ideas work in real organizations.
- We’re not in it to manufacture post-hoc justifications and flattering optics for bad-faith ideas and projects, but we do understand the incentives and perceptions at work in real organizations, and what it takes to shape narratives and get real work done through them.
- We’re not in it because we are armed with hammers and everything looks like a nail to us, but we do have actual skills we bring with us, and track records of shipping meaningful output.
But though we are open and curious about all methods, tools and processes, we are not about methods, tools, and processes for their own sake. Fundamentally, we are all pragmatists because we have to be to survive as indies. We focus on thinking about the actual problem first, the right processes and tools second, and on peddling bullshit, almost never (okay, we are human, so we do succumb to temptation on occasion). Our work, individually and collectively, is driven by one overriding concern: the methods have to work, or be set aside for better ones. Otherwise we don’t get that contract renewal.
But just because we are pragmatists driven by the need to land that next gig, and make rent next month, does not mean we are risk-averse cynics. In fact most indies are so ridiculously in love with stimulating ideas and the thrill of real insight, they’re willing to take odd risks just for a chance to try new approaches. Most of us voluntarily took on the unique risks, precarity, and uncertainty of the indie life so we could operate by a more satisfying philosophy of work and life, based on trial-and-error experimentation with novel ideas.
One project at a time, one client at a time, each of us is trying to gradually evolve our own approach to creating and delivering value that we can genuinely enjoy creating. So it is no accident that many of us have been inspired by effective collaboration models that have emerged outside of the literary-industrial complex, around new technologies in particular: in the open-source software world, gaming communities, artistic communities, the blogosphere, and other open, network-based domains.
Many of us are veterans of one or more such domains. And yes, as you might expect, most of us keep an eye on blockchains and other emerging technologies that might be friendlier to our radically different ways of working. You never know which new technology might end up serving as an asymmetric advantage on our next adventure. Our methods and approaches don’t stay static. All of us are curious technophiles, constantly exploring and playing with different new toys, picking up new skills by trial-and-error as they emerge from the technology world. Our philosophy of work and life is radically tech-positive because it has to be. The indie life is only possible because an ever-growing and maturing stack of new digital technologies makes it possible, and increasingly accessible.
The Yak Collective is not an agency or gatekeeping organization – you’re welcome to contact any of our members directly if their skills and offerings interest you.
The Yak Collective is not a traditional consulting firm either. We do not offer a consistent, top-down, quality-controlled playbook that we’ve run a thousand times before. We do not have a one-size-fits-all engagement model to throw at all problems, because we have not all been shaped into interchangeable parts by a standardized approach. What we believe we can offer is creative new options for almost any problem, and a capacity for rapid and effective improvisation to exercise them. If you’re not happy with the traditional options available to you for external support – try us. We’re not saying your traditional options are bad. We’re saying we represent a different option.
If you’re interested in assembling a larger team from among our membership, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we are able, we will assemble a team that meets your needs. Sometimes we’ll be able to put together an experienced team that has solved your exact kind of problem before. Other times we might be able to pull together an untested and untried team that has an intriguing new approach to offer. We don’t pretend to know everything. We don’t pretend to have a “proven approach” that always works. Sometimes betting on us will be a no-brainer. Other times it will be an interesting risk.
This is not a risk-free approach for clients, but we are not interested in clients who want to avoid all risk. We are interested in clients with the imagination to entertain unusual options, and the nerve to own the risks of betting on them.
So if you’re ready for a fresh approach. If you’re ready to inject some imagination and nerve into your challenges, check us out. Browse our Projects page, check out our Members page, read some of our latest thoughts on the Writings page, and if you’re intrigued by what you see – ping one of us. Maybe we are the answer.