The Centre for Social Innovation is a strange new beast in the corporate landscape. A shared work environment for mission-driven entrepreneurs and organizations, it is one part sanctuary, one part launching pad and two parts home.
As an invisible minority of the Viking-Canadian variety, a group characterized by an absence of the cooperation gene, I find the environment both thrilling and challenging. I had always imagined that the way to improve things, to save forests for instance, was to get rich, buy up acres of land and sit on them. It turns out this is the long way around. While I come up with one new business plan after another, groups like those at the CSI have saved vast tracts of the Canadian landscape through partnerships with government, industry and the private sector.
As I poke around and learn who’s who I see that these groups are made of individuals who are smart, nice and sincere and I begin to feel like I missed out on being part of it, like I’d been wanting to, but just didn’t see it going on all around me. I feel like all the forests are saved already (editors note: they aren’t) and as I wonder why I wasn’t invited to the party, I realize that the unifying characteristic of all these people is a decided tendency towards cooperation.
With six siblings, a family history that worships rugged individualism and a personal leadership strategy called ‘shut up and do it’ you may understand when I tell you that as soon as conversations turn toward the cooperative, my skin crawls and I want to pull my hair out. “Just stick a damn painting on the wall!” I want to scream as an impromptu hallway discussion moves into the realm of striking an art committee to form a collective to decide on a structure to resource the walls as a gallery to showcase the talent of the members. ‘And what about insurance?’ Arrrh!
People keep asking me why I am putting myself into situations where I am forced to cooperate if it makes me crazy and I wonder if other times in history favoured swift decision-making and bold action? I wonder if we are now heading into a time that favours long-term planning and equity? “They” have sometimes said that cooperation is the reason that humanity has survived the various disasters in our short history and may well be key to saving ourselves from ourselves. Survival? Self or genetic preservation? Could it be that simple?