AHA! Again

AHA! new
This afternoon I met up with Jeremy Heigh, a very successful young entrepreneur whose Sift Everything blog has been on hiatus for awhile. Jeremy has moved from venture capital advisory to strategy advisory work, built on foresight (using scenarios, market intelligence, environmental scans etc. to help clients see what’s coming next and how they should respond) and innovation techniques.

He’s able to do this because he’s extraordinarily gifted. He’s extremely intelligent, imaginative and articulate. He is an exceptional networker. He has extraordinary self-confidence and an ability to listen and probe for deep understanding of problems. He asks brilliant questions. And he value bills. I’m not sure what he does is replicable or teachable, but I’d love to have him working on an assignment with me.

What endears him most to clients, I think, is his ability to meld progressive values and knowledge with a very pragmatic assessment of situations. Some of his recommendations and ideas might chagrin leftie idealists like me, but they make sense, and they’re very creative.

We met initially with Mark Anielski, who has a new book The Economics of Happiness, and then chatted about Intentional Communities and eco-villages, innovation and knowledge management, sustainability, consulting, social software, open space, improvisation and a bunch of other topics. We spoke about an article (not available for free download) in the recent Harvard Business Review that recapped the qualities of ‘Wicked Problems’ (which I’ve written about before) and then presented a case study on how PPG (the paint conglomerate) addresses strategy using a combination of environmental scanning, scenario analysis, strategic risk/options assessment, experimentation, and non-linear collaborative problem-solving involving all stakeholders, since they appreciate that strategy issues are generally wicked (complex) problems where the understanding of the problem, and possible approaches to it, co-evolve.

It began to dawn on me that I’d seen this model before. Then I realized, I’d designed this model before. It was called AHA! and I described its vision as follows:

Our VisionImagine if there was a place where the worldís brightest and most creative minds from widely diverse fields ñ scientists, artists, businesspeople, engineers, philosophers, social and technological and political thought leaders — got together physically and virtually to collaboratively help each other.

Imagine if this place taught the critical skills and techniques needed to envision and realize better ways to do things, quickly and effectively.

Imagine if visitors to this place were surrounded by artefacts of the worldís most astonishing human accomplishments: the eradication of smallpox, the moon landing, the abolition of slavery, the unravelling of the human genome ñ and inspired and charged in their tasks by the words from the greatest speeches and most moving calls to action in our history.

This is the vision of AHA! , the means to get things done, a catalyst for change, a vehicle for applying human ingenuity and collaboration and passion to bring about extraordinary results: The right people, the right skills and techniques, the right intensity, an environment of creativity and learning, and a spirit of exuberant, reciprocal collaboration.

I had given up on this model because, in 2005, I couldn’t see that customers would see the value, or be willing and able to pay for, informed, breakthrough thinking that addressed their ‘wicked’ complex problems. Jeremy has persuaded me, by example, that there is a market for this, if it’s approached correctly.

And then we got to thinking about whether, instead of having this Natural Enterprise have to draw its bright and creative minds from all over the world, what if they all lived together in an Intentional Community, such that this Natural Enterprise was the business of the Community? We could spend all our time honing our skills and brainstorming together, instead of commuting or doing some other work (farming comes to mind) that did not match our Gifts or our Passions.

We could travel as a team to our clients, or perhaps get the clients to come to us (if the venue for our IC was sufficiently attractive). Or maybe we could use Virtual Reality technologies to bring our clients to where we were, as if they were right here, immersed in our environment, and immersed, with us, in other virtual environments, some projections of real environments (based on our research), and some imagined scenarios, so we could visually show the results of the recommendations we were, collectively, making.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that if part of the objective of the IC was sustainability and responsibility, perhaps we would need a second, internally focused Natural Enterprise in the IC, working to these ends, a model of sustainable and responsible and joyful ways of living and of making a living, something like what I wrote about as the Sustainable Living Collaborative.

SLC logo

The Collaborative could determine ways by which the members of our IC could live simply and self-sufficiently, and not have to work too hard to do so, so their energies could be focused on AHA! work, and on play. For example, perhaps the community, instead of farming, could sustain itself through replanting native food plants and plants that support their ecosystems naturally — forest gardens, permaculture, that needed no tending or managing, only gathering. The collaborative could also help us determine optimal geographic locations where this could be done — they could help us find our Home.

Each member of the IC would be a member of one or both Natural Enterprises, depending on their capacities, skills and interests.

In some ways I’ve come full circle from my thinking of 2-3 years ago, except this time, thanks to Jeremy and others I’ve been kicking this around with, the ideas are more integrated, and have passed a feasibility test. There is a need, a market for this. And what a place to live, and make a living!

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8 Responses to AHA! Again

  1. Hi Dave,The concept for AHA! is really very good! I do hope that you are able to rope in the right people into it.I hope that version 1.0 of the “Declaration” gets written out very soon!Keep us all posted.Thanks,Srinath

  2. Steve Hinton says:

    Combining agriculture and other commercial activities is something the ECOUNITS concept has focussed on. In fact we call it 100 froends and a farmer. The idea of everyone growing their own food is contrasted with the idea of having your own farmer. A professional farmer will be able to ensure productivity. The Farmer will be paid much more than they get from selling to supermarket chains And the 100 friends will be paying much less. And if the farmer needs help she can always instruct the 100 friends in the community on what is needed. We see it as a green workout opportunity! In the ECOUNIT a cooperative of companies rents workspaces, meeting rooms etc from the Unit. Going to work is just crossing the yard. Full description is available on http://www.avbp.net/docs/Description%20ecounitsB.pdf.

  3. Jessica says:

    Dave,I have been reading your website for about 2 years and find it to be the right mix of light and dark for my sensibilities. Your ideas give me new ways of looking at existence, and sometimes even hope. There aren’t many other attractive living alternatives, and time is ticking away, so why not jump in and give it a try? I look forward to seeing this unfold.Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It has made a difference in my small world.–Jessica

  4. Mariella says:

    Around 1850 both Darwin Grand parents belonged to a society that generated important changes in their time: The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World.http://www.americanscientist.org/BookReviewTypeDetail/assetid/21978

  5. Daisy Bond says:

    Good luck! How exciting.

  6. Andre Ling says:

    I have been a silent reader of your blog for some time now but this article summed up pretty much the kind of place I aspire to. So I had to post something! Wow! Good stuff indeed!Andre

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, all, for the encouragement — my enthusiasm seems to be infectious. Now if only I can convince the Introvert in me to set aside his doubts and let the Extrovert go for it :-)

  8. Liz Seymour says:

    Your thoughts sum up perfectly what we’re incubating here in Greensboro, NC (thanks for the mention a couple of weeks ago!) Our own little Aha! was to recognize that “sustainable” isn’t really sustainable if it stops at green practices–which is what a lot of sustainable talk does right now. Thanks for reiterating that the big shift will have to be to sustainable relationships and power dynamics–horizontal self-organizing instead of the inherently unstable top-down model. That new world is actually alive and dynamic and working all over the place, but so far away from the traditional centers of power that a lot of people don’t know its there. I spend a lot of time with homeless people, for instance, and am awed to see how naturally and comfortably people without resources and living in constant danger create strong networks that work. It has to be an innate talent we all have. No wonder it takes so much force to keep it down!Dave, come visit Greensboro some time. I’d love to show you the interlocking–and very hopeful–grassroots efforts here.Liz

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