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Virtual Brain Trust Cooperative
Tapping the Cognitive Surplus
Tapping the Cognitive Surplus


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Note:  This is a long post I wrote earlier today on the new private community for the VBTC.   It describes why this organization was formed and why we decided to relaunch.   It is still small, just 30 some members at this writing, but we have some amazing people.   Please consider joining us if you like what we are doing and would like to participate.   Request an invitation at the attached link   

Welcome to the Virtual Brain Trust Community. 

I want to take a few minutes to welcome new members to this relaunch of the Virtual Brain Trust Cooperative.  

If you have never heard of this initiative, it was an attempt - first tried way back on Google Buzz in the middle of the global financial system meltdown.  I noticed that many people were hurting badly during this serious recession, and many were facing these difficulties alone. 

I was spurred into action when a friend wrote me - who had some serious but not totally insurmountable problems - including some legal issues that prevented her from getting a passport.  She wanted to "escape from the United States" and wanted me to advise her on how to get on some kind of ship out of Mexico to points unknown.  That struck me as being an extremely drastic approach, but like many of us, she felt "trapped" - she was at the end of her rope and couldn't see a way out.  

I wanted to do something, but how could I help?   I have few resources myself, and in fact need help just as badly as anyone else.  What could I possibly do without money or resources?  What could I contribute? Maybe just as important, how could I help myself?

Then I came up with a thought experiment.  Suppose you had a multidisciplinary team of extremely smart people brainstorming on your behalf.  They would not give you any money, but once a week they would meet in a real world conference room and try to come up with ideas and approaches to help you with your situation.  Imagine almost a "Manhattan type project" with the best minds in the country or world trying to figure out the best way to help you,  Imagine that this group is totally dedicated to your success and working exclusively in your interest.  If such a scenario could be made to actually happen, could your situation improve?  It is hard to imagine that it would not. 

Now, in the real world, there is no way we could get such a team of brilliant people working and thinking on our behalf  - but could we do something like that?  We have each other - most of us are pretty smart - all of us have unique talents - what if we found a way to work together and actually help each other for mutual benefit.  Far too many of us are working alone - surely we could make some amazing things happen, or at the very least improve things a bit.  

But how?  I realized this was probably not a matter of "technology" - there is great technology everywhere these days, this was a problem of organization.  Still, there are organizations everywhere that are trying to help people in need - some of them do good things, but often they are of limited effectiveness.   

Now, it happens that I studied organizations quite extensively in grad school. I never really used my "Master of Public Administration" degree - I got a job at a Fortune 500 right after I left school, but I remembered at least some of what I learned and this particular area of study puts a huge emphasis on "Organizational Theory and Practice" - all the different ways of organizing human activity. I learned about bureaucracies, and hierarchies, city and state organizations, government management structures used by cities and state, corporate government structures, non-profits, business associations and NGOs, More modern "matrix organizations and "mission based" organizations, and informal organizations including "good ol boy" networks and even the organization of street gangs.     

One of my professors was interested in terrorism and terrorist organizations. This was many years ago, well before 9/11 - but I still hear him interviewed on the radio occasionally    He was just developing this interest then and taught us about "cell structures". This was the organizational structure first used by the French resistance  during World War II that was later adapted by terrorist organizations.  From this professor  and a number of other sources, I have learned that they have the following basic characteristics: 

1. They are dedicated to a cause.
2. They have a code of honor 
3. They are secret and usually invisible to the outside world.
4. Outside communication is usually limited to one member of the cell.

Could this be the key?  Could an organizational structure used with such devastating effectiveness against my country be "re-engineered" as a force of good?  Think about it.  The cell structure is designed to give an advantage to a smaller less powerful group that is acting in opposition to a much larger and more powerful organization.   Wouldn't that be a perfect structure to use to give small businesses and individuals "an edge" in facing the challenges of a severe economic downturn when the only ones who seem to be winning are big organizations and those associated with them.

So we tried it.  Twice actually, once on Google Buzz and a second time on Google Plus.  At its height, there were never more than about 30 people actively involved, though several hundred more seemed to be sincerely interested, and to this day I still get messages from people expressing what a good idea they think it is - sometimes with a great deal of intensity.   

So what happened?  Well, it worked, at least partly.  Some of the teams that were formed really did make progress - people helped each other in significant ways, and some really creative ideas were generated on how to move them forward.  Other teams languished and not much happened - almost always because the person whose team it was didn't put enough effort into it.  In all, we never got that quality that for Internet ventures they call "traction".   Why was this?  I have though about it, and I realized there were probably three reasons: 

1.  Too much depended on me.  I knew this could be a possibility but was unable from preventing it from happening anyway.  We had some drama situations that were thrown at me that took a lot out of me, and I was never able to generate enough momentum to make this more self sustaining.  My own life situation was not that great - it still isn't but I was trying to make it work all the time - too much really.  I then got a job managing a small motel and didn't have the time to put into it.  It was never formally shut down it just became inactive, though some of the people who formed teams may still be working together.  

