Curating the commons and trashing nothing

I’ve been a member of trash nothing for a while, thinking all along about how it could be more effective. The inefficiency is similar to small ads in a newspaper. The time it takes to look through all the potentially relevant ads to find ones that actually are relevant can be disproportionate. It may end up as a very ineffective use of time and attention.

What might help?

Could indexing / categorising help? An ontology perhaps? Using all relevant standard identifier vocabularies? Ideas abound; enthusiasm tends to live only in the enthusiasts.

Perhaps more promising, what if various people took on the role of knowledge manager of their favourite area of this space of reuse and potential recycling?

Or, take it further: maybe volunteers could take on actually curating donated goods? If someone knows about the demand for particular kinds of things (so many kinds of things pop up) then they would be in a good position to know if an offer really just needs to go to materials recycling, or whether someone is likely to want it, sooner or later. Any way round, it needs knowledge. Let’s distribute the curation of that knowledge.

The bits and pieces of IT

The last few days I’ve been following some intriguing discussions on the Collaborative Technology Alliance and the idea of an “Open App Ecosystem” (e.g. here or here) What comes up in these discussions is that many different groups have tried to build, or at least envisage or plan, something along those lines. What we have right now is a relatively unorganised bunch of attempts to do something that is, by all accounts, very worthwhile.

The analogy

Now for the moment of (possible?) insight. What if we treated the idea of interrelating Open Apps in a way similar to Trash Nothing? I mean, we have a collaborative knowledge management task here. And underlying that, a task to agree suitable foundations for managing that knowledge in a commoner-owned, collaborative way: as a knowledge commons.

Similar to Freecycle / Freegle, it’s great to have all these offers on the table, but for them to be used needs people to be aware of what there is at the right time, and in the meanwhile, to have people curate these knowledge resources so that they are available when wanted.

Curation brings up the question of trust. Who can be trusted to do that curation? Let’s face it: none of us have the time or patience to curate the whole thing effectively. Curation of the knowledge needs to be distributed to be effective; and even more, curation of physical assets needs to be distributed and re-localised. But the curators need to trust each other, and communicate well; the users (commoners?) need to trust the curators. Curators must be accountable to commoners.

Back to my recurring theme of needing to build up trust (and mutual knowledge, respect and understanding) one-to-one, most likely face-to-face.

The Intrapersonal Commons

The ideas of commons, commoners and commoning are becoming clearer to people.

In my understanding, a living and working commons is much more than the shared resource. For people to benefit from a commons, shared between people, and to prevent its enclosure, commoners need to maintain and govern their commons. Silke Helfrich has called this process “commoning”, to mean “taking responsibility for common stewardship” of what the commoners need, and that stewardship is strongly aligned with the long term health and wellbeing of the natural environment of the world in which we live.

Silke Helfrich and David Bollier have also written a strongly related piece on whether commoners can “become self-aware of their collective potential”. I’m asking whether commoners can become aware of their inner, personal potential from development of self-governance.

Denis Postle uses the term “psyCommons” (wildernessweb; David Bollier; P2PF wiki) to mean “a ‘common pool resource’ of our learning from experience”. It is what we use to navigate the interpersonal interactions of our daily lives. Here as well there is some threat of attempted enclosure. In this case, the commoners are — simply — all of us who interact socially. This common pool is a vital resource for our mental health and our social wellbeing. It may be difficult to see any explicit governance processes, because these are part of the fabric of everyday social life and interaction, but social psychologists could give many insights into what happens.

The “intrapersonal commons”, as I am proposing the term, is not an external, physical, social commons. It is not the “psyCommons”, though it complements it. It is a way of thinking about what is inside each individual person, or within their psyche, if you like. While body parts can be named through the study of anatomy, these parts of the psyche are not so obvious, and different people have talked about them in a variety of ways. Given this variety, it seems reasonable to suppose that the parts of the intrapersonal commons may differ between different individuals.

To get a feel for this variety of make-up, we can listen to voices from science, from literature, and history about how people have tried to grapple with this reality. There is a vast wealth of testimony, through the ages, to people experiencing inner conflicts, and often to those people trying to tame, or in other ways come to terms with, their inner urges, instincts, motives, impulses, needs or passions. I could start citing examples here, but perhaps it is better to leave this for later historical exploration with interpretation. I guess that you know enough of what I mean, for now.

