I spent last week in an immersive personal development / coaching / business development retreat with a colleague, which spurred me to some new insights and opinions about collective intelligence, co-creation, and the general pursuit of goals and growth in life.

The hosts were the same team that ran a culture-hacking bootcamp at Agile Boston a few months back, who were kind enough to invite us to Seattle to be facilitated through a longer team alignment process together.

I went in with curiosity moreso than expectations, having a general understanding that we would do some kind of work that would clarify our agreements as well as sketch potential business models and strategies. I found myself a bit surprised by the deep dive we took into exploring emotions and desires as the entrypoint for the sessions.

Exploring Personal Alignment

There was a bit of suggested prework to consider before we arrived, including these questions:

1. Contemplate these three things and their relationship to you and each other
a. Wanting
b. Seeing
c. Doing

2. Contemplate these two things
a. Loving
b. Collaborating

3. What is your alignment? (ex. Self-Awareness, Self-Care, Passion, Integrity, Courage, Ease)

<The personal alignment exercise was a fundamental piece of the process. The idea is to penetrate deeply into your desires, find out what’s blocking you from getting what you want, and then choosing a virtue (your alignment) that, if you had it, would shatter those blocks.>

4. What are evidences that you have mastered your alignment in any of the following timeframes:
a. now
b. 1 year
c. 5 years
d. 20 years

5. If you had no blocks, what would you create with your work?

6. If you had no blocks, what would you create with your work together?

7. What blocks you in your work creations?

8. What is a description of how the world would be changed after your work was done? What is your work moving towards, the ideal? (ex. sustainable cities, poverty eradicated, universal free education)

I spent several hours contemplating these questions and drafting out answers, which turned out to be an enlightening exercise into understanding my deep values, and what I want to embody and exude in the world.

As the week unfolded, we dug into these questions and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable enough to talk about the blocks that have prevented us from embracing our greatness — all self-sabotaging fictions: I don’t deserve success, I’m not good enough, people won’t care about what I have to offer, my ideas suck, money is evil, and on and on.

Raising awareness about our cognitive and emotional issues, and being able to identify and name them was stage one.

Evidence of Self-Mastery

The real insights for me came when I chose my personal alignment virtue, and started really applying it over the course of the day every day, and reflecting upon the evidences that I was working towards its mastery.

The virtue I chose was Self-Love. It was the most powerful all-encompassing concept I could think of which, should I master it, would overcome the obstacles that were blocking me most at this time.

The assignment was to write, in specific and measurable terms, the long-term evidence that the alignment virtue was being cultivated. These statements would answer the question: What is being done differently?

My first pass at answering the question returned pleasant, yet abstract results:

“I pursue activities on a daily basis that make me feel alive.”

“I am very clear on what I want, and communicate it effectively to others.”

“I don’t feel guilty when I put myself first.”

“I listen to my body and my energy.”

“I honor my needs for emotional intimacy and passion.”

While these all describe what I would be doing if I were practicing Self-Love daily, there is nothing measurable here. So I went in for a second pass:

“I spend at least an hour 3x/wk doing mind/body self-care (yoga, meditation, hiking, etc)”

“I write down my intentions at the beginning of each week. At the end of the week, I write a reflection of how aligned my actions were to my stated intentions, what I did that worked, what didn’t, and what I’ll do next time to be more effective.”

“I check-in daily with my thoughts and emotions and write them down, tracking the ebbs and flows of my energetic states, and gauging their relationship to my productivity and happiness.”

Much better.

I decided committing to these three statements was plenty for now.

Over the course of the following days, I found myself checking my decision-making against its relationship to Self-Love and my commitments. (“What do I really want? How is this decision serving my highest and best? Will this decision move me closer towards my goals?”)

It was almost shocking for me to discover the amount of actions I take (and thoughts I have) that are in direct conflict with both my stated intentions and my best interest. Furthermore, because I had raised my awareness of this behavior in myself, I began to notice it very clearly in my friends and colleagues as well.

It began to feel like we were all broadcasting a lot more noise to each other than signal.

And so I wondered:

How often do we stand in our own way of getting things accomplished? How clear are we *really* on knowing what we want and how to articulate this information to others?

How does this impact our capacity for fluid, effortless teamwork and collaboration? How does it enable or prevent each participant in a co-creative effort to derive value towards their personal goals and desires?


A Web of Commitment

The week culminated in a commitment made between my colleague and myself, one that works to address the above questions.

We shared our personal alignment virtue with each other, as well as the evidences we would begin demonstrating towards its mastery. We then made a request, an ask for help, to find out if we could rely on each to be there for us as we worked towards our personal mastery. Essentially it was like establishing a peer-to-peer coaching relationship, or the type of fellowship members of AA make, or like starting a version of the mutual improvement club that was Benjamin Franklin’s Junto.

Though the week was peppered with brainstorming and business model generation, the greatest value was in this social contract created between us. Sealed with a hug instead of a signature, it was a loving commitment to supporting each other’s personal growth and development.


The formula of setting clear intentions, articulating what you want, making choices that support those intentions, and fostering a support network to empower you is a design process that’s certainly not new, but it does seem uncommon as a mainstream practice. We can look for guidance in places like Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, the personal empowerment material by Anthony Robbins, and in literature from ancient wisdom traditions, secret societies, and the occult. It’s a method successful people have been using to manifest things for thousands of years.

My current line of inquiry is in discovering what happens when you gather a group of people who operate at this very conscious level, and bring them together in co-creation.

What kind of creativity and performance can be demonstrated by a team of people who make a commitment to their own development, and to the support of the development of each other?

I’ve been experimenting with a group of around 130 people to form an open enterprise, under the premise that we would all be sovereign and autonomous free agents, then cluster together around projects and initiatives, then disband.

The theory has been a bit different than the practice so far, and I’m positing that it is related to the fact that we are not all fundamentally clear on our personal intentions and deeply knowing what we want, and so it’s difficult to come together and form a shared vision within projects that benefits and brings value to us all.

As a recent example, five of us came together to design and organize an event. Each of us came to the table with our own ideas about what that event could be. These ideas weren’t necessarily well-articulated statements about how the event would accelerate our own personal goals and desires, but rather ideas of what would make a cool event.

Some of these cool ideas were stronger than others, and so a type of coercion and co-opting of vision began to take place. (not with any ill intent, of course, but it happened nonetheless)

Ultimately, because we had been unable to clearly establish what each of us wanted, it was impossible to take that information we didn’t have and co-create it into a shared vision that we could all “buy into.”

The energy wasn’t building or inspiring us, and it began to feel heavy and burdensome instead of frictionless and light.

We abandoned the event.

I’m seeing a relationship now between personal alignment and group flow, and don’t see how we can really have genius-level high-performance teams and output if we don’t each fundamentally know what we want and how to ask for help to be supported in our personal goals.

I’m now starting a new series of experiments with a small group, with each of us very clear on our intentions, and all of us committed to each other’s mutual improvement.

This seems like a wise way to show love and respect for each other, while working towards building something great together.

I’ll keep you posted on progress as it unfolds.

images via sacred rose yoga blog & dynamic self mastery