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Rip Kirby of ‘Common Intelligence’: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, as personal computers were making technological leaps and bounds almost yearly,I would wait until the price of last year’s computer models hit 2,000 dollars, then buy it. Now I do it every 4–6 years. Right now, I have not upgraded the OS […]

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, as personal computers were making technological leaps and bounds almost yearly,I would wait until the price of last year’s computer models hit 2,000 dollars, then buy it. Now I do it every 4–6 years. Right now, I have not upgraded the OS on my desktop because I know several pieces of legacy software won’t run on the new OS and those software packages work just fine for me. I hope the Christmas sales will be kind to me this year.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rip Kirby.

Rip Kirby is a serial entrepreneur, adventurer, geologist, geek, and AF Special Ops Combat veteran, who recently launched Common Intelligence, a new social media platform focused on Crowd Sourced Information gathering. Kirby’s background includes designing and managing relational database files, mission planning and writing special operations warfare policy plans and doctrine for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. His Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science might seem at odds with his BS in Geology, but information systems management is the ability to collect a lot of different information and organize it into a useful tool.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After I retired from the USAF as a Special Ops Gunship Navigator and Warfare Policy Planner at the Pentagon, I worked as a technology consultant in the 1990s helping people come to grips with evolving technology and relational database designs.

I worked on a future-tech start up called Point To Get that, around a year before iPhone launched their barcode technology, would scan the barcode of whatever you threw in the trash, make a shopping list based on that and shop stores for the best total price of what was in their shopping cart.We designed this and applied for a patent, but funding ran out.

After that, I returned to graduate school to get my doctorate in Coastal Geology, but the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill interrupted that whenI learned that BP and other agencies were retaliating against whistleblowers who talked to me about where hotspots were occurring, preventing me from securing an oil sample before BP literally buried and mixed the oil into the sand.

In an effort to combat BP’s efforts to quash whistleblowers, building on my prior experience, I launched the Pollution Information Report app, which we then broadened, creating the Common Intelligence app, to include most anything one may want to report or share. Now, it is launched in an unpublicized soft launch and we are fixing minor glitches while we wait on our 22 million dollars private offering to be completed.

The CI App is basically a crowd sourced information collection and reporting smart phone app. It allows the user to collect any kind of information anonymously, own it, control it, store it, send it, sell it, and yes, even buy it, all anonymously. Only users have control over revealing their identity. There is no requirement to identify yourself to CI or anyone else.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Owning and controlling your own data is, by itself, disruptive. When users own their own data — and by that I mean their net surfing habits, browser history, messaging and purchases — it prevents third parties, who collect that data through cookies, from selling their data without giving them a cut of the profits. That, on its face, is disruptive.

Now, add to that each user’s ability to sell their own data, and further, to buy and sell data, images, video, newsworthy information, etc., on the CI app, that is really disruptive.

In addition, the user does not have to “cash out” at any time — more disruption. The longer the user holds and accumulates cash or points, the smaller the redemption fee becomes in terms of a percentage of the cash transaction. As our slogan says, See it, Send it, Sell it, those three things are all highly disruptive, especially when the user chooses to remain private.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Mistakes? Wow, lots of those, and plenty of funny ones. When I first knew I had to build this app, I needed a genius partner who was a geek of the first order. So, I happened to bump into my CTO’s grandfather who lived down the street from me.

We got to discussing life after the wild and wooly world of Air Commando missions, and he bragged on his grandson. I did not know at the time that his grandson, Patrick, was such a genius. All I knew was that he tried to date my daughter when she was in seventh grade, and when I found out, I told her she could go to Goofy Golf with him, but then had to come home, no tree house visits in Patrick’s backyard. It was an awesome treehouse by the way, but not for my daughter to visit. So, the date went fine, she was smitten, another round of Goofy Golf and then I put the hatch closed sign on that relationship. She was mad, of course.

Fast forward 15 years after she graduates from high school, and she learns Patrick is my new partner when he comes over for a meeting at my house and she stops in. She blurts out “I had such a crush on you in Middle School. I would have dated you in high school for sure!” and I am looking at him, with the Dad look,and he is singing “Can’t Touch This” under his breath. So, my mistake is simple: Don’t let your daughter know your partner is her ex-crush because your new partner will never stop calling you “almost Dad” when you are in the middle of a tech design conference.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My father was my best mentor. He worked for Gillette and retired as their National Accounts Manager after starting as a sales guy. His business acumen was spot on, and I basically earned an MBA listening to him at the dinner table talk about his week. He always did the right thing, was fair, and let me make my own mistakes as I grew up. Hard lessons sometimes, but I only had to break my leg once to learn about thin limbs and Pine trees. I could count on him. Even today, 16 years after he passed, whenever I am at a crossroads, I will think, what would dad do? It makes the decision very easy after that.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Being disruptive is a method to initiate change. Change is not always good. overwhelming, but managing and OWNING the data is a positive disruption.

As for negative change, a monopoly on information is not so positive, in fact it is dangerous. Just look at this election cycle. The people need truth, they need facts, they need to be able to trust the facts being shared. Look at the COVID-19 effort, despite politicians mucking up the efforts to save humanity, nine months later we have now accumulated a large repository of medical knowledge about this disease and we are at a point where individuals can make an informed decision about their own activities in terms of risk and reward.