Whatever these sometimes conflicting parts of ourselves are called, they are contained within the same body, with the same brain. You could say it is the brain which is the resource in common, but perhaps it is more natural to think of it as our mind, because we easily imagine the brain as a bodily organ that can be prodded by electrodes or scanned with sophisticated technology, while our minds are construed in terms of our conscious experience.

As an aside, I have read that in the extreme cases of split personality, it seems that different parts of the mind isolate themselves from each other, with (for example) different memories attached to different personalities. So in these cases, the mind would not be a fully common resource. But that is far from the normal case.

How, then, do we govern ourselves, including all these parts within each one of us? Addressing this question is a common aspect of these age-old discussions of our inner make-up. What I want to do here is to point out, and reflect on, the analogies between governing ourselves and governing an external commons. I hope this will help in several ways.

First, we may look at the research on good governance of commons, and draw insights from there on the governance of ourselves. Commons work well with some kind of peer governance, not with hierarchy. And, most of what I have read or heard on self-governance emphasises practices that include sufficient space, and reflection, to allow us to become aware of several of our parts — rather than being ruled by the first impulse that comes to mind, or the one dominant faculty within us.

Second, we may look for ways in which intrapersonal and external commons interact. The good governance of an external commons depends, in part, on the participation of commoners who govern their own intrapersonal commons well. And, conversely, it seems plausible that the governance of external resources, as well as the tacit governance patterns of the psyCommons, is mirrored in the way that people involved learn to govern themselves. We all know how much we learn by example, and this includes by analogy. Inner alienation can lead to outer alienation, and vice versa.

Third, and perhaps most significant in the contemporary discussion of Commons Transition, I want to explore the question of how positive changes may depend on changing external and intrapersonal governance together. Is our behaviour as good commoners, externally, held back by our poorly adapted patterns of intrapersonal governance? Or, could it be that our attempts to improve our intrapersonal governance are held back by what we experience of imperfect psyCommons, and by the patterns of governance of external resources? If so, then Commons Transition needs to focus on harmony of the inner and the outer. We need to focus on hand-in-hand movement, recognising that if we neglect either side, inner or outer, it may be much harder to reach our desired destination.

My sense is that, in focusing on hand-in-hand movement forwards, we can reconcile many of the dualities in our lives — to heal them, maybe. My intention is to place the ideas and practices of the commons centrally in this healing process, because, for me, the commons stands for the kind of connections that I value in my life. I value connection between peers, with reciprocity, with a focus on mutual service, and with an emphasis on the respect and valuing of each individual commoner, and all the diverse faculties within each one of us. When we are fully connected within ourselves — intrapersonally — there is so much positive power we can demonstrate. When we are fully connected between ourselves — interpersonally — there is the great power of solidarity. What can we not achieve through bringing these both together?

Please join me in exploring these and related ideas. In particular, I would greatly value help in fleshing out examples from people’s lived experience.

Building coherent systems co-operatively

Recently (2017-02-16&17) I was at the Open 2017 conference in London. It was an inspiring event with a greatly positive sense, and with much too much choice to go to everything. I went to a working session on designing an open app ecosystem – one of the relatively few sessions where people actually got to talk a lot in small groups, but missed a related session by one of the Open Co-op‘s founders, Oliver Sylvester-Bradley because I was at another place where people worked in small groups (on the “platform design toolkit”).

And this has led me to reflect on the psychological and social dynamics of an open app ecosystem, in the light of my long experience of working on technical interoperability standards in various contexts.

As a society, we seem to know how to build coherent systems top-down. Think Apple, think Ikea (article by John Thackara, who was at the conference). It seems we are not yet confident about how to build coherent systems co-operatively. Even Linux – at the kernel end, fine, because there is centralised authority; but the distros, the software, the version control …

The goal of building a coherent open system is close to my heart, as it is to many other attendees. The way to go about this is not clear to me. It’s obviously not to invite all of us conceptual system builders (possibly INTJs – I admit, it’s a weakness of mine as well as a strength) to have a beauty contest of our brilliant ideas. Even though they are all brilliant and beautiful, and, wouldn’t it be so much easier if everyone else adoped mine? 😉 But how, then?

Maybe I’d start with something useful from my own experience. If two people are open enough, in the right frame of mind, detailed long conversation between two conceptual system builders can go a very long way. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve come away with fresh insights; with a deeper understanding of how my own master vision had missed out something, perhaps something vital. And of how the other person’s point of view is really fascinatingly different from mine.

