26 January 2021

Ballard Pritchett: Why I recommend Collective Intelligence

Editor’s Note: A facilitator of teams in his own business, entrepreneur and member Ballard Pritchett responds here to an invitation to pen a review of where his four-year Collective Intelligence membership journey has taken him. Thank you Ballard for your honesty and generosity in sharing this. If you’re interested in joining our community – our founder Ian Harvey’s January blog also explores the impact that Collective Intelligence membership offers – or check out our website.

Ballard Pritchett

The experience continues to prove, repeatedly, that collectively we are more intelligent (and healthy) than any of us can be alone.

Where my story begins:
I arrived in New Zealand in October 2016, to join my wife (who had taken a new job here). In early 2017, I had a random conversation with a local home and office decorating vendor I had just found online. She asked what I did for work, I described my entrepreneurial and professional practice, and she said she was involved with an outfit called Collective Intelligence (CI) that I might find valuable as well. Within a few weeks, I was in Wellington at an initial meeting of a new team, with Harv and our assigned facilitator Manda and five other new members who were all about as clueless as I was regarding what was awaiting us. I had, however, plenty of previous positive experience with professional and personal development groups, and knew I wanted to join or form a good group in New Zealand, so I was eager to make this a powerful experience for all concerned.

It has enriched my personal and professional life…

Now that I have been a part of Collective Intelligence and our Team NoBull (name soon to be reworked) for four years, I can describe confidently the end game, the benefits, the reasons my alignment with CI is mutual, and the genuineness of the personal relationships our team has formed. I can point to what I have done, for my part, to make this a success. I can evaluate the return I have received on my personal investment. And I can share my profound gratitude that this experience has become possible for me. It has enriched my personal and professional life (which my wife confirms), and I am excited to connect with my team.

Distilling the Collective Intelligence magic

The choice and mix of membership are elemental to the magic

Let me start with what is most distinctive about CI. Collective Intelligence does not just assemble teams; it curates them. The choice and mix of membership are elemental to the magic. When the process achieves its higher potential, the team dynamic charts its unique destiny and value generation process. Ownership becomes a hybrid “both/and” between the team and the CI organisation, served by the able guidance of professional facilitation and supported by capable administration.

At its best, at maturity, the team’s value generation experience actually sorts out something like this: Collective Intelligence design, member selection and administration, 20% of the value created; Professional facilitation, planning and process, 20% of the value; Team member contributions to each other and to the whole of the experience, 60% of the value created.

When the team is committed to each other and each other’s development, the rewards become indeed precious

In other words, put qualified people in the mix, assure essential diversity, guide with values and agreements, lead with superb facilitation, keep it all organized and according to an evolving plan, and then let the members do their work with and for each other.

If Collective Intelligence made the plans, controlled the process, and provided the content, the experience for the members would likely be no better than typical corporate training events. With the team dynamic working as high-level distributed leadership, and with the members pursuing their own chosen learning agendas with serious commitment, people learn, offer, generate and experience a whole “next” level of value from their participation in the team and with the Collective Intelligence programme. When the team is committed to each other and each other’s development, the rewards become indeed precious.

…think of all the hours and years each of them has invested in becoming who they are to this point in their life…

Our team has been fortunate. A few members whose willingness to invest in the process slacked off chose to withdraw, and a few who could not quite rise to the challenge were excused by the organisation. Three of the original six remain, with enthusiasm. The six additional members have each brought treasures with them and exemplify the character criteria CI identifies as necessary for inclusion. Getting the right people on the team (and perhaps the other people off the team) is not trivial. It is work and takes rigor and diligence.

We have amazing people on our team, and it would be a privilege to associate with any of them in whatever context. But to have them as candid and caring colleagues in a commitment group is a cause for awe. To think of all the hours and years each of them has invested in becoming who they are to this point in their life, and then to see them come together, at their own expense, to serve each other and to learn from each other, is truly amazing.

Why has Collective Intelligence been a great match for me?
I found it useful to explore some of the reasons I see (in addition to the people I now count as colleagues and friends) for why Collective Intelligence has been a great match for me. I group these reasons into three headings: Benefits, Alignment, Commitments. I can then arrive at various means of evaluating why this has been a worthy course to pursue.