2,  Inadequate Technology.  To make this work, we needed some kind of "group" system that was absolutely secure and allowed good communications between team members.  Google Buzz didn't really have this, and neither did Google Plus.  A few people on Google Plus tried to use private shared circles to manage their teams, but this had many disadvantages.  With both attempts  we recommended Google Groups, which did have the right kind of security, but was a little awkward to use - plus you had to leave whatever network you were on to see the posts there - it just didn't work very well.  I even tried to develop my own system using open source software, and it did work, but it was a little complex to use, it it also never gained "traction".

3.  Not enough people.  I always thought to make this work, a certain "critical mass" number of interested people would be needed.  I am not sure what that number is, but I think there was some number - and while we may have been close, I don't think we ever quite got there.  We could have also used some kind of "matching system" to help with the team formation, but it probably wasn't absolutely necessary - people are pretty good at matching through their social connections, but it would have been nice. I actually did have a matching technology  but as I said, it was on a different system that was difficult to use. 

So could it work this time?  Let's look at the reasons it didn't work as well as expected the other times in reverse order. Number 3 - not enough people.  When I tried this on Google Buzz I only had about 500 followers, and when I first tried it on Google Plus a few thousand.  Now I have almost 40,000 highly interconnected followers.  The "Entrepreneurs, Self-Employed & Small Business" community I started there has almost 9,000 members - and is growing at about 100 new members a day, and of course, all of you have your own networks and followers.  In this regard, I think we have a much better shot this time.  

Number 2 - inadequate technology.  As I mentioned, Google Groups didn't quite cut it, nor did the system I built.  Now we have Google Communities - a far superior technology that can be used for our private groups, and it is right at our fingertips.  More significantly, we now have "hangouts" for face to face communications  The possibilities for using hangouts for this kind of collaboration and team formation are really exciting and I think we haven't even begun to tap the potential of this technology.  

Then of course, there is number i - me.  I am still here, and I still have the same flaws and inadequacies, but I think this weakness can be mitigated somewhat with you - with your help, support and leadership.  I think we can make it happen this time. 

So let's give it another shot.  Third time is a charm, right?  In the earlier attempts to make this work, we really did learn a great deal.  We learned what worked, and what didn't work, and even to a certain extent came up with language and a set of guidelines to make it work better.  I am not saying I have all the answers though - I definitely don't - and at a certain point, the knowledge we gained in the earlier attempts will be spent, and we will be steering this ship together.  

I am glad you joined us here, and took the time to read this long post.  By working together, I think we can make some incredible things happen. 
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The Virtual Brain Trust Cooperative fell into a period of inactivity, but it never quite died - its embers were glowing brightly just below the surface and it looks like the flame might just start burning again.  

We are relaunching with vastly improved technology possibly even more intense interest. For the past few weeks, We have been discussing similar approaches as a way to help small business on the "Entrepreneurs, Self-Employed & Small Business" community as described in the post below. A private community has now been established to manage this initiative.  Comment here if you would like an invitation to this community.  Remember, this is only for people who are volunteering a bit of their "brain power" to help other people,and may in turn want some help themselves.   

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Virtual Advisory Program Starting.  I wanted to mention that we are just getting started on our "Virtual Advisory Teams" program this morning on a private community.   If you are looking for team members, partners or collaborators, please let me know.   Also, if you are willing to be a mentor or adviser to small businesses please let me know that also - if you already did you will be contacted shortly.    

Note:  This is only for people who are looking for team members or advisors or people willing to provide at least some advisory services without charge.    This is not for people who are "just curious" and it is definitely not for people who see it as an opportunity to sell their services.  In general, if you are able to find team members or advisers through this initiative, you should at least be open to the possibility of helping other members.     If that fits, comment here and I will send you an invitation to this private community. 
Virtual Teams and Virtual Accelerator

I want to make a quick post to clarify the difference between two initiates I have been working on through this community: "virtual advisory teams" and a "virtual accelerator for micro-enterprise" - they are related, but the kind and level of participation will be different, so let me explain:

Virtual Advisory Teams.  I have long believed that too many of us are working alone, without the benefit of the sea of brainpower that surrounds us, and that if we found more effective ways of working together - for our mutual benefit, we could make amazing things happen.  We will be helping to facilitate team formation, for anyone who wants it, using techniques we developed on the "Virtual Brain Trust Cooperative" except with streamlined methods and vastly improved technology.  Hangout, for example, didn't exist when that was active.  There are no limits or preconditions on joining this program - and we are also actively looking for mentors and advisors willing to help - if you are, let us know here: - and please indicate on this post if you are interested in forming your own team and/or are willing to volunteer on another team.  We already have a shared circle of people interested and will probably be sharing some private communications with them later this week, so let us know if you are interested.  