And then I’d continue in a small peer group setting. I find this setting essential to my being able to hear things that perhaps I don’t want to hear – maybe that one of my favourite pet ideas just doesn’t work for other people. While in a one-to-one, I can come out with the hope that the other person will still see the light one day, in contrast, in a group setting (at least one where there is trust, honesty, openness and warmth) I can be supported enough to let go of my own obsession and go with the greater wisdom of the connected group. (That’s quite different from groupthink.)

To do what we are trying to do technically, the psychological and social aspects – the open, co-operative “culture”, if you like – is absolutely vital. It’s not an optional extra. I don’t believe that technical solutions by themselves ever work in the long run, without a proper attention to culture.

At Open 2017, near the start, there was a reflection on gender balance. It wasn’t anywhere near balanced. I’m wondering whether more focus on the cultural, social, psychological dimensions of what we are trying to do would naturally bring in more of the feminine sensibility? I know many others would welcome a better gender balance as well, and I wonder if we can explore our feelings as well as getting our heads together, to being more co-operative in building coherent systems?

Loving the other in ourselves and peers

One of the people whose views I respect — to me he has “wise old man” status — is Denis Postle. Just today he has published a post on his blog called “Truthiness, Brands, Lies and Alternative ‘facts’” which to me — someone who practised hypnotherapy for a short time — is really fascinating. It tells of how we need to be alert to the trance-induction that we are too often subjected to by self-serving, elite-controlled media.

I was immediately moved to comment:

Perhaps we are also commonly entranced by our own hypnotic narratives about ourselves. What do we see as natural or inevitable for ourselves? Which is commonly caught from enculturation.

All the more important to help each other — fellow commoners — to be aware of entrancement, from whatever source; to discern the helpful from the harmful. This, to me, is one of the features often lacking from the psyCommons, perhaps due to the survival value of thinking-in-common.

So how do we do this well, between ourselves?

This connects in my mind to the most recent interview by Krista Tippett, “On Being“, with Alain de Botton. It’s called “The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships“, and contains many gems. Here’s my personal favourite extract (from their helpfully provided transcript):

Ms. Tippett: A lot of what you are pointing at, the work of loving over a long span of time, is inner work, right? [laughs] And it would be hard to film that. But I’m very intrigued by how you talk about the Ancient Greeks and their “pedagogical” view of love.

Mr. de Botton: That’s fascinating, because one of the greatest insults that you can level at a lover in the modern world apparently is to say, “I want to change you.” The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You say somewhere they are committed to “increasing the admirable characteristics” that they possess and the other person possesses.

Linking these together is an insight that came to me in Sunday’s Quaker Meeting for Worship. The inner silence that we practice together can be a help in silencing the stories we repeat to ourselves about ourselves, and in that silence, to arrive at an inner state where we no longer are compelled to act out those stories. Compare Galen Strawson’s essay, I am not a story, published by Aeon.

Aren’t stories about ourself just self-authorship? Self-authorship, I recognise, can also be self-deception. Seeing ourselves as having certain qualities, is inextricably linked to seeing ourselves as not having other qualities. Perhaps this relates to Jung’s concept of the ‘shadow’. As so many wise psychotherapists point out, we have a great tendency, and temptation, to project the qualities we ourselves disown onto other people, particularly onto people close to us. But, if we can silence such self-justificatory and self-serving stories within ourselves, we might free ourselves to love the ‘other’ in the other person; and through them, to come to recognise and love the ‘other’ in ourselves; towards our greater wholeness, which necessarily involves great humility.

Compare this extract in French from a fellow P2P Foundation Wiki contributor, Maïa Dereva:

Il me semble donc que les communs et le pair-à-pair ne pourront se développer harmonieusement qu’à la seule condition que les individus intègrent profondément que «pair», contrairement à son homonyme informatique, n’est pas synonyme de ce qui est «identique à moi» mais parle de connexion et d’amour d’une radicale altérité.
(from the blog post Pire to pire : le fantasme de la perfection sociale)

OK, my French is pretty basic, but let’s try a rough translation…
“It seems to me that the [communities of the] Commons, and Peer to Peer, can only develop harmoniously on condition that individuals [in those communities] deeply internalise [the understanding] that ‘peer’, contrary to its usage in IT, is not synonymous with ‘identical to me’, but speaks about connection, and about loving that which is radically ‘other’.”

