The Road to Enspiral
41 hours of consecutive travelling. European airports, Middle-eastern airports, Oceanian airports. New Zealand at last. It was my first time in the country, yet two familiar faces were patiently waiting for one hour while my luggage got checked (for bombs and fruit, mostly fruit).
I’d never been so far from where I’m from. It was by far my longest trip from the place I currently live. Yet, from the airport door on, it was home.
This is a personal tale of how I first heard about Enspiral, how I fused with its symbiotic amalgama and finally how a soup of unusual events and good people may help you work on stuff that matters to you. Oh and also get you to fly to the other side of the world.
[ If you’re curious about Enspiral and specially if you just joined the network, this video may have tips and tricks on how to operate this hive. This is not an official guide, just my own experiences and experiments. ]
An Unexpected Journey
In August of 2016 I moved to a new city: Berlin. By the time of my birthday, the 11th of September, I didn’t have that much friends. My strategy was very simple — I chose a public place and invited every single acquaintance I had made thus far.
So there’s this thing about the Germans, they really treasure their appointments. Little bit too much. One day after my (rather empty) party, this cool guy sends me a message saying he was sorry; that not showing up after confirming was not alright and he’d make it up to me. My Brazilian self could only think: silly Germans!
The same week he sends me a message with an event invitation — some kiwi extravaganza about social technologies — precisely my kind of magic. He wanted to pay my ticket as an apologie and birthday gift.
It’s interesting to look back and understand what Joseph Campbell calls the Call to Adventure. A simple act that propels the hero to embark on a quest, a journey: even if the hero is absolutely unaware of it!
I had a look at their website. Enspiral. Interesting.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Look, I’ve been to many useless workshops and panels and talks during this fleeting existence of a life, ok? Far too many. That one was different — and let me tell you why.
Generally bad talks go for one of two paths. The “here’s a problem, let’s stare at it for a while, you may go now” kind and the “here’s this thing I did, it’s pretty cool huh, you may go now” kind. They vary in their levels of boringness and wrath-induction, but my point is that they leave a bad taste in my mouth.
This weird-accented woman (one of the first things I heard her saying was “let’s do a chicken”, it was rather confusing) is talking about how this mysterious group works. She then highlights some problems with our messed up world — and to my surprise proceeds to show us some digital tools that could help out if used in the right way. That was Kate, she was bound to become a really good friend.
The thing that stuck with me, slept with me and woke me up the next day was this sentence she repeated a couple of times: “We’re doers. We don’t just talk about stuff, we create solutions to the problems we find”. This, backed by the explanations on how a couple of softwares (notably Loomio and Cobudget) worked, incinerated my thoughts.
Coming from the land of useless talks, that was a pretty sight. Perhaps all Enspiral talks were good talks. I had to prove them I was part of their tribe. I had to do something.
How to begin
Fine, I was impressed — but I remain a cynical man by all means. Perhaps the trailer was better than the movie if you know what I mean. Luckily, years prior to those events I had devised a tactic to deal with those situations.
I believe small gifts have a real connective power. I’m not talking about buying someone a pair of shoes, but actually materializing a piece of your conversation, turning it into something tangible. Did she say she’d really love to learn about knitting? Well, if you spend one hour organizing all the good knitting tutorials you know, this will materialize your conversation. Did he say he’d love to know his future? Mail him a (cheap, simple) pack of tarot cards. Those small actions create memorable events. In my experience giving something clearly useful will attract the right people to you. The practical people feel the magnetism for practical stuff (like I felt the pull the first time I learned about Loomio myself).
I had a look at my excitement, my available time and the things I wanted to do with my life and decided to record a video for them. I had been away from the youtube community and was looking for a way back, that was a step in that direction. Of course my gift didn’t have to be a video, it could be anything really — a text, a website, a story — as long as it proved handy.
I chose not to dedicate much of my time at the beginning, so I gave this intro project 3 hours — from ideation, to recording, to editing, to sending the final email. Not a lot of time for a video, but enough to show them something.
Of course, I wanted to develop a new pathway, so my video had to contain some sort of invitation. Some sort of call to action. I decided the learning was worth my energy (and probably a full Sunday of work if it carried on being interesting).
