29 June 2021

Taking a step back in order to fly!

Embracing the title of Founder
When I look back, it’s interesting to reflect that not too many years ago I was reluctant to even say I was a ‘founder’. Pauline Milne, who was in my own Collective Intelligence team for a number of years, was the driving force that helped me put on the founder’s jacket. I have never worked out why it was so uncomfortable to me. However, I will be forever grateful that Pauline kept pushing me to step up.

Then along came Mary Beth Robles. She worked alongside me as the CEO of Collective Intelligence for a period and brought a distinct view of the need to ‘honour the founder’. I found this uncomfortable initially, but then I started to understand that without a founder with a vision, nothing gets started.

Yep, we can be a pain in the arse as we hover over our baby, however, a little understanding of what drives us goes a long way. There is so much personal investment and over-functioning that goes into bringing an idea to life – it can border on being unhealthy.

We trip over ourselves, continually. We get in the way, we are unrelenting, can often be oblivious of the effect we have on others, and are difficult to govern effectively. I’m gonna stop there as this list is getting waaaay too long. But you get the idea.

When there’s nothing to copy
One of my biggest challenges has been that there was nothing to copy, when setting up this community of ours. I love stealing the ideas of others and adapting them into new shapes. Unfortunately, this model of ours is unique, with nothing to copy. It’s been a challenge continually learning and breaking new ground, and it’s damn tiring too!

The gift of my own naivety has been a real bonus too. I have spent years just ‘making shit up’, testing, reflecting, and then trying it all again. I’ve also been grateful for the honest feedback from our community of members and alumni, which I’ve used to constantly refine what we offer. If I had been some sort of expert to begin with, I believe our model would have been stilted and static.

Starting a new chapter
Now after 14 years, I’m looking at how I can ‘step back’ a little from the operational nitty gritty of Collective Intelligence, and start to entrust my creation to be moulded more and more by other hands and hearts. Hands and hearts that will take this concept, and our Collective Intelligence community, strongly into the future, and eventually onwards without me at all.

How do I feel about that? Hmmm…I don’t think I have written a blog quite so slowly before. At this point, this is my third attempt at getting my thoughts down. Lots of contemplation, and reflection along the way and I know I’m wrestling with an age-old issue that founders face.

But upon reflection, I have realised three key things:

  • OMG! I have created something here at Collective Intelligence that others value and seek out. People who I respect, and trust, are into what we do. That was never assured.
  • I’m not going through this process alone, many founders have done this before me, and the next steps are opening up a whole new set of possibilities for where a member-lead vision for our community could take us.
  • I’m more excited about what these possibilities will bring than ever before in the history of the business.

A ‘step back’ can look like many things, but for me it’s starting to re-shape my role and look to re-linquish more of the day-to-day operational detail so I can focus on the re-generation and re-invention of our Collective Intelligence community. This includes being the champion of a new vision for what our community can achieve together if we mobilise our collective superpowers.


What’s possible from here?
I know we’re building upon a solid foundation, and the highlights of what we have learnt from the last few months of working on our business are:

  • Getting our heads around the fact that the millennials and generation X, Y, Z’s and beyond understand our Collective Intelligence model better than my generation do – as do Māori. This fills me with hope and the promise of inspiring things to come, as Collective Intelligence becomes even more relevant to the success of our collective future.
  • Distilling down what it is we do for our people: we break down barriers between industries, between people, and within people, to create unique connections and pathways for our member community to flourish.
  • Summarising succinctly what we are as an entity: we’re a regenerative ecosystem for change-makers!

And, after 14 years of having nothing to copy, we’ve now identified the perfect model for us to mimic – a rainforest! Yes – a rainforest. Collective Intelligence is a human-centred version of a rainforest and we’re going to use the concept of an above- and below-ground forest ecosystem to guide our development going forward.

I’m excited to have worked out this biomimicry, this biological blueprint, whilst sitting on the office sofa one Friday morning chatting with Michelle Gudopp, doodling as we spoke. Boom! Nailed it.

The Collective Intelligence Ecosystem V1

A sketch outline of our Collective Intelligence community as a rainforest ecosystem.

We are currently crowdsourcing our guiding vision for the next ten years with our smart, diverse Collective Intelligence member crowd, using a model that is unfamiliar to me. I am no longer the only one responsible for creating this future, and that is a liberating feeling for a founder.

So, I asked myself, ‘what’s my vision for where I will fit into this regenerative ecosystem of ours?’ Over the next decade I want to become the bird that visits each of the trees, eats the berries, and then helps foster new growth in the shade and protection of our network.

And how do I feel about all of this now? Re-energized and regenerated!

[To be continued – watch this space!]

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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