Stories of lives

I was reading an article in the newish Aeon magazine, by Galen Strawson. His conclusion, I thought, was rather tame…

I concede it. Consideration of the sequence – the ‘narrative’, if you like – might be important for some people in some cases. For most of us, however, I think self-knowledge comes best in bits and pieces. Nor does this concession yield anything to the sweeping view with which I began, the view – in Sacks’s words – that all human life is life-writing, that ‘each of us constructs and lives a “narrative”, and that ‘this narrative is us’.

… so I felt moved to comment. Here’s my comment.

I’m quite surprised no one has yet quoted T S Eliot. So much in Four Quartets. Working backwards:

History may be servitude,
History may be freedom.


Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

and earlier still

There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

Surely, it seems to me, no personal stories can be passed off as “the truth”. And yet, stories are all we have to make sense of lives, our own and those of others. So, if we are mature (and not bound to any supposed “fundamental” narrative truth) I guess we have just to live with a plurality of narratives about our selves. We tell stories to convey sense to the listener. Sometimes the listener is ourselves. The more we need a coherent story, the more vehemently we will tell ourselves the selected story that confirms the identity that we need to affirm. Our stories to others can sometimes be self-conscious lies, if we think that’s what they need to hear.

But perhaps we can let go of the centrality of our own self-narratives. We can take St Paul’s position – “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Perhaps our deepest value is the role we can play in other people’s stories? The transformation from being something like “lost” to something more like “found” doesn’t always need a narrative beyond the proto-story: “I was blind; now I can see.” Sometimes, elaborating that story is just creating a fictional narrative. The truth may just be the moment of transformation.

Why being older now is full of potential

If you are the same kind of age as I am, or older, have you brooded sometimes, like me, over missed opportunities? Like how you didn’t become a professor / change the world / become rich / create that sought-after startup / have your ideas internationally recognised / become a speaker on the speaker circuit having people hanging on your every word? Join the club.

And now let’s leave it, together! Many people who have been successful have burned out, or accepted the assumptions of the system as part of their core set of beliefs. Now, around the time when traditionally successful people are retiring, now is the time to rise and shine. Why? Because they are tired, they want or need a break, they are (with some truly wonderful exceptions) a spent force. Not only do you have the energy, because you haven’t wasted it on “the rat race”, but you are open minded as well, because you haven’t “sold your soul” to the dominant ideology. Age, at our age, has the great advantage of experience, provided that we don’t let ourselves get stuck in stale assumptions or fixed positions. We are free, just because we have so little invested in the status quo.

You may have twenty years of active life in front of you, because you are still in good health, again partly because you have suffered less stress than many, because you have lived your life nearer, or at least not so far away from, your genuine deeply held beliefs. Many at our age have lost their beliefs, out of cynicism or complacency — or maybe just from too much comfort. We still have deeply held beliefs, and they are developing in richness, because our minds are still well and truly open, growing, ever fresh.

We are hungry for conversation, because it keeps becoming clearer that no one is to be despised, that all have their own stories, their own value, and that we can sometimes learn the most from people who are the least like ourselves. As we make more sense of the world, have more experience, we are able to relate to, and empathise with, more and more kinds of people. In conversation, we long to share our knowledge and experience, not imposing it, but offering it as another angle, another contribution, just as we value the contributions and angles of others.

We are hungry also for collaboration, because our experience has proved beyond doubt that we cannot do a great deal by ourselves alone, separately. We have had the time and opportunity to pit ourselves against the challenges of life, and to have experienced resounding failures. Many successful people have done that as well; but failing in the public eye runs huge risks to mental health and stability. Not many have that resilience. We have had more time to build up our resilience, out of the limelight. And it is the stronger for that.

We accept, naturally, that we will never be Olympic athletes. That is for youth of body. We will never be grandmasters at chess. That is mostly for youth of mind. But emotional, psychological and spiritual resilience and wisdom can grow throughout life.

Perhaps I am just revisiting T. S. Eliot:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Carpe diem — the unexpected day, not the expected one.

Order and chaos inside ourselves

I’ve been musing on order and chaos.

One hears of “chaotic” lives, people for whom it is difficult to arrange to set an alarm clock to get up in the morning, or to make an appointment and keep it. But, rather than thinking of chaotic people as “them”, people we want to distance ourselves from, how about thinking of the chaos in ourselves, and how we deal with it?

