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Growing the future - An organic
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Growing the future:

The Tipu Ake Lifecycle: An organic leadership model for innovative organisations.

Strong Communities have an innate sense of leadership and teamwork. Karen Laugesen and Rut Wynyard describe how natural gifts have been captured in a radical leadership framework.

Do you seek the security of seamless leadership changes?
Does flexibility elude your management style?
Is innovation from employees and management actively encouraged?

A New Zealand management model that integrates culturally diverse perspectives with a flexible approach to decision-making and change management has been developed based on the values and collective wisdom of the people of Te Whaiti.

Gifts of the land:

Te Whaiti is a small, mainly Maori community that lies between Whirinaki Forest Park and Te Urewera. It has been without employment for a generation since rainforest milling was stopped.

The natural beauty of the Whirinaki Forest area is world-renowned. However, the natural gifts of Te Whaiti extend beyond the realms of native forest to the people themselves. The strong values and leadership that hold the community firm have been put to good use for the sake of the children of Te Whaiti.

The result is a school that has transformed itself through the use of ancient values and knowledge. The school of Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi has drawn on this knowledge to move from the brink of closure seven years ago to a point today where success has become a constant.

Collective wisdom:

The values and beliefs are drawn from Toi - the historical leader of the original people of Te Whaiti. As a great discoverer and leader, Toi established advanced and peaceful communities that shared their art, knowledge, collective wisdom and technology.

The success of the school is attributed to the sharing of leadership and a collective wisdom that guides all decisions and the overall direction of the group.

The starting point for this success was in the staging of a ‘live-in’. The school Board members :

    • Gathered and performed an introspective analysis
    • Grew an awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses before looking outwards.

“It provided a catalyst from which our team truly started to function. No one wore their [leadership] hats,” said Genevieve Doherty, school principal.

Ideas to outcomes:

This collective, inclusive wisdom has now been translated into a forward-thinking management model and is ready to be shared with innovative organisations that are serious about:

    • Capitalising on the skills of their people
    • Transforming ideas into successful outcomes.

A hui / workshop held during the third weekend of November 2001 was the launch pad from which the school and local community shared their vision and wisdom with organisations eager to adopt a more holistic approach to organisational success.

Transferable concepts:

For the people of Te Whaiti the road to this success has been an unlabelled collective battle. However, when translated into a business model, their approach has been systematic, focused and is easily transferable to other organisations.

These actions and wisdom have been translated into the Tipu Ake Lifecycle with the help of volunteers, including ex pupil Peter Goldsbury, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Project Management Consultant, who acknowledges: “I feel immensely privileged to have these people [of Te Whaiti] share such powerful wisdom with me. We have been testing the model on "Leading project and Innovation in your Organisation" workshops at AUT and it has amazed me to see how readily participants from many of NZ's top organisations embrace it”

Natural framework:

Tipu Ake, meaning ‘Growing (from within) upwards (ever towards wellness)’, is based on an analogy with nature and provides a framework that concisely encapsulates current management wisdom on innovation, leadership, management, teamwork, and change.

The model is described and illustrated through pictures, diagrams, comparison with other management models, Maori concepts, organisation application examples, and a self assessment questionnaire. The aim is to satisfy many learning styles and differing applications. (The full model is downloadable at www.tipuake.org.nz)

re-germination cycle:

The differences between the Tipu Ake Lifecycle and other business models are considerable: Most contemporary business models take a linear process based path towards the achievement of objectives. Tipu Ake is cyclic and focuses on behaviours. It acknowledges the significance of returning to the ‘undercurrents’ - negative resistance that can be channeled into a re-germination process that ultimately strengthens the organisation.

The Tipu Ake path starts with leadership, the collective courage that takes the seed of a new idea forward and gathers the commitment of a team to support its growth by a common vision of wellness. This groundswell happens below the surface. “Project hero egos” or “tall poppies” are not helpful here. These germination and rooting stages are too often ignored in organisations where the focus is on structures, analytical processes and measurement.

Measurement at the process level is facilitated and tempered by the ‘sensing’ level of the model. Sensing is a wisdom-based gathering of information that focuses on building a collective view from all individual perceptions and experiences. It is this teamwork and the sharing of leadership and knowledge that grows the collective wisdom of the group.