The Benefits:

The personal and professional connections are deeply meaningful

The benefits of my Collective Intelligence experience are (not exhaustive):

  • New Zealand business environment: Joining my team greatly accelerated my familiarity with New Zealand business culture and gave me an immediate set of consequential connections (direct and indirect) to key organisations all over the country.
  • Confidence: My engagement with CI enhanced my credibility in my business and social settings, as my work also enhanced my credibility with CI, doing good things for my confidence all round.
  • Learning: My team activity and the larger CI offerings have been great opportunities to further my personal and professional development, and to learn. I am a professional facilitator, and I learn from our team facilitator every time – without fail. She is masterful. I learn from my team members, from Harv, from my host day event. I am always challenged to keep improving my game.
  • Connection: The personal and professional connections are deeply meaningful. I have people I enjoy, who are there for me, who enjoy me, and who give me the privilege of serving them to the best of my ability.
  • Test Arena: Our team has been a great place to test out ideas, ways of communicating proposals, and new material I have developed for the public. It has been a rewarding opportunity to contribute, and a safe place to risk failure and “not quite” reactions. Our team practices radical candour, to good ends.
  • Belonging: Team NoBull (name to be reworked) has become a place for me to belong. I know I am a vital part of what happens there. It is part of me, and I am part of it. Like everyone else, I benefit having a group in which it feels I belong.


The Alignments:
The alignments between Collective Intelligence and myself:

With my values…

A healthy team is one of the very best expressions of the human potential

CI Attributes

  • I share the character criteria that CI holds forth – Competent, Ambitious, Curious, Authentic – as central to the character strengths I expect of myself.
  • I believe in and want to work with people developing excellence. We humans are pretty fancy creatures, and it is worth the effort required to move toward mastery.
  • I am always tempted to think and act like a Lone Ranger generalist, and I know I am better on a team. A healthy team is one of the very best expressions of the human potential.
  • I know well the necessity of diversity on my teams. It is what elevates our potential performance.
  • I am highly committed to social progress and evolving the work world in conscious ways. A next evolution of commerce and organisations is imperative for people and the planet, and CI is helping move us forward.
  • I am strongly oriented toward helping people experience leadership as a distributed process (not a tool of hierarchy), and CI exhibits the values of humility and vulnerability that are key to breakthroughs in team performance.


With my beliefs…

The best versions of human development efforts emphasise both the “me” and the “we.”

  • Wisdom requires seeing both the downside and the upside of human possibility, and CI embraces frankly our need for correctives and candour.
  • We have to learn, and especially to learn things we may not be eager to embrace, in order to navigate and adapt in a changing world.
  • The best versions of human development efforts emphasise both the “me” and the “we.” CI is an individual and a team model in interplay.
  • Progress requires an evolutionary model that recognizes ecological systems and the planet as inextricably connected with our individual futures.
  • If we cannot start our explorations of humanity with a vivid appreciation of awe, of the awesomeness of our very existence, we can never get to a satisfactory understanding of a path forward. CI thinks people can be awesome.
  • Human development takes work, investment, diligence and rigour. CI chooses to work with strong and growing people as an expression of its mission. I share this particular sense of purpose in raising up inspired teams.
  • Cognitive diversity, as an expression of the nature of human neurology, stipulates that we need teams of complementary talents in order to achieve the best of which our species is capable.
  • Diversity of perspective and experience are also essential in teams, and the mix generates the possibility for unique excellence.


