☆☆☆ I N S P I R E - The Project ☆☆☆
Every week, I will share people's dreams, projects, passions, because I believe we can all inspire and encourage each other to create the life we really believe in. This project is called INSPIRE.
Sharing is Caring
If you are a passionate entrepreneur and you think you are making an impact in this world by living and sharing your dreams and ideas, get in touch with me so I can promote your work to inspire others to live their life their way.
contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
☆☆☆ Pierre-Alexandre Klein ☆☆☆
Utopian designer, ecosystem architect, neuroscientist, dreamer and idealist entrepreneur, Pierre-Alexandre is an expert in peer-to-peer models, regenerative economy, collaboration practices and urban transition, he co-instigated the civic innovation network, a platform for collaborative urban resilience.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My latest enneagram told me I was an adventurer, enthusiastic and generalist – thoug hardly satisfied- person. I am a Belgian-born trying to understand the world and myself for the last 30 years. I have numerous passions such as science, art, architecture, history, geopolitics and philosophy. My latest shift occurred a few years back, I started the path of introspection and let my Cartesian features and hyper-rational thinking aside to open my embodied experience to the wonders of this mysterious life. I deeply believe in humanity, in the efficient use of crowd intelligence, multitude and contribute to the resurgence of tribalism into a peer-to-peer mesh built on trust and transparency, raising the collective consciousness of our specie, as well as triggering global and local actions for more Harmony. Now I self-read me quite a bit, I could say I probably built myself around my deepest fears, being scared out by the surrounding unknown and non-understandable chaos. Hence, as a protective reaction, I like to place myself in situations including ambitious perspectives, tackling big challenges. Possibly untacklable ones. Bringing a change and improving things. At least a little bit. This is why I wake up for every morning.
What happened for you the last couple years?
Since 2015, so many things happened, but let me give you some context as keys for understanding.
I was 22 when I started my Ph.D and between 2010-2015, I spent most of that time in a neurophysiology laboratory, trying to understand the neural basis of decision-making. How does a complex organ such as the brain work? Do we even get the basis of its functioning? I traveled from lab to lab between Berkeley, California and Brussels, Belgium, fed my narcissistic curiosity, learned a huge diversity of skills and realized how science and academic publishing, as the private corporate world and innovation ecosystems are skewed and f*cked up, mainly because of productivity and investment mechanisms. Progressively, I got Politically aware and started to see the delimitations and interdependencies that made humans exist, how they structured themselves over centuries, how they created value, how they maintained symbiosis amongst them and with their ecological environment, which challenges were awaiting us and I could then point out critical domains in which humans could, with the help of technology and by shifting their human nature avoid total wreckage.
Education, innovation, economics, politics and media. Everything relies on these five pillars.
After I got involved in the Pirate party (politics, 2011) and built a digital platform that allowed journalists and webcontent producers to be independent through crowdfunding mechanisms (media 2013-2014), I met with incredible beings in the Summer of 2015. We started thinking about innovation ecosystems based on values such as transparency, collaboration and trust. The whole vision was to build a regenerative ecosystem producing useful innovations inspired by Nature and allowing skilled individuals and projects with high impact on society or the environment to foster and sprout. During a year and a half, we’ve met hundreds of people, entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, designers, scientists, makers, you-name-them, sharing a similar vision and identifying the pains weakening the current framework: competition, fragmentation, silos and investment mechanisms. Around a strong collective of individuals, we tried to build a rainforest, a fertile ground for impactful projects and changemaker individuals. We invited inspirational people from Canada and New-Zealand, we organized retreats and working sessions, regular meetups and slowly build a community of like-minded people. We had a few consultancy missions from public and private actors, looking for inspiration from brains thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, pulling such a human construction is a fragile process and many obstacles stand on the way. Some individuals from the collective were building biofuel cells based on bacteria decomposing waste, others where using mushrooms to rehabilitate soils or build sustainable materials, working on next blockchain generation services, connecting farmers to customers with a smart food supply system, working on p2p holistic housing ecosystems or investigating currencies of the future.
Since then, I have been supported by Lunt philanthropic foundation, they opened a curriculum at Louvain School of Management where I could give a class about regenerative economy: using other metrics and dealing with new symbiotic models in innovation.