Some people, it seems, maybe those who have compulsions or obsessions, might use obsessive or compulsive behaviour as a way of keeping the chaos at bay. Things are not chaotic, they tell themselves, just as long as they keep whatever it is they are obsessive about under control. Maybe we all have an aspect of that? Maybe we all have limits — if certain things are not under control, we feel subject to chaos. The size of that set is what varies between individuals.

The greater the chaos in a given historical era, perhaps the greater has been the striving for order. Monasticism is a great example. It is an archetype of an ordered life. Not for nothing are they called “monastic orders” or “religious orders”. But is this over the top? I think immediately of Hermann Hesse’s “Glass Bead Game”, or “Glasperlenspiel”. In Hesse’s opinion, the ordered life seems not necessarily to be the summit of human existence.

So where is the balance? Where is the sweet spot for different individuals, and how do we find it?

In Personal Construct Psychology, there is the idea that when a construct system is in the process of change, the individual feels lost, perhaps rather chaotic, while awaiting the building up of the new construct system. So maybe it is not so much a balance, as a highly dynamic equilibrium?

I’d like to go into this more, because to me it points to some key questions concerning individual identity and personality.

What kind of resources should be shared?

Living in a cohousing project, and being one of the directors of the next door workspace co-op (Green Elephant), I have more than the average interest in what is best shared. Yet there seems to be little guidance I can find on what to share, and what not to share.

It’s easy to go astray either way. If you don’t share anything, what’s the point? That’s how our society is set to keep us down and to keep the profits accumulating to the business elite. The more we share, the less we buy – that can’t be good news for those who make profits from selling us stuff. Then there’s the economics and the environment. If we share nothing, we carry on pumping more and more unsustainable CO2 into the atmosphere. Global resources are degraded faster than they can be renewed. It is neither sustainable nor resilient.

On the other hand, one of the reasons co-housing has developed in practice is to hold off from the kind of communal living in which extreme sharing overrides boundaries. Indeed, I have seen (though never participated in) communes where any kind of exclusivity is frowned on, even including family relationships. But, does this give the kind of warm stability and security needed in a good environment for raising children? I would say, extreme sharing definitely does not.

At a more political level, the aspect I grasp of the communism/capitalism ideological conflict is that people care more about their “own” things, they look after them better, they take more pride in them, and it is plausible that the more care and pride devoted to any enterprise, the more successful it is.

The level at which I now see myself as operating lies between the individualised household and society at large. In a group of people who know each other, and have sufficient trust, whether at work or at home, there is potential for sharing things. So how much sharing is good?

These kind of questions were coming up the other day about some of the resources at Halton Mill where Green Elephant operates. We directors are carefully considering ways forward, but in the meanwhile I’d like to put forward a completely personal point of view that is not the point of view of the Green Elephant directors collectively.

We currently manage a fair amount of office and workshop space. Assuming there is some elasticity in the demand for space, raising the prices would lead to some people moving out because they could not afford it, and others might squeeze in tighter to give more room for others.

But as well as plain space, there are other more specialised resources. We already have a shared printer, that has been running very well for over a year. Some things we haven’t had up to now, but are or will be working on. The example closest to my personal interest is a secure space for Internet servers. Other examples may come up for discussion later.

To digress a little, many of us have been working hard as volunteers to get B4RN here — “hyperfast” Broadband for the Rural North — and when it comes (some time in 2015) we will have an enviable setup, with community interest carbon-free electricity (from Halton Lune Hydro) able to power servers through a community-interest Internet provider, in space managed by our grass roots Green Elephant co-op. No elites in sight here!

To stand by the co-operative principles, my personally preferred solution for a scarce resource would be to manage it co-operatively. That management co-op would be open to any Green Elephant member business or individual who wished to use the scarce resource as part or the whole of their business offering.

There’s an important point here that is worth stressing. Each business, or indeed individual, would still run their own business, and the co-op, whose members are those individuals or businesses, would manage the sharing of the relevant facilities. It would make sense for the basic hard-to-move or bespoke fixtures to belong to Green Elephant, but things that are easily removable and changeable would belong either to the management co-op or the individual businesses, according to what worked for the people involved.

Surely, one of the reasons for co-operative structures is that people as a whole should be better off as a result. If co-operation is done well, better decisions can be made with more people involved – a little like the principle that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”, which Eric Raymond dubbed “Linus’s Law”. Not only that, but also that people feel more involved, and more likely to give the enterprise care as if it were “their own”.

