29 August 2019

I love people’s stories, especially when they are real

I’m not sure when I fell in love with stories, but I was very young. My father’s family were great at telling stories, and it was always so much fun to sit around the kitchen table and listen to the fables of my heritage, the neighbours, farming, the Tui brewery, and anything that was remotely funny. The bigger the tale the better. Were they factual? Hmmm… sort of? There was certainly some basis to the tales told, and often a moral too.

So, the irony is that starting a podcast this year has been a dream come true for me. I only wish my father Bill could hear it.

Let’s start with one of my favourite tales from my time with Collective Intelligence:

In 2011 we had the idea of beginning a scholarship program for stunning young people on their way to bigger and better things. We would fund them ourselves for 2 to 3 years and see what impact they would make on their teams, and then see if we could help them accelerate their progress.

The first scholarship was issued to a young entrepreneur named James McCarthy, founder of aviation tech company, Spidertracks. I was the facilitator and was interested to see how this young man in his twenties would integrate into the team. I left him till the last possible moment on the first day to introduce himself properly, so to give him time to observe the dialogue that had been flowing freely.

‘So James, let’s focus on you. Tell us about your journey so far.’ His reply was epic, ‘Well, my life is nowhere near as f**ked up as you lot!’ His team’s response was just as epic. They roared with laughter and replied, ‘Give it time James, give it time!’

And ‘bless’ – it took all of 4 months for his life to be f**ked up too. That’s when James’ new Collective Intelligence teammates were super-valuable, giving context to his new reality. The power of having dispassionate, competent people around you was never better illustrated than at this moment. Why? Because Spidertracks has gone onto be the power-house it is today.

The alternative may have been quite different.

I have listened to many podcasts over the past few years. I find that they make time disappear, especially when I’m travelling. It’s that joy of getting lost in people’s wonderful stories – just like I did around the kitchen table as a kid.

A lot of what we do at Collective Intelligence is about getting interested in people’s stories – digging down beneath the layers to where the gold is found. I have often wondered, ‘what is the best way to bring these stories out into the light?’ and share that huge pool of knowledge that sits within our Collective Intelligence community.

About a year ago, a good friend and clever woman, Diana Burns, suggested we start recording our own podcast series and use this medium to good effect. Agreed Diana. Podcasts are a great way to do that, and so it just came down to timing. When to fire up the Collective Intelligence podcastery has been on my mind ever since then.

So, September 2019 is the right time. Since Sapiens have roamed the planet the need to communicate stories about people making a difference, creating a better world, has never been needed more than it is now.

“Stuff That Matters Now” is our new podcast and it features Collective Intelligence members who are committed to creating a better world. The interviews are raw, unedited and rock along in our usual style. There will be the odd ‘E’ stamped on the title of a number of interviews. The stories are very real, fun and unapologetic. They will also showcase just how diverse and cool our community is. So far I have had the pleasure of interacting with 9 people, sitting down and digging into what they are working on. They have come from as far afield as Cambridge (UK), Timaru through to Auckland, and span an age range of around 25 years. I so enjoy going into their space and getting a feel for their world. Some I have facilitated in their teams and some I don’t even know that well. However, everyone I have asked has said ‘Yes’, which I didn’t assume or expect.

Seeds’ podcaster (and sometimes lawyer!) Steven Moe has been super generous with his guidance and counsel. He’s helped our team put this together and we will be forever in his debt. There is a lot more involved in ‘getting to air’ than just doing the interviews (I have been a little impatient, which is so often the case with me). My intention was to have it up and infiltrating the internet by now, but hey, it’s not the end of the world.

And no, I haven’t had any training to do this, and I’m not even sure where I would go to find it. I just wanted to get into it, so your feedback is going to be super-important please. Tell me how I can improve, and I will do my best, as I really want these stories to be given as much help to shine as possible.

So, to keep us going until the big stories launch next month, here are a few more of my favourite tales from ‘life’ at Collective Intelligence:

My first foray into the Auckland corporate world with a Collective Intelligence team was when the CEO of a large organisation hosted his team. We were all a bit on edge as the focus was on some big strategic issues the company was grappling with, and we all wondered if we could in fact add value to the company in such a short time.

As it turned out we definitely could.

However, during the process we got to interview some rather interesting and very senior staff. The Collective Intelligence team had chosen five key questions and asked these of each individual in his company’s senior leadership team (in isolation). One of the questioners was Ali Tocker. A very experienced woman. Highly reliable. What could go wrong?

Well after the third person had come through, we realised that everyone was giving us completely different answers to the same basic questions and in fact, some were just making it up (as they didn’t actually know the answers!).

Now Ali (remember Ali) has flaming red, bouncy hair, and a big laugh. Well reliable Ali got the giggles when she realised her questions were getting the most random of made- up answers.

I’m at the front of the room and scowling at Ali to be good, which made it even worse. By the fourth interviewee she can’t even ask the questions without bursting out laughing and glowing at the same time. The fourth answer of course was once again totally unique, which was just too much.

I had to get someone else to ask the fifth person their questions as Ali was too far gone. It was so much fun and more than a little irreverent, but we did deliver the goods.
The point of this story is that it’s so easy to look at a business or individual and see a rosy picture from the outside. But from years of working with hundreds of people I know that no-one, no organisation, is as shiny as you think. Not one. Behind the scenes of the coolest facade is a shambles trying to break out. That’s why we should never compare ourselves to anyone, or anything else.

We have a tradition in Collective Intelligence, that new members complete a timeline (which depicts their life story). A few years ago, we had a new member join a team (that I happen to be a member of) and her name was Eva Gluyas.

Eva’s life was rich and interesting, beginning in the UK and moving to New Zealand. She was obviously very creative and had a love of all things design.

Her sharing of her timeline went something like this:

Eva talked about having a family, her first marriage not working out, and how she was now in a fabulous relationship with the love of her life, Anne, who she had known since they were teenagers.

Great timeline. However, the next two sentences from Eva were epic. She said, ‘So is everyone feeling comfortable and safe?’ …[pause]… ‘So, I started my life as a male’.

I have had many unique and unexpected moments in my eleven years with Collective Intelligence, but this was on a different scale altogether. The look on the faces of the team, and mine, must have been like we were trying to work out the most complex maths equation ever created. I think the first question was, ‘So the children you have, were as a father, not the mother?’ ‘Yep.’ she said.

Right…

This took a bit of adjusting to, however our facilitator, Sue Johnston, just took it in her stride, while the rest of us were still trying to work through this tricky equation. From there the meeting settled and we had another productive afternoon meeting.

The following day we were scheduled to deliver our individual TED-style talks. When it got to Eva’s turn, she said that she could talk on the benefits of Design Thinking, or on the process of transitioning her gender. Well, Design Thinking is really interesting, but it didn’t have a chance against the latter. It was a fascinating talk. One none of us will forget, ever.

You seldom know what path people have trodden in their lives, or why. We are complex beings and need treasuring, especially as we are all unique.

Diversity is a beautiful thing.

Unfortunately, I will never be able to interview Eva for the podcast, as she tragically died last year of a brain tumour. However, I have been able to interview the recipient of the scholarship, that we created in Eva’s memory. Gemma Major of Seed Waikato is a stunning young woman, who you will be able to listen to in the second podcast in our first series.

I’m really looking forward to the launch of “Stuff That Matters Now” next month. I hope you enjoy listening to our members’ tales as much as I enjoyed recording the telling of them.

Ian Harvey (Harv)

Founder

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