External factors also lead me to deeply think about my actions, my behavioral patterns and myself. Attacks and collapsology –discipline studying the systemic aspect of crises – triggered self-reflection, brought me to leave my Cartesian/rational approach and to open up in a more humble way to existing realities. What can we do now, is it really worth it? For what goals exactly? What do we aim at to implement as change in our societies.
Since September 2016, together with a few talented individuals, I’ve been working on a new project called Civic innovation network. Our goal is to act at a city scale: we gather multiple stakeholders (startup, initiatives, public and private actors) and see if they can become compatible and complementary in a scenario to tackle urban challenges. Concretely, we build “impact joint ventures”, new co-owned structures reflecting a common mission shared amongst different actors. Concretely, we work on a mobile fablab project (fabbus and fabbikes to raise awareness on new technologies and opensource models from makers movements in schools and thereby building new bridges between neighborhoods), on a food logistic hub (centralizing food surplus and bringing 5-10 projects to share a kitchen to process/transform and distribute it), working on defibrillator and drug deliveries by drones, connected toilets for women, working on a program for mental health and new ways for treatment through new technologies, etc.
Aside from these core projects, we have designed tools and methodologies that help these actors to talk and work together and we are working on missions for public and private actors.
The whole philosophy behind is that “Unity makes strength”. Others should be first seen as collaborators and not competitors.
When did things fall into place? When did you suddenly get it?
I see this as a continuous flow of events. A vertuous helix, evolving and mutating from one day to another. There is no threshold to be identified, rather a progressive feeling of being at the right place, with the right people and looking/acting in a positive direction. Nonetheless, regarding CIN, few important moments.
A striking one happened at the first meeting where we gathered complementary actors. Seeing everyone building empathy, lowering their ego or the interest of their single project to embrace a common vision was a big breakthrough. In another capsule, we managed to open a dialogue between dozens of actors involved in fablabs in Brussels, which were barely talking for years, they were selected lately by a governmental institution and are about to start a 600k € project. It is all about building that centripetal force and build the interest of public administration, corporates and other entrepreneurs eager to try out and experiment with our methodologies.
How did you experience this life changing experience personally?
Working towards your ideals with passion entails a lot of abnegation and self-reflection. It is definitely not an easy journey. Fears are strong and present. You need to deal with these. Uncertainty is cyclical. New models require a focus on vulnerability, which is not promoted by current conservative models in which I grew up in. Performance, self-integrity and productivity are not helping to address this anxiety. On top of that, the entrepreneurial scene gives the illusion this journey is easy: a good pitch, fast clients and you raise a million dollars by tomorrow.
It requires intense discipline and sensitivity about your environment and yourself. The rise of eastern or tailor-made spirituality in innovation ecosystems goes in my opinion hand in hand with these particular conditions.
At 18 months, startups have a failure rate of 87%, which is huge. I loved to hear Larry Lessig (Law professor at Harvard and Aaron Schwartz mentor) claim that we our societies today need more Losers. People who can implement change without straight success and return. Hence, the whole point of my (and other idealists) journey is to de-condition ourselves in order to embrace this schizophrenic mindset: dealing with the uncertainty and the possible failures while keeping the direction and vision clear while executing it.
Which fears did you face during this process?
Not making it. Compromising my principles. Digressing, disnature and tweak the vision to make it work. Being seen by others as weak since poor- or utopian-outcomes. Get to know myself too much and losing control.
What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
To meet inspired, passionate and committed individuals, this is enriching. You then know realize many of us are taking risks and building this world of tomorrow. The fact of spreading and receiving love and care. And knowing that I will spend my day building a framework where individuals and entities can be more respectful to one another, where they will be able to trust eachother and collaborate. Contemplating the beauty of society, Nature and the Universe is an everyday lust, I cannot get satiated from it.
What is your philosophy of Life?
Entering bulk mode ?
No goals, no expectations. Rather the importance of flexible perspectives. I like to believe in small wonders, seeing things everyday with a new perspective, new details. Trying to reach high level of self-consciousness and set permanent feedback loops up. Learn from mistakes. Make emotions, passions and pulsions readable.
Phenomena are the result of systemic cascades. Issues are particular cases of phenomena, they have identifiable causes which can be tweaked and shaped.
Our own fears regarding the future and current challenges come from the discrepancy between our comprehension, our prediction abilities and the dreams we have, our ideals or the utopia (literally, which doesn’t exist yet) we would love to see around. To cope with that, we have to learn to stop rigid projections and embed resilient and adaptive protocols and behaviors.
