Patterns of Emergent Cities:
1. The Founder

Where others see nothing but people and things, you, the Founder, see possibility.


(Originally written March 17, 2011)

This is the first in a series of posts describing patterns that help understand the experience of building something new, together. These pattern descriptions are chiefly informed by my observations of social dynamics in all kinds of creative initiatives.

The patterns are meant to be used as templates to guide anyone who is going down the path of getting something like an emergent city up and going. Internalizing the patterns — making them yours — will enable you to see how and when they map to your particular situation, and make them manifest in your projects.

Read this while thinking of a project close to your heart, something that deserves to exist, and gently let yourself slip into the pattern. Just try it on for size…

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“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


- Social Imagination -

Where others saw nothing but forests and streams, Founders of yore saw building materials, ground to build and grow upon, sources of energy, and waterways.

Where others see nothing but people, and things, you, the Founder, see possibility.

Some things must be seen to be believed; but the emergent City is one of those things that must be believed to be seen.

And the great thing is that, somehow, you are able to make the Pioneer see it, too.

Together the two of you are able to believe in it.

You see the people in it. They are many. They love the City, too. They inhabit it, and it inhabits them. You can already sense the magic of the City. It gets you excited. You wish you could live it, too.

What you are seeing, in fact, is an imagined nation; social imagination is the instrument that lets you gaze at it.


- Cats -

As a Founder you attract, and are attracted to, independent-minded people. The Pioneers you need, and indeed pull towards you, are Cats.

Notice I said Cats, not copycats. You are not looking to start a cult of personality. You are a cultural innovator; you need culture creators.

You cannot, and neither do you wish to, mold the Pioneers into clones of yourself. You deeply appreciate diversity and interplay of strengths: it is the only way the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. You are completing a puzzle of which each piece is different and will have a unique place.

Now, Cats normally wouldn’t be caught dead in a group. Yet, you are pulling off the feat of bringing them together. How?

By giving them a worthy and meaningful challenge that none of them could accomplish on their own: bringing the City into existence.


- The Tease -

As the Founder, you are of necessity a salesperson, yes but a salesperson who deals in ideas. Here is what you are selling the Pioneer:

  • A departure: an escape route from the old and tired, into an open space with few constraints;
  • A sense of possibility — the promise of a new freedom he has had a glimpse of, but has not yet experienced;
  • Mystery, adventure, and challenge — an experience; danger, even!
  • An opportunity to contribute his unique talents towards creating something meaningful that, in her eyes, deserves to exist;
  • And finally, the chance to design a new ‘home’, a new life for himself and others.

- Connection -

You grow a personal bond with each Pioneer. You find the song in him: that deep-seated fire in his belly which is sometimes hidden, sometimes neglected, but never extinguished.

You connect to his obligation to meaning. His drive, his desire to do something.

You do so by opening up, by telling a story, by revealing your dream, bit by bit. You help the Pioneer connect his own dream to yours.

Together you find where he fits in your dream, and where you fit in his.


- Guiding Lights -

You know full well that you are not the real leader here. You are simply lending your voice to something that doesn’t yet have a voice.

The vision of that living, thriving City — something that works, something that is beautiful, something that will itself be full of possibility and draw people in — is the actual leader and guide.

The City already exists in the Pioneers’ minds; each one of you knows that all that is left to do now is to make it manifest.


This post was inspired in no small part by my encounters with the one and only Vincent Olivier.

Upcoming pattern: 2. The Fellowship