The pattern is pretty clear to me.

For plentiful business resources, let people have their own, without the restrictions of having to consult and agree with others. For scarce, valued resources, set up a co-op to manage a related set of resources equitably as well as prudently, in a way that maximises the use of the resource through sharing, and at the same time clearly places the responsibility of management, maintenance, legal compliance, etc. to exactly those users, without needing to involve other people who have less interest. Then, let every co-op reflect carefully on those co-operative principles, and co-operate with the other co-operatives.

In a non-business context, where there are no legal requirements to fulfill, there is less need to incorporate. This is what we do at Lancaster Cohousing, where there are different service teams for each separate area of collective responsibility, including all those with the interest and time to be positively involved.

In both cases, the first question to be asked is, is this resource valuable, scarce or precious enough to prompt sharing? The more valued and scarce a resource is, the more important it is to share the ownership, control and responsibility in the spirit of co-operation. The “magic” will be to arrange what is shared, and the governance structures, so that people are engaged in roles and tasks they care about, or have a natural interest in.

Does that make good sense as a way of deciding what to share?


Background: I read the article “The Permaculture Fail” by Frank Aragona on, duplicating a blog post giving a extract from a podcast on Aragona’s own Agricultural Innovations site.

The discussions are worth looking at to get a flavour of how people respond to these issues.

Aragona’s argument comes across to me like this. Small time farming, even using permaculture methods, barely works by itself, and certainly doesn’t offer a good life. What is needed is to understand how to work with the economic mechanisms of our society. As he says, “it is time we started creating the socio-economic models that will make permaculture successful”. In a follow-up post, Aragona discusses “understanding economies of scale.

Here at Lancaster Cohousing there are several people interested in permaculture. They recognise that it needs substantial knowledge. Not many people both have that substantial knowledge and are able to put it into practice.

My response is clearly positive. This is, it seems to me, exactly the kind of approach that would be good to take. Naive idealism has never worked out well. I have needed to move away and on, over decades, from such an idealistic perspective. We would all do well to move on. And here, most have done so. We generally recognise that the world is not to be saved on one issue: not if everyone turns vegan, not if everyone eats organic or local food, not if everyone has a miniscule carbon footprint.

One root cause seems to me to be the fallacy that any one of us can know enough, individually, to make a big difference. We need to specialise, but not see our chosen specialty as unique. Rather, we need to continue exploring how to collaborate effectively, and (don’t underestimate this next word) efficiently.

Efficiency is a vital part of what will make a culture genuinely sustainable and resilient.

How can I explain see-saw development?

I tried explaining see-saw development, then called re-co-venturing, to a friend a long time ago. It wasn’t easy.

“Oh, I do that through networking,” she said, and gave me a long list of the very impressive connections she had made with others, around her own venture. “And you need a short strap line that draws people in.”

“But what if,” I replied, “the idea of see-saw development is simply not something that is in people’s normal experience? What if it is far enough from their normal experience that a strap line just won’t be effective?” Because, I was thinking, when you give people those few strapline words, they understand them in terms of their own experience so far. If they don’t have that kind of experience, it will probably miss the mark, unless you are very lucky.

Now I’m quite ready to admit freely that I’m not so extravert that I’m always building up relationships with everyone I meet (though wouldn’t that be really great if it happened!). But from what my friend said, I was left feeling rather inadequate. Why can’t I use networking opportunities like other people do?

“Maybe even extraverts have something to learn in networking,” I felt like replying, but I couldn’t say just that, because networkers are experts — they are in their element in their kind of context. The fact is that when I’ve been supposedly networking (quite a lot actually for a relative introvert, over many years) the conversation has often had difficulty getting beyond the level of strap lines. So how might it go … “Hello, this is what I do,” you say. Do I relate to that? Of course, as a good networker, yes! “What a great idea! I can imagine … and this is what I am trying to do.” Will you relate to that, yes or no? Can I express enough in a couple of sentences to capture your attention? I mustn’t panic …

And, of course, often it doesn’t work. My friend went on to say, very sensibly and understandably, that what I might do in this situation is at least to make people curious. But how can I hope for that to be effective, in a world where we are all suffering from such a deluge of information that we seem to have barely any time to follow up our curiosity? Do I have to make some outrageous (and probably untrue) claim? Well, frankly, no, I’m not into that at all.

Perhaps I could give my problem a fancy Latin name. Let me see now … how about “reticulatio interruptus”? What could I give as the cause of this fancy-named syndrome?