With the Collective Intelligence methods and processes…

…individuals are responsible for identifying their growing edge, and for doing their learning work in a team context…

  • CI practices the principles of self-directed adult education, where individuals are responsible for identifying their growing edge, and for doing their learning work in a team context, where others can help one see that which is difficult to appreciate without multiple perspectives coming to bear.
  • The best meeting and learning experiences occur in well-facilitated settings. CI hires and trains excellent facilitators.
  • Activity tracking and accountability are built into the CI process, before, during and after regularly scheduled group events. Accountability is the individual’s responsibility, with the support of the team.
  • Rhythm is intrinsic to the human experience, and essential to healthy progress. CI events are always mindful of the necessary rhythm for the individual and the team.
  • Personal growth work requires psychological safety and a fair opportunity to embrace risk without undue fear. The busy worlds many of us live in do not incorporate these necessary conditions, and we have to transition to a healthier experience in order to have higher likelihood of success. CI events allow sufficient time for personal practice in mindfulness as an investment in the culture essential to the purpose of the meeting.


The Commitments:
The commitments I see in Collective Intelligence and share wholeheartedly:

  • Making New Zealand (and the world) a much better place (and not just for humans).
  • Ethical approaches to business, notably commitment to B Corp standards.
  • Dedication to and belief in innovation. We have to keep making progress that is beneficial for all, because we have done more than enough damage in the past, and our sustainable future is only barely within reach.
  • Make impact and do so right away. Seize the day, as it were.


An evaluation of my Collective Intelligence experience
My evaluation incorporates several approaches. The easiest is by familiar analogy: Sharpening my axe. If I spend a day cutting wood with an axe, the axe ends up quite dull, and inefficient. And I end up tired. However, if I spend ten percent of my time each hour (6 minutes) stopping to sharpen my axe, the rewards are obvious. I get more wood cut. My axe stays sharp. And I am less weary from the work. All in all, I have a productive process that is more sustainable. Collective Intelligence is a way of sharpening my axe on a regular periodic schedule.

A second way of evaluating my investment is to assess costs versus benefits. My Collective Intelligence engagement costs me about $7000 a year in direct expenditure (fees + travel). I get about 50 direct contact hours (not counting the pro bono time we members spend for each other). This computes to $140 per hour. For this, I get the whole team, plus the facilitator. On the face of it, this is a better bargain than my attorney, accountant or management consultant. If my economic value as a professional is $200,000 for 2000 hour year, the 50 hours costs me $5000. So, my cost to participate is $12,000. If I am 10% better at what I do as a result, my gain is $20,000 – $12,000 = $8000. Of course, if I only generate $50,000 in value a year, Collective Intelligence makes less sense in the immediate time frame. It becomes more of a long-term investment.

As an entrepreneur, I cannot afford to be without this kind of contribution, and to have this team as a significant component of my overall network of support.

A third way of evaluating CI is more insightful. A larger view of the purpose of my work is to generate value in and for my relevant world, and to capture a fair share of that value. That equates to making my enterprise or endeavour a more valuable process in and of itself. Or as is commonly said, “working on my business rather than within it.” If I make my enterprise more valuable over time, to its environment and to its stakeholders, that generates the large, multidimensional (as well as strictly financial) return for which entrepreneurs labour. This is the real aim of business, not boosting the quarterly P/L. My CI team engagement certainly serves me as an individual and advances my development. But more to the point, the team serves the aim of enhancing my enterprise as a whole. It is available to assist my decision-making at any critical juncture where I make invitation. Sometimes team members even take the risk of checking in on me and offering conversation and counsel I did not go seeking, to great benefit. Compared to the scale of the increasing the value of my whole enterprise, the annual costs of my CI engagement can seem quite modest. As an entrepreneur, I cannot afford to be without this kind of contribution, and to have this team as a significant component of my overall network of support.

And a final note:
I have experienced Collective Intelligence as a genuine learning organisation. It makes mistakes. It asks for feedback. It attempts to improve. It seeks to innovate and evolve. During the pandemic lockdowns, we all brushed up on our Zoom skills, as we could not meet conventionally. Our team still has one member zooming in from Australia for the time being. We all do our best to accommodate and make the best of our respective situations. I am really proud of our team, and the transformations so many of us have achieved. I am also happy with the administrative staff and the way they go about their work. Harv has contributed generous leadership rooted in his own uniqueness, with humility and humour.

The experience continues to prove, repeatedly, that collectively we are more intelligent (and healthy) than any of us can be alone.

Ngā mihi
Dr. Ballard Pritchett

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