Virtual Accelerator for Microenterprise.  I am constantly reading in my business feeds about venture accelerators like Y-Combinator and Techstars, and how much success the elite few entrepreneurs of those programs become.  I react with envy, but at the same time I know I have no chance of ever getting in an accelerator like that.  I have become a little tired of feeling like tiny Tim looking through the window at the turkey - I want the turkey.  During that Stanford Entrepreneurial Technology course I took, we reviewed the Startup Weekend organization and explored the possibility of a "Virtual Startup Weekend" type event and did some thinking on the format it should take - we even did a "multi-hangout" business event to test some of the concept, so have gained some experience in this. 

The exact form of this accelerator has not been decided, but the length and starting time of the first session has been.  It will be starting next Monday, February 18, one week from today, and will be lasting for a period of three weeks.  The time commitment  for this will be flexible but there will be some "level-of-effort commitment"  and this is not necessarily open to everyone.   There is no charge for this first session, we reserve the right to be a little picky.  The application process, however,is basically just convincing us that you are willing to contribute and will try to make it work.  

This might be the first time anyone has tried a "virtual accelerator" of this type - so the first participants in this program will be the advance guard of something that could be very cool.   Essentially, we will be accelerating ourselves, and I think we can pull it off, but there are some space/ bandwidth limits - the first class is probably going to be limited to about 20 participants.   I will be looking for those 20 this week, so let me know if you know of any worthy entrepreneurs or microventures that you think might benefit.  
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Hangout Tomorrow: 4:00PM PST, 7:00PM EST, 12:00AM GMT

Crowd Funding Discussion.

There will be a hangout tomorrow hosted by the VBT to discuss trends and methods of "crowd funding". This will be a "discussion" - not a presentation - we will compare notes about what we all currently now about this method of fundraising including the best sites and resources, legal issues, future trends and how to prepare your project or venture for crowd funding. This will build on some of the research +Alister Macintyre has done on this for the VBT so please be prepared to discuss your own project or venture during this meeting. This hangout is open to all, but there seems to be considerable interest so please contact me (Rob Gordon) for an invitation in case room runs out. Hope to see you tomorrow.
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Seeking Employment or Contract Opportunities. One of the suggestions that came out of the hangout we had for the Virtual Brain Trust Cooperative is that we share information about people looking for work so people offering jobs can find them here, and also so they can also better find each other to strategize and share ideas and perhaps contacts and resources.

The site does have that information in our member database but we are also trying to make the best use of Google+ so will be sharing a circle of employment seekers for anyone who wants to be included. I don't want to include anyone in this circle without getting their permission first so please comment here if you would like to be included or simply +1 this post. Feel free to reshare this post. I will publish the circle as soon as we have a decent number of people - probably in about a week.

p.s. If you are reading this through a reshare - be sure you follow the Virtual Brain Trust Google+ page - that is where we will publish the circle.

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Save this date:

Business Meeting Tuesday: 11:00AM PST, 2:00PM EST, 7:00PM GMT

What: First in a series to discuss the business & operations of the VBT

Where: A Google+ hangout

Who: Open to all VBT members, defined here as anyone who is following the VBT Google+ Page

Please try to make room in your calendar for a Google+ hangout this Tuesday. This will be a "discussion" - not a series of proclamations but will have the following specific agenda. Hope you can make it, but if not I am planning another for Thursday at 4:00 PST. Try to make this one though - I will try to keep it to about 30 minutes but if we are making progress I may let it go a bit longer than this.


1, The Mission of the VBT - discussion

2. Activities Status Updates
-VBT Site development
-VBT online presence - Google+ page, Google groups, etc
-Member Base
-Knowledge Base

3. VBT Team Formation

-Teams & Advisory Committees - lessons learned
-Team Operations - starting and managing your team
-Facilitating and Encouraging Team Formation
-Volunteering on other teams - how to help
4. Cooperative Action and Collaboration

-Business Planning Cooperation
-Work Exchange Agreements
-Technologies, document sharing, resource sharing, etc
-Special Purpose Hangouts - for example a series of hangouts for small startups
-Any other ideas anyone wants to bring to the table

5. The Future of the VBT - Plans for the coming year.

If you do not have a camera join us by microphone only, and if you don't have a microphone join us by chat - we will read your questions. Hope to see you all there.
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Someone needs our help. As I think you know, we normally don't ask people for donations with the VBT. We are looking for your brains, not your money. If a situation arises, however, where a small amount of money can have a big impact, we are not adverse to asking.

