Hugh Pinny and I invited Ben Keene of Tribe Wanted onto our podcast.
I heard Ben give a talk in London and found his story inspiring. We chatted to him for 30 minutes about his experience setting up a tribe on a pacific island with an extended online community. It’s another great example of the sort of collaboration the web makes possible, and it’s also a fabulous example of how its about high touch as well as high tech.
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You know the drill, these are rough, check against delivery, do not chew the woodwork etc.
1.00 Ben recaps the story of Tribe Wanted. Could we take an online community and give it a real world headquarters on a desert island.
2.00 How the tribal chief shook hands with Ben and turned down Survivor
3.00 Working to build a sustainable village in Fiji, where people visit for 2 weeks but sustain their membership online.
4.00 Johnnie: reading the book, it seems the idea emerged from a conversation over a beer in Manchester. How did this crazy idea happen? Ben: the idea itself was so powerful. Creating a real world community could be done; building an online community could be done; so the leap of faith was in putting the two together.
5.55 Hugh: Tourism has made visiting exotic places fairly ordinary, so this idea of participating creates more sense of adventure than just sipping cocktails on a beach. As marketing gets more sophisticated, the search for meaning gets deeper.
6.40 Ben: The range of motives of community members ranges from wanting to lie on a beach to a real search for meaning.
7.40 Pinny: Draws analogy to the shtetl in Poland or Kibbutz in Israel. What is the role of the chief in this?
8.15 Ben on the ideas of leadership in Fiji. Part of the social experiment was to create an online democracy, which – amongs other things – elects the tribe leader each month. Leaders have ranged from 19 to 60. They have to really engage with the local community, this isn’t another reality TV show.
10.05 Pinny: how are people reacting to this idea. Ben answers: inital response to the idea when we threw it out was pretty big – but a lot of people said it would never work.
11.30 Hugh talks about England’s native scepticism. Ben explains how the US reacted more positively.
12.55 Hugh asks how Ben met the island chief. Ben tells how someone on the island had foretold that the world would come to the island. They’d actually anticipated this, and put the island up for lease to help the prophecy come true.
14.30 Pinny asks about sustainability. (Will you end it and then do the book tour?)
15.20 Ben answers and talks about the future. The beginning of a much bigger story, extending the lease on the island and other ways to build on the idea.
16.45 Johnnie: sense that although Ben has led the project, in many ways it feels like the story itself has led Ben. Johnnie prompts Ben to tell the story of how explained his idea to the islanders. 17.30 Ben tells the story [it’s worth listening to, I’m not writing it up, but it involves the local narcotic, David Beckham and the best use of a Venn diagram I’m ever likely to hear.]
20.15 Johnnie asks Ben to talk about how the community, in its very early days, coped with a major island fire. Baptism of fire indeed. There was a classic difference in the way Fijians and non-Fijians responded. The locals made tea and waited for the fire to burn itself out; some of the visitors tried to take action. How this represented different ideas of what community meant – and also notions of leadership.
22.40 Johnnie asks about how the island itself is a teacher; Ben talks about how the islanders celebrate mother’s day and frame the island itself as a mother.
23.20 Pinny asks about the spiritual/religious side, how does that work out? Ben: pretty much everyone that comes seems in tune with what we’re doing. The Fijians live a fairly traditional, Christian way of life. Things seem to pan out ok.
25.15 Pinny asks whether people stay engaged. Ben says this is the biggest challenge, including adapting to the fast changing technology eg things like Facebook.
27.25 Ben talks about the power of ideas, and trying to build a life around one.
28.00 Johnnie wraps up.