Within the entrepreneurial sector, start-up founders tend to be replaced once the characteristic passion that was an asset in catalysing a venture is no longer seen as the best attribute to sustain and grow an organization. This is reflected in statistics. More than 50 per cent of founders are replaced as CEOs by the time a start-up raises its third round of financing: after first-round financing, 25 per cent of founders have already been replaced.
However, having a visionary founder as a figurehead is almost always an essential ingredient of success – someone who carves out a coherent vision, empowers organisational ability among others, and acts as a publicist and propagandist of a company (or community) to the outside world. Over time, a founder’s role can be disassembled and distributed, but in the beginning it’s critical, keeping a community focused on what’s important, while overcoming a lot of the pettiness that can creep into everyday life. At Damanhur, community members are dealing with the fallout of losing their leader, Falco Tarassaco, who died in 2013. As Tamerice tells me: ‘It’s a great loss. But it can also become an opportunity. Now everyone needs to become a visionary – its exciting, demanding and challenging.’
We can learn as much from failed communities as from their successful counterparts. Not least because, while many communities ‘fail’, their lineage lives on: temporal and short-lived experiments in community have acted as powerful provocations for mainstream society. For example, the ideas of universal and compulsory education, and town meetings, were pioneered by the Puritans. City planning and architecture, likewise, owes much to utopian dreamers. Early utopian communities also sought to incubate certain virtues that would later become part of a mainstream ethos. Concerns with inequality, for example, or the abolition of slavery, religious freedom, and a focus on universal education were all notions pioneered in failed utopias.
Advances in the science of management make it easier to collaborate, manage projects and make collective decisions.
In this way, intentional communities and utopias can serve as short-lived petri dishes for emergent culture. The Findhorn Foundation has been home to several hundred people, but the number of those touched by the community runs to millions. Similarly Enspiral, despite being remotely nestled in Wellington, is now influencing communities around the world by exporting best practices and software tools such as Loomio, for decentralised decision-making, and Cobudget for managing finances within communities and groups.
Today’s experiments in intentional communities benefit from the ease with which best practice and know-how can travel digitally. Experience, wisdom and insight can be shared with a click. Moreover, advances in the science of management have come a long way since the early days of utopian communes, making it easier to collaborate, manage projects and make collective decisions.