As a scientist, I can see the progress, and although it seems slow, it is really fast relative to previous efforts like polio and measles vaccines to name just two that plagued my childhood peers. That is how untethered truth disrupts. But what about tech?

The biggest example of change that has been “not so great” is our dependence on tech. I used to run the wing command post back in the day. We actually had a computer, just one computer that we would send op status checks and mission updates over. Every once in a while, the computer would go down and both control centers would revert to the “old ways” of tracking sheets, logs, and grease pencils on the board.

I would do this to make sure that our troops could operate in a minimum communication environment. I see the same problem today, only worse. What happens when the system goes down? Well, the phone still works with the apps that are on the phone. It still takes pictures and video. It just doesn’t transmit that data to the CI Server when you are using the CI app because it can’t. But it can still do the task of documenting anything. That is my equivalent to the comms down scenario from back in the day.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, as personal computers were making technological leaps and bounds almost yearly,I would wait until the price of last year’s computer models hit 2,000 dollars, then buy it. Now I do it every 4–6 years. Right now, I have not upgraded the OS on my desktop because I know several pieces of legacy software won’t run on the new OS and those software packages work just fine for me. I hope the Christmas sales will be kind to me this year.
  2. If it is broke, don’t break it more. I once built a flow chart for information to be processed to assess a fighter wing’s combat capability. I did that because the collection of that data was BFU, which is a higher level than SNAFU in military lingo. I started with mapping out all the places accumulated data had to be processed, cross checked, manipulated, and then approved. It looked like a wiring diagram of the inside of a termite mound built by termites on LSD (at least that is what my commanding officer said). I calmly explained, while that might be true, this chart is exactly what we do now…and it is broke. So, if we change anything, please don’t feed the termites any more hallucinogens. He told me to simplify it, or, more specifically, “don’t break it more.”
  3. If you have reached the bottom of the hole you just dug for yourself, stop digging, it just makes it harder to climb out. There comes a time when smart people need to admit they are wrong but they do know two things at that point: They know they don’t know, and they need to ask for help. It is a smart person who knows the right question to ask without knowing the answer. If you frame the question correctly, someone else will be able to answer it because you have correctly defined the problem. Know when to ask for a ladder to get out of your hole.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Collecting information is one thing that some other organizations may not like, especially if the information can be automatically verified and validated by our internal methods (sorry, proprietary design that I cannot share). We have major authoritarian governments and competitors who will see us as a threat. OK, challenge accepted. I see them as a threat, too … and I have prepared for that.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

As a young Captain stationed in Spain, we had no TV stations or telephones that serviced base housing unless we wanted to wait a year and coughed up a couple of months’ pay to get a phone. So, I read a lot, listened to music, and endured all the VHS tape rentals of cartoons that my kids watched when I was home. I learned nothing from the cartoons, but one book was a real eye opener. Robert Ardrey wrote a book titled “The Territorial Imperative” and although it was slow going for a few chapters, as a scientist, I forced myself to slog through all the examples of evolutionary progress rather than watch Bugs Bunny for the 50th time.

When I hit the last chapter, it blew my mind. Ardrey took all the science that he had so meticulously documented and applied it to human anthropology, specifically, the genetic predisposition to conflict. It was a revelation on a lot of levels, not just on human nature, but of good versus evil, of greed versus generosity, and most important, of freedom versus slavery.

It changed how I thought about capitalism, politics, military power, SunTzu, SEC football, and last, but not least, competition in all things.

Ardrey correctly concluded that in order to continue to be a successful species, the human species will forever compete against one another. Almost a Sisyphean curse, but the one ray of hope he left as an example was Italy. He observed that Italians, after millennia of violent conflict, had embraced peace and their social need for competition was expressed in vociferous arguments that rarely resulted in physical violence. He would watch small village residents in their second floor homes above shops yell and complain about others who hung their laundry outside and spoiled their view, or other petty differences. He may or may not have had sufficient social science to prove that glimmer of hope. Even though I believe that conflict is inevitable, I also believe what we do, as a human race, to manage and control that urge for conflict, will ultimately decide our fate.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My swim coach said, “yagottawanna” as his mantra. As long as I gave it my best shot to “want it” I could be proud of my effort. But, if you want it, and don’t give it, then you never really wanted it. Don’t give up on yourself, but when you don’t want it anymore, it is time to give it up. I have never found that advice to be flawed. I am literally 10 years into this project of anonymous, crowd sourced information gathering. Most people in my position would have quit long ago. But I want it and I will make it happen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Freedom can only be truly achieved by independence and interdependence, not dependence. People tend to be lazy and take the easy way to satisfy their needs. If you remember the Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street, St Nick would tell people where to find items that Macy’s did not stock. At first, the management was ticked off but then they realized the goodwill generated by his interdependence was boosting sales at their store. The same principle applies in my vision of how to be a better society. In business competition, we are going to have conflict. We just don’t need to drive one another out of business because we let greed control our actions. Profit is good, because it allows one to be generous. That is the essence of interdependent capitalism, which is the backbone of freedom.

How can our readers follow you online?

Download the app on the App Store and Google Play by searching for Common Intelligence. On the web, look for Common Intelligence at www.commonintel.us. On the website you will find links to our social media pages. Join our testing team and get rewards you can use to purchase information on the Common Cents Store, the online information place to See It, Send it, and Sell it.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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