Wartime DAO / Peacetime DAO

There is a famous Ben Horowitz essay entitled Peacetime CEO/ Wartime CEO. If you’re involved in startups, frontier tech, or DAOs, I think that reading the whole thing is worth your time, but here is a little TLDR:

Peacetime in business means those times when a company has a large advantage vs. the competition in its core market, and its market is growing. In times of peace, the company can focus on expanding the market and reinforcing the company’s strengths.

In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macro economic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.

A classic peacetime mission is Google’s effort to make the Internet faster. Google’s position in the search market is so dominant that they determined that anything that makes the Internet faster accrues to their benefit as it enables users to do more searches. As the clear market leader, they focus more on expanding the market than dealing with their search competitors.

In contrast, a classic wartime mission was Andy Grove’s drive to get out of the memory business in the mid 1980s due to an irrepressible threat from the Japanese semiconductor companies. In this mission, the competitive threat—which could have bankrupted the company—was so great that Intel had to exit its core business, which employed 80% of its staff.

Of course, A DAO has no CEO, and DAOs are somewhat more like a network than a company, so we should take anything from this essay that focuses on executive/centralized power with a grain of salt.

But I do think that the insights from this essay about wartime vs peacetime are fruitful, perhaps even moreso in web3. As a frontier technology, things move esp fast. Wartime is a time of existential threats, scarcity and volatility, Peacetime is a time of abundance & predictability.

As the DAO debates it’s values, I’ve noticed a cluster of peacetime values & a smaller cluster of wartime values in some of our conversations. As I write governance posts to decentralize my context, I do think it is important that we are able to understand these two mindframes & the dualism that results from them.

Since a A DAO has no CEO and power is being decentralized at Gitcoin, I am going to challenge the DAO stewards & leaders to be aware of whether they are in wartime or peacetime.

My 2 wei:

  • The Great Bear was wartime, and if the DAO is ever again in a great bear or a place of scarcity, that is likely wartime.
  • There are other great examples [1] [2] [3] of wartime in the web3 space we can learn from.
  • Being successful during wartime is what creates a floor for peacetime. if the DAO does good, that creates a rising tide that lifts all boats (workstreams). if the DAO performs poorly, the tide goes out + takes some DAO members with it.
  • People in web3 talk about decentralization of power a lot, but lets not forget that with great power comes great responsibility. Along with the great power that is decentralized as the DAO grows, how can the responsibility of stewardship of the DAO in both peacetime and wartime be shared? When the next wartime hits, how many DAO contributors will rally around this decentralized responsibility? How many will simply leave when wartime hits?

A few more great excerpts from Wartime CEO/ Peacetime CEO.

As I read them, I’m translating them to DAO-native in my mind by crossing them ideas from A DAO has no CEO and decentralized great responsibility. Some of these perhaps don’t translate well to a DAO native context.

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

Peacetime CEO builds scalable, high volume recruiting machines. Wartime CEO does that, but also builds HR organizations that can execute layoffs.

Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.

Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.

Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.

Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.

Peacetime CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity. Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.

Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.

Peacetime CEO works to minimize conflict. Wartime CEO heightens the contradictions.

Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.

Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

Peacetime CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. Wartime CEO trains her employees so they don’t get their ass shot off in the battle.

Peacetime CEO has rules like “we’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number 1 or 2.” Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number 1 or 2 and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule.


There must be a mechanism for deep involvement of DAO members, not just short-term speculation, to hold them accountable during the wartime. This is a question that will take time to verify.


I think this post is worth a re-read now that the market has taken a downturn & more of a wartime is upon us :slight_smile:


We are here now and I guess we will see who will remain on the :motor_boat:

And kinda feel bad in this regard because I haven’t done all that I can in that direction.

This issue has been on my mind since I joined DAOs: 1.How can I tell people that we can save X $ here and there without offending the people involved in those activitites and make enemies :sweat_smile:? 2. how can I make sure that I understand the implications of those X $ saved.

I still haven’t figure out a solution for that.

Balanced DAO

These definitely speak to me! I think one of the biggest challenges in times of crisis is to keep cool and not overreact. In economies around the world we have seen this time and time again - the push for extreme austerity in times of trouble is usually wrong. The balance is in the middle point between diversity and efficiency. Peace and war are degrees on the same scale and becoming comfortable with gradients and the natural ebb and flow dynamics of all complex systems ensures a Balanced DAO.

*I would also say I use profanity purposefully and it is often seen as undiplomatic and harsh. But it is merely there to underline the fact that we cannot solve the problems we face in the same mindset that created them in the first place (Einstein paraphrase there).

We must co-evolve our way into better systems. And understand nuance, and variety of perspective BUT also the objective facts. And strike a balance. Be comfortable with being in the middle - that’s where the window of viability lies.