- keith allen
First blog – a short history 1/20/2021
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
With the publication of this website, I am achieving a milestone on a journey that started well before 2010; at the germination of the idea of a ruggedized for harsh environments, shape-shifting, intelligent solar renewable energy machine that was turn-key, easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. I simply called it, “the tree” because of the obvious biomimicry inspirations. I saw nothing like it in the market anywhere.
My career in corporate America had become increasingly ungratifying, vapid. Concurrently, I not only witnessed but felt intensely the increasing degradation of the planet’s life forms and life support systems. The angst created the urge to contribute in some small way to a societal transition from a self-destructive and profligate trajectory to one sustainable. The decision to leave my insipid but well paying career and develop the tree was both a salve and talisman. It was a means of pushing back against the plutocracy and I felt a re-invigoration of purpose.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was extremely naïve in regards to the effort required to make this a reality. The false starts and dead-ends were legion as were the sleepless nights, financial dire straits and scarred and bloody knuckles from working metal to which I was unaccustomed. As the years passed, I sensed that some close to me thought I was obsessed. Aware of the dangers of anthropomorphization, I sought to maintain perspective and a safe stand-off distance from the tree (for example by reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow) but yet the more impediments that fate tossed in the way, the more determined I grew to see this through to the end.
Developing the tree meant revising my worldview. Over the years, learning every day and living a creative engineering and nerdy existence (and loving it), I came to understand not only the role renewable energy should play but also the deep and penetrating connections between our global ills. These ills are manifestations of a single root problem with human profligacy at the nexus. Indeed, even today there is not a holistic approach but rather many haphazard ones - like the Dutch boy desperately trying to plug multiple and growing holes in the proverbial leaking dike. The thought occurred to me that perhaps I should not limit my labors to just the tree and so it was that when progress on the tree was slow or halted, I pursued ideas in other areas and the result of that are other products soon to be available on this website.
If I understood the concept of coupling, of connectedness – how one thing links to another, like plastic in a product ending up in the ocean or palm oil in consumer foods driving the extinction of orangutans, tigers and elephants then I had to confront the reality of how I was going to manufacture my tree. Superficially, it was clear I was going to have to take a stand on plastic. And following the data even deeper, the overarching narrative was clear: manufacturing in the old and accepted way was going to offset the good I intended to forge with my tree. The solution was adopting cradle to cradle design (C2C ie circular economy), right to repair (R2R) and a protean design philosophy that manifested itself in equipment agnosticism. Make it recyclable, make it fixable so that it will last as long as possible and make the design flexible so it’s not obsolete with the forward march of technological progress. All this significantly raised an already high bar.
Since this undertaking was about changing our trajectory, I reasoned that I might dilute the change potential I had built, and indeed might obviate it entirely, if I were to assume a “normal” roadmap for a high-tech startup that goes something like this: Get VC money, fast growth [some would say pointless growth] , more money, more growth: repeat. So why not do that differently as well I thought? Why not recognize that the source of money is athwart to the desired direction, to the objective? Nixing plastic and C2C design are one thing but without money the goals may be unattainable; business suicide. But f-it, one last time I raised the bar even higher. It may be my undoing and in the future I may have to reverse course - again.
A milestone is not the end...
Bringing the tree to market really has become a grand experiment. I often wonder if it can even succeed or if the timing is right or ever will be? If I distend logic out to its furthest limits it becomes clear that it’s not about Soulr’s journey but about the capacity of humanity to understand what is at stake and act accordingly and with compassion towards self and towards the other inhabitants of this planet. This has the not insignificant side benefit of putting my mind at ease. If in the rear-view people look wistfully back and wonder “why?” I’ll know I did my best to change our trajectory. If in the rear-view people are relived that we were able to overcome our hurdles, then I’ll know that even in failure I contributed to a critical mass of awareness. Every scenario between these extremes assuages my conscience in the long term and gives me hope in the short term.
Thanks for reading.