That’s what they got that day:
[ The act of gifting resonated very well with the community, so I’d very much encourage that kind of energy. Also, little did I know, but I did the one thing most people don’t: I got into Enspiral with a clear mission, goal, project. Just floating around will not get you as far as “hey, I’m doing that thing”. ]
The Gift of Video
Boy, did that work. I think every single person vaguely connected to the Enspiral network saw my intro video. Nobody had seen anything like it. It felt weird to me — after all, that had been the quickest (and arguably the worst) video I’d ever made. Still, I was riding the wave.
The brief they sent me afterwards was very detailed. They were testing these two social technologies — not anything digital, but a behavioral protocol. My challenge would be to explain in non-jargon terms what the hell was going on.
That was the best deal I could get: I was connecting to the network, talking to a bunch of people interested in explaining and clarifying the concepts and… well, learning something. Learning enough to teach.
I will admit I got sort of carried away — and how not! Every conversation I had with an Enspiral person was interesting in some way. I had planned 20h for this video project and ended up taking at least 35h and, due to my inexperience dealing with the cold weather, almost froze to death.
That’s what I sent them:
[ Again I was lucky with my project proposal. Looking back now, I can see how this video project was using some of the skills I could offer while also teaching a lot about what I wanted to learn — social technologies. Nowadays we have working groups dedicated to different themes and missions, I reckon they are the perfect place for you to learn and offer. ]
Volcanic European Conversations
The Catalyst/Steward video was a huge success — and also granted me some sort of notoriety. Later on I found out that Kate was touring through Europe with the same workshop and integrated my videos as a sort of example/inspiration when people inevitably asked her how to connect.
The final destination of their workshop tour was Paris — and the team thought this closing portal deserved a special grand finale. They invited all the best brilliant minds who’d stumbled upon them throughout the European lands. It was not a gigantic list, but each of the email terminations (.uk, .dk, .es, .fr) seemed to come from a different corner of the continent.
The gathering was going to happen at Ouishare’s headquarters (another network I’d been curious about for years) and that settled for me. The curatorship alone was too enticing. I felt small among the titans, but was flattered to be invited.
Conversations were electric. The quality of the minds over there was at the same time expected and surprising. All the summoned guests were invited to join the network as contributors and help the kiwis figure out their worldwide open doors.
For two days we talked, cooked together, connected. The new members were not bombarded with protocols and guides, but instead with questions: “how would that work for you?”. My skepticism was less funded each step of the way.
I remember thinking that Enspiral would be worth it for the quality of the people around it alone. Whatever was happening, it could only go well with these folks flocking around.
[ I was lucky to start my journey with an offline interaction and just a couple of months later meet up in person once again. I know in many cases that’s not a possibility, but even small gatherings are a great way to feel the energy and the sort of people who gravitate around Enspiral. ]
After a quick integration process, I had an Enspiral email account and access to all those sweet juices I’d heard about.
Cobudget was the first and easiest to understand. Everyone could propose an idea with a budget and timeline (called a “bucket”, a sort of internal crowdfunding) and if funded — Bam! Production starts. The money you use to fund those ideas is based on the money you contribute to the network, so at this point I had an empty wallet.
My eyes and ears were open from the very beginning. As an advocate of crowdfunding, I was eager to experiment with this new tool. But as they say in the worst corners of the internet: lurk moar. Watch, learn, apply. It was neat the have the powers to open a bucket since day one, but I felt I needed more context to actually do something desirable and useful.
Then came Loomio, the star, the decision making platform. At first glance it was overwhelming: dozens and dozens of open topics, some conversations rolling for years. I decided to give myself a break, mark everything as read and only read the new stuff. Wise move, Joriam, wise move. Suddenly Loomio was 3 or 4 topics.
Loomio was one of these things that I just couldn’t help but to think “this is going to be useful forever” from day one.
Finally there was the Enspiral Slack. Tons of different channels for all sorts of topics. I joined the European channel, the bullshit channel and the news channel. Again: reduce complexity. Little by little I’d join many more.
After some extensive 2-month-long lurking, I timidly started trying to interact with the different channels and mobilize the group to do some cool stuff — almost all of my experiments were pathetically unsuccessful. There was some invisible wall I was hitting.
The whole situation had a bad taste to it: Enspiral managed to serve me better before I actually got in. Once I had access to all the people and tools, nobody was listening.
A couple of months later, I pivoted my strategy and went back to the basics.
