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Inside CRN

What do we do here? How do we make decisions? How do we work together? What principles do we follow? What are our motivations?

On this page we'll explain how we've organized CRN. We hope that this will give you an inside look at our day-to-day operations. [NOTE: This page was written shortly after CRN's founding in December 2002. Some of our practices have evolved, although we generally still follow these principles. We're leaving it intact for historical purposes.]

Our job is to learn as much as possible about how to use molecular manufacturing—a transformative application of advanced nanotechnology—responsibly, and to tell as many people as possible about what we've learned. This means we have to gather information, think about it, check our conclusions, and write down the results. Then the fun begins: Should we write an article or a book? Should we work with other organizations? Should we charge money for our information? How do we decide, and how do we resolve disagreements?







Since we have a clear organizational identity, it's usually not too hard to set goals. Our major, long-term objective is to exert a positive influence on the development and use of advanced nanotechnology. To accomplish this, we have selected shorter-term goals, such as publishing papers and a book. Our short-term goals are open to change, and we will keep looking for new goals as our current goals are met (or occasionally discarded) and our resources and skills increase. Long-term goals must lead directly to our vision; short-term goals must lead directly to long-term goals.

To work toward our goals, we set tasks for ourselves—with aggressive due dates. We keep ourselves flexible by keeping the tasks as short-term and specific as possible; most tasks have a deadline of just one or two weeks. A longer-term task probably needs some subtasks to be defined, with short deadlines. Tasks and subtasks are chosen to work directly toward meeting our goals. Our intention is not to complete artificial milestones, but to work as fast and efficiently as possible; this system of specific goals and short-term tasks works well to keep us focused.

We do not set milestones to evaluate our progress. We don't need them; at all times, we know that we are working as fast as we can toward achievable, well-chosen goals. A milestone, such as having raised a total of $1 million in funding, is an artificial measure of progress toward an undefined goal. Milestones are an attempt to define an arbitrary path, and since the path is arbitrary, it is probably not the optimum path. We plan by setting goals and subgoals, tasks and subtasks. If we can't translate a milestone into either a task or a goal, we probably don't know why we want it—and we shouldn't be focusing on it.

Making Decisions

When Mike and Chris began working together, even before we decided to found CRN, we knew we would be co-authoring papers. We quickly drafted and agreed to a few intellectual property rules. This is typical of our style: we are continually self-examining, checking our assumptions, making sure that our actions are consistent with our goals and will not lead us into trouble later. (This also means that we are always ready to hear advice.)

We work together well; we both work very fast, and we're comfortable with aggressive schedules. In writing, one of us writes a first draft, and then we bounce it back and forth until it's done. Other tasks are more or less divided according to each of our skills: Mike does more of the PR and fundraising, and Chris does more of the technical research. But we both make sure we understand every aspect of operations, and we make decisions jointly; two heads are better than one.

Since there are only two of us, we work by consensus. We don't expect the CRN leadership to grow beyond us anytime soon. It won't be easy to find someone who can work with us as smoothly as we work with each other. We listen to lots of advice, and give it careful consideration—but there is a world of difference between advice and co-leadership. We're also happy to delegate—but again, final responsibility must rest with the leader. We do not currently plan to experiment with structured semi-co-leadership such as steering committees or advisory boards.


Writing is a major part of our operation. We pick something from the inbox or the list of tasks, work on it until we're ready for the other to check it, then email it and wait—usually less than a day—for a response. We bounce it back and forth like that until it's mostly polished, with occasional phone calls for the most interactive discussions or difficult questions. When we both agree it's ready for publication, we publish it. In the polishing process, we may spend half an hour on a title, and ten minutes selecting a key word—but usually we end up liking each other's suggestions almost immediately. Did we mention that we work together well?


Any organization must work with other organizations and people. We are still learning, and probably always will be learning, about all the possible ways there are to interact; this section, even more than the last, is a work in progress. But we have set a few basic policies.


We research, prepare, and publish a steady stream of serious, academic papers, as well as shorter articles for the popular media, both print and online. Because CRN is only two people (Mike and Chris), we are always open to assistance in researching and writing papers and articles to be published by CRN. To avoid misunderstandings in how these collaborations work, we've prepared a statement of Co-Authoring Principles. Check it out, and then let us know if you'd like to help. Please note, however, that we have a need to be very selective about deciding with whom we will work. 

Reprint Policy

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology™ (CRN) maintains copyrights for all material, articles, and papers published on this website, except where otherwise noted. We grant permission, however, for anyone to republish our stuff, provided that CRN is attributed as the source, and that you let us know
if you're doing it, so we can track down copies and make changes if necessary.

We're not in this to get rich; our mission is to raise awareness of the issues presented by advanced nanotechnology; our inclination, then, is to want to see our writings disseminated as widely as possible. You're also welcome to link to any of the pages on our site, and if you contact us, we might add a reciprocal link to your site.


Our basic business model is to accept money for doing things that we would have done anyway. We are very cautious about taking money for something that's not directly in line with one of our goals (short-term or long-term). We will listen to suggestions, whether or not money is attached to the proposal. But we will generally only take the suggestions that we would have taken if the money had already been waiting in our account. There's a lot to do, and not much time to do it in; we can't afford to get distracted—even by proposals that wouldn't compromise our principles.

The same is true of grants: we will only solicit grants for things we want to do anyway. Our goal is not to grow, or to make money; it is to accomplish certain things. If we can find a way to convince someone to pay for those things, great; if not, we'll do them anyway.


We are actively cultivating a few sources of good advice. In addition, we will listen to unsolicited advice from anyone; it's usually clear pretty quickly whether we should take it. (So far we have not needed to save time by imposing a filtering mechanism.) We have several tests. First, and most important, is the suggestion consistent with our organizational identity? Second, is it likely to work as planned? Third, do we have the resources—money, time, skills, and people—to do it? Fourth, is it an efficient use of those resources? If it passes these tests, we will add it to our list of goals.

Other Organizations

We believe that our purpose and niche are unique. As such, we're inventing ourselves as we go, and trying to avoid cloning any other group. When we work with another group, the idea is not to join with them; it's to help us, or help them, or coordinate with them to avoid duplication of effort. If we are doing the same thing as another group, we are probably duplicating effort inefficiently; the same is probably true if we find that we have the same type of resource to share. Trying to trade different types of service or benefit is probably also a bad idea. Trade is about linking two proposals: win-lose, lose-win. Although theoretically this sort of quid pro quo can be mutually beneficial, it is frequently distracting and sometimes corrosive. In general, we will only adopt single proposals that both groups see clear benefit in: win-win. Our policy could perhaps be summarized as: "Fiercely independent, but willing to cooperate if it helps everyone."


Assistance - Anyone is welcome to contact us and offer advice or money, or volunteer to help. If you've read this far, you know that we are very focused, and we may not take your advice, your help, or even your money if doing so would distract us. Please don't take it personally.

Membership - We do not currently plan to maintain a membership. Membership has some benefits—we get to brag to politicians about how many members we have, and we get to charge you money, and you probably get some perks. But for now we don't want the hassle. You can join the C-R-Network for free, however. If you want to contribute money, please do so. If you really want to be a member, tell us why membership is good; if you convince us, we'll announce it on the mailing list.

CRN was a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


Copyright © 2002-2008 Center for Responsible Nanotechnology TM        CRN was an affiliate of World Care®, an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.