CICOLAB — is a peer-to-peer idea incubator (aka a “change tank”) for systems innovators who believe that humanity needs to make a major paradigm shift from out-of-date and unsustainable economic, social, agricultural, and technical models to new ones that emphasize thriving ecosystems.  As deep visionaries from different disciplines, we seek to modernize underlying systems that most people either don’t even see or assume to be natural and inevitable.  We are co-designing science-backed methodologies to bring radically innovative ideas from eggs, to chrysalises, to caterpillars, and then to beautiful butterflies that can fly away as fully functioning businesses.

What are Systems Innovators and what Makes us Different?

  1. Like activists, we want to change the world.  
    Yet we prefer to work towards specific, targeted positive changemaking goals rather than focusing on removing or reducing what we don’t like. As the quintessential Systems Innovator Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”


  2. Like entrepreneurs, we love to invent and build things.
    However, we struggle to fit our square pegs into the round holes of business model canvases and 30-second elevator pitches. This is often because we are trying to solve wicked problems or messes, which have a far higher level of complexity than "problems". The ideas and elaborate solutions we envision would bring massive value and positive impact to many people at once rather than concentrated value for a few people.


  3. Like academics, we love scholarship and crap detection.
    But as we question existing meta-systems like capitalism, our ideas are often too different from accepted sociocultural norms to fit into the conformist environment and siloed department structure of most universities.


  4. Like artists, healers, and musicians, most of us have a creative side.
    Because we want to make change at scale, however, we are often unsatisfied doing just one thing. Most of us are polymaths, people who are intelligent in multiple areas. Our ability to understand and connect diverse subjects, combined with our awareness of systems, give us special insights into how to conduct systemic change.

Systems Innovators are some of the brightest, most positive and creative people in the world, but we often go through life feeling different and struggle to fit in and be understood. CICOLAB has spent the last year finding and gathering together members of our tribe. We are re-imagining governance, democracy, education, and technology at their very core to produce new paradigms that in turn produce win-win-win situations benefiting not only the parties involved, but also planetary evolution. 

Using Collective Intelligence to Amplify Our Potential

CICOLAB starts with collective intelligence, which is the ability of groups to achieve more than the sum of our individual parts by collaborating effectively. The essence of collective intelligence is to form a view of the whole based on gathering and applying very different perspectives, which is why we invite academics, activists, storytellers, healers, artists, teachers, technologists and business innovators to participate in our discussions. Every week we curate and moderate rich roundtable conversations with multifaceted people.

Image by Levi Midnight

Knowledge that Builds on Itself

A critical aspect of collective intelligence is forming a body of knowledge so that conversations can build on each other over time to become substantially smarter. Because of this, we record our weekly discussions and publish the recordings, transcripts, chats, notes, and video wraps for every session. Everything (including highlighted audio transcriptions) is put into an accessible knowledge repository so that newcomers are able to see how we have collectively formed our current hypotheses. See our CICOLAB Cultural Handbook to get oriented to the many things we are doing in the social innovation space.

As a group, we try to exercise discipline by constantly incorporating the ideas we generate back into our own cultural norms and evolving systemic processes, instead of letting the knowledge dissipate into the atmosphere. As we develop this body of wisdom through conversations, we plan to supercharge our human processes through AI, by automating the methods we find helpful at a social level through continuous experimentation of new procedures and technologies. This mashup of collective intelligence and machine learning is called Collective SuperIntelligence (CSI). Because technology should always start with human intelligence, we test emerging ideas on the ground to make sure they work as planned before turning them into digital algorithms.

Design for Emergence

CICOLAB has a design philosophy unique from most incubators. We design environments that encourage emergence and discoverability, where good ideas materialize from the bottom up and find each other, making it much easier for people to express who they are and identify their project’s function and mission. (To fully understand discoverability, listen to this conversation in which Jack Park tells Lauren Nignon that her idea of a “rapid learning network” is actually an older idea of Douglas Engelbart called “co-evolution.” It was only after a long discussion that it was apparent that these two ideas were similar. This kind of intelligence is exactly what Google still lacks). Through dozens of conversations with experts in collective intelligence, we have developed a set of tools, peer-to-peer methodologies and conceptual frameworks to bootstrap a collectively wise network with focus and intention.

Our culture is one of continuous experimentation, revision, feedback and co-evolution. We are building a rapid learning network, in which we are responding to and teaching each other and using our mistakes as knowledge blocks for ourselves and others to stand upon.

Learning from each other’s mistakes can only happen when we feel comfortable being vulnerable enough to share our failures. However, we reject the concept of the “safe space” where everyone is cautious of triggering others. To encourage the kind of atmosphere where we can feel okay to share our mistakes with the network yet maintain a vibrant atmosphere where it’s safe to try crazy ideas, risk failure, and make jokes, we’ve created what we call a “Brave Space”.

The "Lab" of CICOLAB

CICOLAB is also a virtual laboratory for experimentation and applied research, where we encourage members from all discliplines to think like scientists. This means we are attempting to bake into our culture (i) the act of forming tacit hypotheses, (ii) testing our assumptions early and often, and (iii) making viewable knowledge trails for other members, so everyone can understand and follow our learning journeys — including the errors we’ve already made. 

We’re not simply announcing that we are a lab; we are continuously iterating and evolving our methods to build an increasingly smarter network through the daily practice of critiques, revisions, trying out each other’s inventions, testing, documenting, reviewing, and feeding back. Check out our “Story of the Deep Profiles”, a template for a learning journey that shows the history of a CICOLAB idea.

Our culture is one of continuous experimentation, revision, feedback and co-evolution. We are building a rapid learning network, in which we are responding to and teaching each other and using our mistakes as knowledge blocks for ourselves and others to stand upon.

Image by Francesco Lo Giudice

Collaborative Reconcilation

One of the things holding back peer-to-peer organizing and technology is the lack of effective conflict resolution mechanisms, which we’ve renamed “collaborative reconciliation” to avoid the mindset that there’s someone to blame for a social problem. Led by Ken Homer, we  are using collective intelligence to get project groups to define their own social norms and figure out how they can use each of their unique abilities to take a part in the social cohesion of the group.