[ It’s very important to understand what happens when you join the network: the network wants you to have access to all of its tools in one go, so it really feels like there’s too much to learn, too much to read. There’s no tutorial stage, you’re all powerful from the beginning. But fear not: you can control how much information you want to interact with. Know that you can access the conversations and decision-making processes from 2014, but don’t. Just relax and create a manageable environment for yourself within Enspiral. ]
The Tribal Approach
Sometimes we like to believe that governments, companies, nations, families are those unified entities, like a living organism you can talk to. They’re not. These are groups of people, nothing but people, and if you treat them as so, everything will work out just fine.
When I first realised that I was dealing with Enspiral as something different from what it actually was, I knew I need to change my behaviour. I immediately stopped writing to the group and I went back to my pre-invitation pattern: personal emails.
The level of attention and engagement I got from those forms of contact was far more powerful than talking to the group. They also forced me to be more production-oriented (after all, nobody sends emails to chit chat), which tends to move the world forward.
Also, as an Enspiral based in Europe, I found those p2p contacts far more effective to actually meet fellow Enspirals around my town. Most of my first 12 big contacts inside the network started as a video call, then a coffee or two around Berlin, then the online conversation would flow naturally afterwards.
Slowly and surely, I started to realise how the big decisions were taken.
- Step one: two people talk about something;
- Step two: they invite other two people to join this conversation, the initial something mutates;
- Step three: the mutation of something demands different skills/opinions; more people are summoned onto the conversation resulting in more mutation;
- Step four: whenever the idea has enough corum, enough critical mass, it is presented to the whole network;
- Step five: the group already involved with the idea invite more and more people to give it a look, the idea mutates even more;
- Step six: SOMETIMES the idea gets implemented or payed for, depending on the engagement it was able to muster and if it makes sense for most.
This rather radioactive process forces the ideas to change and assume a form that suits many needs. It’s not a process that boasts speed or even effectiveness, but it focuses on collaboration, individual initiative and inclusion.
It frees the proposal from being perfect from the start. You don’t need create a great plan, what you actually need is to assemble a great team.
If that sounds just right to you, then you’re not reading about Enspiral for naught.
[ This is a group of humans, never forget that. Be personal, but show competence. Talk about linkedin, but also talk about sangrias. The future everybody craves is a future that exalts the human inherent complexity and to build that we should acknowledge it in every single email we write. That’s just me, but well… it’s working. ]
[ If you haven’t watched the video about Catalysts and Stewards I pasted above, this will make little sense. ]
As “the guy who made that video” I was curious to know who’d end up being my own Steward. At first I was thinking of Kate or Susan, my two main contacts and friends within the network, but they both agreed it should be somebody else.
Their Catalyst senses tingled. Both had enough grasp of my personality, path and obstacles by then — and for that they were able to point me just to the right person, this guy called Ants. At first I felt weird about being taken care of by a person I just did not know and also who lived in the other side of the planet, but soon this feeling was replaced by awe. There was indeed something fundamental that resonated between us. The fact that our connection was made in such a humane way, not by a computer but by the instinct of a friend, made all the difference.
But my Steward was more than just a cool friend I made on the internet. While the whole stewarding program was probably created with the question “how are you feeling?” in mind, Ants has this constant habit of asking people “what do you need done?” — and that’s what works for me. The whole point of this guidance is to create your own way to interact, some people just wanna transform everything into tasks.
It was colossally important to have a closer connection to somebody deeply ingrained in the network. Ants could direct me to different (and oh my, some crazy) people who could tackle all sorts of problems I was facing.
He introduced me to ex-Enspirals who had (literally) giant robot companies. I put a brain scanning machine on his head when he was slightly intoxicated. Stewarding — nailed it.
[ If you are planning to use Stewarding somewhere (inside Enspiral or outside), the tip I have is crucial: give it time. The first call or meeting may not be exactly what you expect, but this relationship has to be built between you brick by brick. ]
Working Group Technology
At some point, I was tagged in a conversation. I was “Step Three”, added because people needed an opinion on something I was knowledgeable about, but the conversation had been happening for a while.
It was inside a channel specially dedicated to find methods for working healthier and also learning how to deal with conflict. If Loomio and Slack are Enspiral’s nervous system, the Working Groups are all the other organs of its body.
While Enspiral is this big glowing cloud hovering above all of its participants, the Working Groups are directed task forces working on different problems. They are created and maintained by whoever wants to do the job. The philosophy is: if you feel something needs doing, just do it. If other people agree enough to give you their time and energy, they’ll show up.