Risk Management is the process of avoiding the destructive effect of “pests” that jeopardise upward growth. Tipu Ake goes well beyond this; its entrepreneurs - the “birds” cycle seeds back to the undercurrents to grow innovation and exploit new opportunities. If we are not proactive birds and instead we allow pests to continually drive us back to the undercurrents to stunt our growth, they turn into drip feed "poisons", like anger, aggression, apathy, fear and disrespect for diversity that stop the germination of anything new. The antidote to this is "sunlight", that external energy, information and support from our networks that encourages and challenges us to try again.

In a global world needing cultural understanding and with our environment under extreme pressure, the Maori influence and values make the model more applicable and understandable. Their concept of ORA drives the seventh level called ‘wellbeing’ which encapsulates the overall outcomes desired by the group. It is the reason why the whole cycle is initiated.

Wisdom of 'we'

During the weekend hui a comment was made that Bill Gates at Microsoft could do well to adopt the Tipu Ake Lifecycle, and may want to pay a lot to get hold of it. Chris Eketone, chairman of the school board, replied: “Tell him we don’t want his money, just ask him to give his technology for [all] our kids.”

These words illustrate the power of a collective vision that steps beyond the output-focused bottom line and is all about outcomes that lead to wellbeing, i.e. giving the children choices for their future.

The sharing of this knowledge is not about the money. It’s about the values that have led this community to such a position – of sharing, of collective wisdom, of ‘we’.

Sweet for the sweet:

There is no place for the ‘Matapiko gatekeepers’ (knowledge with-holders) within this management system. Leadership is project-based and their success relies on the degree to which people are capable of acknowledging the power of the team.

The Te Whaiti School team are humble in the face of intense organisational interest, they say:

“We have a Maori proverb: ‘A kumara never calls itself sweet - that’s for the eaters to say.”


The people of Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi share the model and invite you to taste it to help grow your own forest. They will also offer team retreats for innovative organisations wanting to learn from nature, share Tipu Ake wisdom and experiences, and sample their renowned hospitality.

In the knowledge sharing tradition of Toi, the Tipu Ake Lifecycle is in the public domain. © 2001 Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. The full model is downloadable at www.tipuake.org.nz. In return a koha (donation) to help further voluntary education and community development in the valley is appreciated please.

The writer Karen Laugesen is a 2001 Public Relations graduate from AUT. She volunteered her time on the Tipu Ake Communications team and attended the launch Hui at Te Whaiti on 17 Nov 2001. She was supported in this by Ruth Wynyard AUT Journalism graduate and David Somerfield, Photographer.

A version of this story was first published in "Employment Today" Jan/Feb 2002. It was revised in 2005 to include poisons and sunlight, new elements since added to the model.

For further technical or publication information: Peter Goldsbury 64 9 4454454 pgoldsbury@stratex.co.nz




1. NEW "Lifelong Learning - Nature's Way" - Tipu Ake as a learning model
2. UPDATE " New Tools For Growing Living Organisations and Communities" Radical tools for program management in a world of complexity and inter-dependence - builds on our paper at PMI Global Forum, Anaheim. Nov 2004
UPDATE Downloadable Tipu Ake Model now includes "The Leadership Tripod" and Mycorrhyzal Fungi Networks - Partnerships below the ground level.
4. PODCASTS Listen to Stranova and Living Systems Thinking interviews - Blog
5. VIDEO: Visit Downloadable Video Libary, interviews, stories, apply Tipu Ake
6. Thanks to those who participated in workshops "Tools for Growing Living Organisations" run in New York, London, Mid Wales UK, Finland and San Francisco during August 2005 click here for report

Helping New Zealanders and the world grow from within
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(c) 2001 onwards Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. All intellectual property protected under the provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Adopted by General Assembly 13 Sept 2007) - details www.tewhaiti-nui-a-toi.maori.nz
The Tipu Ake Team thanks AUT for helping incubate this model and in particular the many student teams, staff and other local and international volunteers that have helped it germinate in many places around the world.
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