How I learned to build community…

Last week we hosted our annual co-living summit and WOW! I am absolutely blown away with inspiration and bubbling with pride. It’s incredible to witness what can happen when we follow our highest joy.

Back in 2012, I decided to start yet another experiment in community building. The story actually starts much earlier; back in 2004. I had founded Pure Project to support creatives in catalyzing enterprises that promoted a common good in the world. One of the first initiatives was to build a creative lab for a curated community of creatives to connect, collaborate and co-create what we now popularly refer to as ‘social enterprises’. Openhouse Gallery grew into an innovation hub in the heart of SoHo, NYC and became recognized as a pioneer for a few nascent movements at the time; ie. business incubators & accelerators as well as co-working businesses and pop-up retail.

After nearly a decade of going to Burning Man and living among hyper-creative individuals collaborating on ambitions artistic projects, I began to wonder what this lifestyle might look like on a full-time basis. In August 2012, Pure House was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Inspired by a desire to create a nurturing environment for visionary creatives to live, learn and create together, I had transformed my warehouse loft into a communal living space. Within a few years, this experiment grew into a network of 25 apartments serving a community of 65 residents. Eventually the media caught wind of what we were working on and the NY Times rang us up to do an interview. That article ended up on the front page of the Sunday Real Estate section, which in itself is a really big deal and led to a swarm of media attention. Little did I know at the time, we later realized that this was the first instance of a mainstream media outlet using the word ‘co-living’.

By 2016, we were being contacted by dozens of individuals around the globe each month looking for support in building their co-living projects. As our attention was focused on figuring out how to transform our little experiment into a viable co-living business, we decided to set up Pure House Lab as a non-profit think tank and knowledge sharing network for this nascent movement. Co-founded with one of our community members, Claire Flurin Bellec, and my dear friend Fabrice Simondi, we immediately had a swarm of interest. Shortly thereafter, we brought Matt Lesniak onto the team to help us grow our member base. Within a year, we were interacting with hundreds of individuals and organizations regularly around the topic of co-living. A common question at the time was ‘why is a prominent co-living business running a non-profit to support the movement’. For us, the reason was clear…at the time, we were clearly more passionate about supporting the movement than building our own co-living business. This lead to two key decisions; (1) we decided to re-brand the non-profit to Co-Liv, and (2) we decided to wind down the operations of Pure House to focus on building Co-Liv.

Today, Co-Liv is recognized as the de-facto industry association for the co-living sector. For the past 5 years, we have been hosting local meetups, annual summits and supporting knowledge sharing through our online groups, an ambassador program and partnerships with municipalities as well as aligned businesses, educational institutions and foundations.

Last week was a monumental up-leveling for our organization and the entire Co-Liv team, led by Gui Perdrix, deserves massive credit. We had over 678 participants from around the world contributing to our first virtual summit. The execution was world-class. When I logged on for the opening ceremony of day 2, I felt like I was watching a professionally produced TV show in which I would be joining the cast. I literally had shivers running up and down my spine as I sat in my jungle oasis here in Bali. I could hardly believe it…my crazy little idea had grown into something way bigger than I could ever create alone.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks!

Creativity is a gift. Nobody owns it, but it’s a part of us all. We were all born to create. It’s in our DNA. Yet creativity cannot breath in a vacuum. It requires oxygen supplied by the free flow of ideas. These ideas thrive through healthy collaborations, which requires that we surrender to them. We do not own creativity, just as we don’t own our children. What we believe to be our ideas is an illusion. Nothing is ever truly new or unique. Everything, in a sense, is a remixing of something that already exists.

Imagine that ideas choose us, rather than the inverse.

Maybe we are the lucky recipients; picking up on inspiration from various inputs and synthesizing them in a unique way. But, what if there are others out there, just like us, picking up on similar stimulus and synthesizing similarly. This would clearly explain the decade+ of instances where I encounter others with nearly identical ideas to ‘mine’.

From this perspective, I clearly don’t own these ideas, as they are shared by many. Like any great idea, it takes many brilliant minds swarming around it to thrive as creation living independently in the world. If we’re lucky, they take on a life of their own and operate as an autonomous organism being guided by a community of aligned individuals. This is the case with Co-Liv and countless organizations.

While I co-parented Co-Liv into formation, it wasn’t until I released it that began to experience exponential growth. The key insight here is attachment. When I/we are attached to ‘our’ ideas, we constrict their growth in fear that they might grow in unintended ways, or even worse, they may no longer rely on us anymore.

Life is playground where we learn to love unconditionally.

The joy of witnessing Co-Liv thrive in the world is infinitely more enjoyable than constricting its growth due to my own fears of inadequacy or self-doubt. Growing up is ultimately about letting go of the past so that we can grow in the present to become healthy adults.

If we desire to nurture healthy communities, we must start with the understanding that we do not own them. While they may be a reflection of us, our needs and desires, they are ideally autonomous conglomerations of sovereign individuals choosing to be interdependent for the purpose of living a more harmonious life that embodies a culture of connection.

If you are interested in learning more about how to foster cooperatively owned and governed villages that nurture authentic community, you can start by reading Born To Connect, which outlines a design template for nurturing community. If you’re interested in going deeper, check out our institute’s website pureproject.org to watch our webinar series, enroll in our mastermind group, online course & apprenticeship program and engage our consulting services.

A wellness community for conscious business development. We nurture visionary entrepreneurs with groundbreaking solutions that positively impact humanity.

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