On the one hand, it’s difficult to be sure whether the other networker is interested in knowing more about an idea, if it is difficult to encapsulate. Their eyes are likely to be glazing over, their gaze wandering, before real engagement. And how should it be otherwise? They have all come with their own agenda. A failure to connect — the ultimate networking faux pas, perhaps — and you’d better connect quickly, as time moves on …. Whoops! There goes another non-consummated meeting. And you can imagine what that does for one’s networking confidence.

Outside the networking context, I have often found that it can take up to an hour and a half really to get the measure of someone’s new idea, where there is no initial preparation. I allow that sort of time for discussing anyone’s PhD thesis. But maybe, with suitable preparation, a lot can be done in less time?

This whole issue provides a basis for explaining re-co-venturing. So here are a few key points.

Everyone prepares properly before the conversations.
The result is, there is no time needed for smalltalk. Everyone has prepared two briefs: one presenting themselves as a person who might be interested in the right venture; and another presenting the venture they have selected that day as worthwhile. Both sides have put in time and effort to conveying what they are presenting in a concise and clear way. This is a great help to starting useful feedback without wasting time getting there.
There is a pre-set agenda.
The conversations don’t have to start with lengthy negotiation about what to talk about. They are much less dependent on social expertise. Maybe this is a little like speed dating, where I guess the agenda is “do we fancy each other enough to go out for a longer date”. But re-co-venturing has a much richer agenda than speed dating, and needs more time. It’s reassuring here that people I’ve talked to suggest similar lengths of time. I’ve focused on 15 minutes overall.
There is a pre-set objective, though how to reach it is completely open.
The objective is to find a role for the individual with the venture. It doesn’t have to be a full-time role — it could be as small as giving one-off advice or sharing contacts. On the other hand it could be a role that is vital to the venture. In any case, it will be meaningful to both sides. The easily achievable objective means that people are very unlikely to be left hanging. Every conversation will be positive, meaning that confidence will build up.
Equal status is reinforced by role reversal.
In many recruitment situations, the employer has nearly all the power, the candidate very little. But in a re-co-venturing meeting, each participant meets each other one in both roles. This is likely to lead to mutual respect and equal status. This takes away a potential source of stress, as well as priming people to build up ideas on a collaborative basis.
The playing field is levelled for extravert and introvert.
In real life, very few ventures really want all one personality type, but standard networking greatly favours extraverts. By bringing all personality types together in a common framework, the various types can not only meet, but also have time to appreciate each other. Perhaps the extravert advantage wears off after a few minutes, and re-co-venturing gives this time to happen. The resulting mixture of personality types, and respect between them, is likely to lead to healthier ventures.
No gimmicks are needed.
This will be an enormous relief to people who don’t have the knack of showing off, or who don’t have naturally high levels of “emotional intelligence”. It is not only allowed, but positively encouraged, for everyone to present themselves as they genuinely are. And it’s not only the more introvert who gain. Because the less confident are more at ease, there will be fewer barriers hindering genuine communication between them and the more confident.
The format feels more secure, giving more confidence.
Building on the last point, the fact that there are fixed slots for conversations means that no one can just walk off and leave the other person after only a minute or two. Again, anxiety is likely to be reduced, meaning that all communications can be more open. Talking about values close to one’s heart is inherently risky, and people fear criticism. The secure format of re-co-venturing will help people to be comfortable taking those risks.
You don’t have to finish it all off straight away.
15 minutes is still not very long, but I’m betting that it is enough, when well prepared, to get a really good taste of whether, or when, the possible connection is worth following up. Re-co-venturing helps in this, as there are not that many participants at one meeting, and at the end of the meeting there is a time for people to get out their diaries and arrange to speak further.

I guess you’re understanding more now. I would find it really hard to put that all across in one strap line. Even the straplines I’ve actually used — “advancing our ideas and ourselves” “developing ideas for people” — may not bring the right things to people’s minds in advance. Maybe what I have are “un-strap lines” rather than strap lines. Or “slow straplines.” Or “backstrap lines.” They work backwards — they’ll make sense when you know what I’m talking about, but not really until then.

Then — now I hope — perhaps you’ll be able to share with me the optimism that this really is different, and could open up exciting new possibilities for many good people.

Welcome to the world of re-co-venturing. Read the web pages if you like, where among other things I explain the name, then arrange to come and try it!