May sound dysfunctional to the average capitalist mind, but there’s one piece that solves the puzzle: love. People love this community and truly want to do their best to keep it alive, clean and running. The WGs help transmuting that good intention into clear tasks — people flock around them because “helping” or “contributing” are vague verbs.
[ Working Groups are the perfect places for you to start your Enspiral journey. The most active ones have a couple of calls per month — a good opportunity for you to get all the background info you need. When choosing a WG to join, remember to think about what you’d like to learn and what you have to offer. The reduced online space (generally less than 10 people per call) gives you enough depth to get to know the minds around you. ]
The Lifechanging Bucket
By the end of 2017, one year after I joined, I was very active on the network. I had several meetings with different individuals/working groups every week; a lot of people messaged me for advice in one or another matter. I could be far from Enspiral’s birthplace, but I was definitely a gear spinning the clockwork.
And the clockwork was actually about to change. As I write this, Enspiral is preparing to implement a big change in its financial model. The change, or course, required some moving pieces.
One of those pieces is a video.
When Ants first proposed to open a bucket to fly me to Wellington, I was yet again skeptical. By then I had a good grasp on how the buckets worked and I didn’t feel we had enough time to assemble the necessary critical mass. Specially because by this time we didn’t have that much money to spend. The omens were not ideal.
Yet, he convinced me to persevere. We opened a bucket, talked to a bunch of people, cut costs and finally there it was. My Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Factory. In a way, a double gift — from me to Enspiral and the other way around.
Of course this was a collaborative process. Many people helped writing this script, booking the tickets, creating some buzz. It was all very surreal.
[ The bucket system exists to be used. Buckets require hours of work to be put forward, but never forget they’re here for you. Start small and then grow a little bigger with each success you achieve. Not every idea will be funded, but that’s also a good thermometer to understand where the funds want to go. Use it as an indicator of involvement, transform each bucket into an experiment. Soon you’ll realise which themes attract more people. ]
Away, but Home
My whole life was marked by a lot of travelling. My dad used to be a flight attendant, so planes were just a day by day thing. I’m 28 y/o and I was lucky enough to visit 34 countries and more than 100 cities. Still, this time it was different.
The people who were there to welcome me at the airport. The people who offered their houses and couches for me. The sensation of entering the Enspiral Dev Academy and knowing at least half of the people around.
Somehow all of these warm and familiar people made this foreign country feel like my own living room.
Soon after my arrival, there was a retreat. They called it “Enspiral’s heartbeat” — the moment when the network remembers why they are there, feel all of the energy coming from the others.
As any Enspiral endeavour, it was democratic and open for discussion. The panels and talks were proposed by the participants (Open Space, if you’re curious) and couldn’t be more varied. From cryptocurrencies to moonlight meditations. There was energy, pyres of creation. People cried, I cried — not tears of despair nor onions, but the tears of “I know I’ll remember this”. The tears of fulfilment.
The retreat offered me something rare: the chance to slow the fuck down. Suddenly I had time! I had time for conversations, time to do nothing, time to let whatever wanted to happen emerge. Talking to everyone was not a pressure, it was a delight.
A lot of people helped me fulfill my video mission, others helped in other ways. It’s nice to have some people worried about you not working all the damn time.
Yesterday a friend drove us to the coast just to see the sunset. It’s not a gigantic act, but it made all the difference. I know this group really values my well being. I know that my happiness is not only desirable, it is literally an asset for Enspiral.
And I don’t know all of that because I read in some online form. I have witnessed and experienced it first hand. It’s not always clear, it’s not always organised, but we care about people.
[ The retreats are really impactful — I can’t recommend it enough. Of course they require some commitment, specially if you live far from New Zealand, but in return they give you le crème de la crème of the world’s collaboration scene. After all: the hardships of getting here are a great filter to figure out who’d walk the extra mile. I know money and time are delicate topics, but if that’s what you need to tip the scale: do it. ]
Why Did I Write This
I wrote all of that because I’m happy. I feel beloved and supported by this group — heck! I felt this way before even meeting most of the people. Now, more than ever.
I understand the radical affirmation of “I’m happy here” during the dark times we’re living. I guess I can get back to that taskforce energy I was talking about when describing Ants: I’m happy here because the work is for a good cause. Because the team is golden. Because people respect other people’s infinite complexity.
This retreat showed me how easily I connected to Enspiral. Many people have a hard time at the beginning, so I thought sharing my journey could provide some insight. The value this community adds to my life is big and tangible.
There’s no Rosebud in my last scene. It’s good to feel at home right here and right now.