One such situation has recently come to my attention. One of our members, who has been very forthright about his struggles with mental illness and previous homelessness revealed in some post comments that he does not have a computer. This was noticed by +Meg Tufano who offered to donate $100 towards the purchase of a computer if we can find others to also make a donations and collect enough too buy a decent machine. This particular member is no dummy - quite the opposite. In fact, he is a network engineer who has worked with a number of Fortune 500 clients, and also has expressed a desire to do more writing - something that is very difficult to do when you have to access the Internet from a cell phone.

Let's see if we can try to give him a hand. Do you have a bit of extra money burning a hole in your pocket? - this is a good cause. Is there anyone out there willing to match Meg's generous offer? Even a smaller amount - $10 or $20 would help us get there. Or possibly someone has an older - but decent - computer they are willing to donate? Please contact Meg - she will be coordinating this and will collect any funds, buy, ship and insure the computer. She is a college professor so can also get educations discounts for computer equipment.

Don't worry if you can't donate at this time - lots of us are tight at the moment, but maybe you could reshare this post or maybe you know someone else who could help? I haven't interacted a great deal with the particular person who needs just a little hand up, but from what I have my impression is that he is a smart and caring person, who is willing to help others, so let's see what we can do.

Again, contact Meg with any offers, questions or ideas you might have about this. Any checks written for this will be made out to her so she can use her educational discount to buy the computer. Thank you for considering this.
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Greetings all,

I hope everyone's year is off to a good start. My apologies if my leadership of this initiative has been somewhat lacking of late. It was important that I start my own VBT team and not just tell other people that is what they should be doing. I don't want to pretend that this is easy - it really does take some effort, but the benefits once you get it going are well worth it. My life and business is in horrible disarray at the moment and my team, which is really just getting going, has already helped me a great deal in just the brief time since it started.

Anyway, I am not posting this to talk about myself. One of our members who has been extremely supportive of the VBT concept from the very start now would like to form his own VBT team. +Brandon Horton (aka Reed Richards) is an aspiring entrepreneur who lives in Chicago. He works for a trade school where he is the head of Student Services, and in his spare time volunteers to provide resume revision/rebuilding services for people who need his help.

Brandon has an awesome idea for a group he calls "Entrepreneurs for a Better Community" - a proposed network of entrepreneurs who would volunteer on community projects. He recently posted on the VBT Google Groups site that he now wants to start a group to advise him on bringing grassroots business idea to fruition and he also mentioned an entrepreneurs completion with a prize of $10,000 in startup that he would like to enter. He is now looking to start and build his team and is looking for members with small business, non-profit, and community outreach experience. To see his detailed request, please join the VBT Group or contact him directly.

Of course, just volunteering to be on his team does not necessarily mean you will be selected. Forming these little teams, each dedicated to the success of an individual, is the most important thing we are doing, and we encourage members to be highly selective in picking their team members. Be sure to let us know if you would like your own VBT team. You will have to do your part, of course, but we will do our best to help.

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Some excellent, but simple and common sense advice on how to pick a co-founder for those with startup ventures.
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Reminder - the main discussion for the VBT is moving to Google Groups. We are just getting started there so if you are interesting in participating in this group further please join the Google Groups for it at the link below. Since it is a listserv, make sure you have a method to manage the email generated there. It is not too heavy yet, but I suspect it will be. I like the multiple email boxes you can set up in Gmail labs, but use whatever method works best for you. I wouldn't turn off alerts entirely though - it is easy to forget to revisit a "web only" service.

We are going to continue the development and build out of the site, but this is a quick way to get started - and speaking of which, here is a post I just made on that forum that describes one method of getting going:
Notes on Getting Started with the VBT

Hi Everyone, thanks for your participation here and sorry for my
absense. I wanted to talk a bit about how to get started and involved
in the VBT, and though we have written about it before, it has come up
many times. The best, and quickest, way to get involved here is
simply by forming your own VBT team. This could not only help you,
it could also give you some valuable experience on how to help other
people here, as teams begin to form. Here is a general roadmap of the
steps you can follow to get this going.

