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What is delegation?

Assigning responsibilities or resources to another agent, while retaining accountability for the outcomes. An agent, in this case, is someone or something capable of resolving a situation to a known state or providing a necessary resource by request.

What are the best ways to handle delegation?

The first way is using a personal relationship approach to delegating a task or responsibility. This is what most people think of when you say "delegate that task". The second way is to use a technical approach to mitigate risk and track progress until resolved. The third way is no delegation, do it yourself... the hardest way. Each of these has pros and cons.

The personal approach.

This comes into play when the task being delegated has significant consequences. You are trusting this person or agent to affect a good outcome or to return the assignment in a timely manner, hopefully with an explanation. Finding the right agents to trust isn't easy for everyone but some people are good at it. If you're not very good at it you should hire someone to do it for you. Unfortunately as you may realize, it's a chicken <==> egg problem.

The technical approach.

When you don't have a trusted person available or can't find one with the needed skills or resources you can lower your risk by using a contract of some sort, often adding a stake of money or other assets as collateral security. Contracts which started as a handshake and a peer pressure social obligation, have evolved over time into the current form as digital software that tracks assignment, ensures criteria are met for assignment (or attempts to) and tracks resolution of the assigned task.


yeah, it's just DIY.

Tools of the trade.

Standard contracts are still pretty ubiquitous. Written agreements or digitally signed agreements are used in 90% of cases for consequential delegation. The main contract is a service contract or a retainer, though they are often so short term that we just call them invoices and receipts. An employment contract is probably the next most popular whether it's a W2 or a 1099. These of course are a formal delegation of an entire role in an organization.


The next kind of delegation that has become fairly common is automation via software. This is when a contract is signed for service by a machine of some kind, typically with some service level agreement in place that is backed by a support agreement, in the case the service does not meet expectations. Many of these new contracts have no upfront stake but include a term of service where the provider off-takes some product they value; content they use to attract more users or attention they sell to companies looking for that attention via advertising. There are also some new methods such as blockchain programmable "smart" contracts e.g. Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, etc but these are as yet unproven, unfamiliar or simply unavailable to most people. Other new tools such as AI assistants are on the horizon but not yet ready for general use.

Delegation as a service

I know these don't sound like what we think of as delegation but they are exactly that. What is required for such delegation is a unique identifier to represent the assigner, one to represent the assignee, an agreement as to the terms of resolution and a token to represent the status of the agreement, as defined in the agreement, a master service agreement such as a terms of service agreement. Often the service being delegated is something like "publish and maintain meta data about content I create on your platform" though of course it can also be "provide me access to your software features for a monthly fee" or even "give me searchable access to your vast catalog of music".

Wrap up

If you can delegate without the technical mitigation of contracts and tooling, you are either incredibly lucky or incredibly wealthy. This is where family and friendship along with a great reputation and attitude can come into play, adding to your luck or wealth. On the other hand, knowing how to use contracts and tools to mitigate risk can improve your outcomes even if you have a trusted delegate who handles these kinds of things for you. You know your needs and preferences better than anyone else so having a hand in many tasks will be more fulfilling than completely delegating them.

So delegation covers a very large domain of activities, personal and professional, mass market and individually provisioned. There are a lot of tools available to help with this process but many are very niche or the overhead is too high. They also don't integrate into our daily lives and often require learning a new process. We are always looking for new ways to delegate though, so it's certain we will continue to get new tools in this area of life. Hopefully some of these new tools, like smart contracts and AI assistants, will be closer to a one-size-fits-all solution rather than forcing us to manage yet another tool.

Hope springs eternal.

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