I believe if a shift must happen, it won’t come from technology, cryptocurrencies, digital platforms or innovation per se, it all rely on human nature. How do we want to function as a society. How do we consider the others and all the elements that surround us. If we keep rising our children in competitive and productive settings, we’ll stay oppressive, greedy and extractive/damaging.
We have accumulated information and build libraries and theories (regarding our new models, think of Frédéric Laloux – Reinventing organizations, Michel Bauwens – Commons/p2p). It is now time to experiment small bubbles of useful actions. I believe in an open process framework/library where demonstrations and actions can be replicated, forked and improved. We went from opensource software, to openhardware, to open-actions. This can only be based on transparency and trust. These demonstration need to be cost-efficient and incentivizing for all actors, otherwise it will bring the raise of constrained policies, build friction and no-one will follow.
What is your daily life now?
For the civic innovation network, I meet a lot of people. I listen to their needs, understand their vision and assets, help them to overcome their obstacles, connect them with other useful actors. I organize private or open events. I give talks and lectures as well, sometimes.
I make sure I leave myself time to wander, explore, dream and read, also taking free and lonely time to process.
Why did you decide to create Civic innovation network? What do you do?
As explained here above, CIN is a way to make our cities more resilient and more efficient, by making every individual or local actor concrete stakeholders in these improvements. Our goal is to leverage crowd intelligence to implement and scale projects/startup who can have a regenerative impact on our cities.
We need new models when it comes to solves our current challenges. We are iterating these new models (collaboration, accounting, governance/decisions, licences, ownership) with the help of clusters of entrepreneurs who become complementary around urban missions (pollution, education, inclusion, etc.). Then, we plug public/private actors and we leverage the power of the citizens in the loop.
All solutions are out there. Skills, resources, ideas and projects do exist and slowly build up solutions in all sectors. Through transparency and documentation, we aim at scaling these solutions faster across the country, and even build connections at EU-level. Making sure that a successful combination from Denmark with respect to education can be replicated in Milano or Brussels. If a pollution/energy solution is implemented at low-cost and is fully functional in Brussels, why shouldn’t we facilitate its replication in other surrounding cities?
We are embodying an interface for interconnections between actors since everything is still working the vertical way, in silos and with high level of competition. Transversal understanding and empathy are almost at zero-level. This must change if we want to organize better.
Which values do you want to share through what you do?
Collaboration – Diversity (actors, skills, domains) x Unity (need for synchronization) – Usage of other metrics/KPI - Ecology and systemic approach – Trust featuring transparency. Humanistic values - We must get out of prisoner dilemma, go beyond our biology (learn by mimicking and repeating behavioral patterns) – Making the win-win possible.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I am a pioneering screener, a RSS reader on its own. I read and absorbed a lot of content, books, documentaries, fake news and scientific papers in eclectic fields and from many sources.
My arborescence thinking helps me a lot, I make unforeseen links between supposedly different domains and the way things are pictured in my mind eases these meta-analyzing process.
How do you feed your creativity?
Krishnamurti said once that creativity was the result of our discontentment. I cultivate this latter. Balancing my time between hanging around with like-minded people and spending time on my own. Social media is a source of discontentment. Same with my passions for history and my efforts to understand the evolution and how Life emerged from chaos.
What do you think makes your Difference ? What is your purpose - Your big Why?
We have the chance to live in an Era in which culture and knowledge have never been so easily accessible. My own journey, spiritual/ontological question and curiosity led me to find elements of answers to the infinite list of questions. But really, I am one amongst others. There is no real difference, or maybe external uncontrollable factors.
I aim at Harmony and Beauty.
What’s next for you in the coming months?
Continuing my trip with CIN, making sure Brussels blooms and shows the way.
I secretely would like to start a media with interactive content and interviews of experts, with a focus on change and politics. I could also combine this idea with a travelling van, going from one European city to another. Any tricks or recommendation?
Any advise for people who want to create the life of their dreams?
Jump off the cliff.
Brel said once that to go from Vilvoorde to Rio de Janeiro, it was not hard to go to Rio. The hard part is to leave from Vilvoored. Get out of your confort zone and take risks.
You –and only you- know what you aim at, what you are driven by and how you want to implement it.
Think about what your dreams could provoke.
List the positive impact that stimulate you and fears that block you. Make the balance.
Be flexible and open, stay open to opportunities Life brings you.
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