1. Set up your VBT Team group. All this means is that you pick a
technology that works for you as a place for your VBT team to
privately communicate. It really doesn't even matter what technology
you use, as long as only people in that group can see the information
you post there. As you may know, we have set up a groups system on
the VBT site, but since not everyone is a member there yet feel free
to use some other system. Google Groups - the system we are using
here, works well, and it only takes a minute or two to set up a
group. Since we have lots of Google+ users here, some people are
simply using a Google+ discussion thread or publishing a small shared
circle privately there. Of course, when you first set up your VBT
Team system, you will probably be the only one in it, but this will be
the first step in getting yourself in the mind set that you can have
your very own brain trust working on your behalf.

2. Imaging your Dream Team. Take a bit of time to look at your own
situation and where you want to go, and think of the kinds of people -
the skills and capabilities, who would be on your ideal team. Write
this down, and be sure to let your imagination go wild. If you had a
team of geniouses thinking on your behalf, what kind of geniouses
would they be? Save this document - it will later become part of your
situation report.

3. Recruit a Coordinator (optional). Next, find someone to help you
build your team. Some people are skipping this step and still having
good results, but eventually it is good to have someone in this role.
The coordinator acts as your "chief of staff" - helps you recruit new
members - possibly eliminate ones who aren't working out, is your
confidentate and should be unequivocably "on your side". Most people
prefer someone they know well for this role, while ohers actually
prefer someone they don't know well. Even if you choose to not use a
coordiator at first, you still have to find that first person to get
you going on this. Some more (rough) notes on the role of the
coordinator can be found at this link

4. Write a Situation Report. Without a doubt, the toughest
assignment you will have here. As you form your team, however, your
VBT team will need this information to give you ideas and advice.
Some notes on how to write your situation report can be found at this

5. Recruit your team. Once you have your VBT Team system set up, and
have a coordinaor or at least one other member, you will need to start
recruiting the rest of your team. In fact, it really isn't a team
until you get that third member. Use your "dream team" notes to guide
you in this, though of course you won't get a real world team that
matches that idealized team, but you should find that exercise was
helpful in helping you select people. Remember, your team is to act
solely and exclusively in YOUR interest, and everything revealed in
those disussions MUST be kept confidential. I think it is best if the
team doesn't jump in right away with advice, but rather learns as much
as they can about you and what you are doing first and they should be
NONJUDGEMENTAL. Some rough notes on the role of the team members can
be found here:

6. Participate. Your team won't be able to help you if you don't
participate. There is an issue of personal responsibility here -
nothing will happen unless you work to make it happen. I am on one
team where the Client seems to be getting good results simply by
posting a status update of her plans and accomplishments every few
days as a comment on a Google+ post. Team members don't even
necessarily comment everytime - sometimes they just +1 the comment,
but we are beginning to learn more about the plans and approach of
this person, and when advice is given, I think it is of higher
quality. For some of your own responsibilites in managing your VBT
Team, please see this link:
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I would like to again thank everyone again for your interest in the VBT and to annouce a change we are making. As you may know, we first lauched this initiative on Google Buzz and then relaunched it on Google+. When Google announced its Google Pages product, we established this page for the VBT and quickly got over 700 people to follow us here, and that number continues to grow.

There are a few problems with this though. First, the people who are following this page have a wide range in levels of interest - some are intensely interested and involved, others just mildly interested and some don't even really know what we are doing - they have followed this page because someone put it in a shared circle that they added to their stream.

A bigger problem is that that there is really no way for people to participate on a Google+ page except by commenting on posts that one of the administrators makes. The same is true for the shared circles - all you can really do is follow the streams of the people we put in those circles which is of limited usefulness.

For this reason, we are going to transfer the main discussion for this group from and the VBT page to a groups we set up during the first launch of this effort. The obvious advantage is that you will be able to initiate a post, and not just respond to one. People seem like ths simplicity and availability of Google Groups so it should also be a good starting point for new members and will give us greater range and hopefully more involvement.

We may shut down the main discussion forum on the VBT site, but will keep some of the specialized discussions and absolutely will continue its buildout and development. There are a few things we do better there - the profiles are more set up for our needs, the matching technology works fairly well, some of our groups technology has good functionality and our new shared directory technology looks promising. We will continue to integrate Google and other technologies their whenever it is to our advantage and still encourage you to join that site. We will also still be using our Google+ page, but probably only for major announcements- it is not well set up for discussions or member involvement.

Therefore, effective immediately the main discussion for the VBT is being transferred to this Google Group. It will be a moderated group - for our purposes it has to be, but should give you a great deal more flexibility in how you manage your account, and more freedom to express your opinions A link on this site will allow you to request an invitation and we will activate them as soon as we see them:

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