Nevertheless, we now realize that no whole, be it a family, a business, a community, or a nation, can be managed without looking inward to the lesser wholes that combine to form it, and outward to the greater wholes of which it is a member.”
Allan Savory, from “Holistic Management”
Need a Community? You Have (at least) One
After 15 years of designing and activating online communities, I’m still surprised when I hear from a potential client that they “need to create” an online community. Wether you realize it or not, you have and belong to many communities. Further, you intentionally or unintentionally play many roles within those communities – host, member, participant, advocate, creator, and at times, possibly even destroyer. You may be asking yourself “so, what is a community? How do I know where my community is? How do I define community?” Though typical, those are the wrong questions to start with.
Context is King
The word “community” is problematic. It can have as many meanings as there are people in an organization to make meaning, ranging from the local geographical community, to a peer to peer technical support community, a social media page or a working group focused on solving a specific problem. I’ve held conferences where the question of a canonical definition of community was debated by some of the smartest people I know in the industry, and the question was left unanswered. Why? Two reasons: 1.) a helpful answer must be developed in the strategic context of the host organization and their extended network and 2.) community as a metaphor is often too specific and limiting – why we often see communities as a solution looking for a problem.
To expand on the Savory quote at the beginning of this post, to fully understand the potential for communities in your organization, you have to understand the actual smaller and discrete communities that make up your organization (employees, partners, alumni) , and the larger communities that your organization is a part of (industries, markets, causes, etc.). The “whole”, if you will, is really a network. Increasingly, I find starting a strategy conversation with “community” can be burdensome, and that “network” is a more helpful (and neutral) place to start.
Network as a Rubric
Why “Network”? Network, defined as “a group or system of interconnected people or things” describes a set of connected entities but does not imply or assign activities, relationships or outcomes the way “community” seems to. Using network as a blank canvas allows you to create strategy from drawing from the largest possible pool of value. Thinking “Network” means you are considering the full set of relationships among stakeholders, assets, and increasingly, artificial intelligence actors that could potentially be developed. From the baseline of network, a more holistic strategy can be created that is inclusive of community, social, and digital innovation.
As an example of Network Thinking, I developed the graph below as part of an exercises to inventory and explore opportunities for stakeholder groups allowing access to assets in an online marketplace.
The Future of Networks
“What is true for the machines all around us now is true for us too: We are what we are connected to. And mastery of that connection turns out to be the modern version of Napoleon’s coup d’oeil, the essential skill of the age.”
Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks
One of the best books I’ve read recently is The Seventh Sense” by Joshua Cooper Ramos. In the book, Ramos describes the role of networks in the age of massive disruption that we are beginning to live through – on par with the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. Ramos goes on to evangelize the need to develop a “Seventh Sense”, the ability “to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection” in order to survive and thrive amidst the change. Ramos, along with recent books by Reid Hoffman and great thinking by the team at a16z represent some of the most helpful and cogent thinking on networks and network effects.
I believe we need a new and more holistic approach to develop modern communities – communities that are a significant evolution of the current support and Q&A-based silos. In my own practice I’ve begun to refer to the skills and methodologies for designing modern social networks and communities as “Network Thinking”, and I’ve begun to tag related research and writing as #FoN, or “Future of Networks”. To stay up to date, subscribe to my newsletter here.
I’m currently working with a select list of clients to build modern community and network strategies. If you would like to schedule some time to talk about how I can help, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I created the Collaborative Economy Kickstart as a companion to our longer-form workshops. In 2.5 hours, participants will get a briefing on the Collaborative Economy, a facilitated exercise to guide ideation and action planning and 30 minutes of group coaching to begin their journey in the Collaborative Economy.
In the first hour Participants will be given an overview of the Collaborative Economy, including:
- The key elements of the Collaborative Economy;
- The three C’s of a Crowd-powered business: Crowd, Community and Collaborative Organization;
- Case studies and examples of Crowd-powered businesses;
- A method for identifying opportunities for, and threats to, a Participant’s business;
- A framework for developing a Crowd-powered business model.
During the second hour Participants will then be guided through an Ideation & Action Planning exercise that helps them:
- Explore the dimensions of the Collaborative Economy that are relevant to their business and market;
- Assess the biggest threats and opportunities;
- Learn to do an asset inventory;
- Explore opportunities via the Ideation Canvas tool;
- Create an action plan to more forward immediately after the session.
The workshop will end with 30 minutes of group coaching to explore topics that have surfaced during the overview and action planning sessions.
Participants will leave the session with a better understanding of the Collaborative Economy, an action plan draft and exclusive templates to use within their organization to kickstart their Collaborative Economy journey.
I stumbled on the following report from the P2P Foundation, and it was too good (and comprehensive) not to share. The main caveat with the doc is that it was published in 2012 and not 100% current with trends… but with that said, the content is generally helpful, and the editors / researchers were very prescient.
By way of a short overview (warranted, as this doc weighs in at 346 pages), the report gives a fantastic foundational overview and frame of what is now generally referred to as the “Collaborative Economy”, drawing from the best sources in the social business, online community, social media, innovation and collaboration spaces in the last 10+ years – Benkler, Tapscott, Chesbrough Botsman, and many more.
In short: these are the essential cliff notes you wish you had been taking over the last 15 years, but probably weren’t, coupled with thoughtful analysis. It is an excellent preamble to the work Jeremiah Owyang and Crowd Companies (and others) are extending and putting in to practice.
File under: slightly off topic but personally meaningful.
Disclosure: I’m not a massive U2 fan. With that said, Achtung Baby is one of my all time favorite albums. It is a transformative recording from a band that had, to date, been cast as a folksy and righteous rock and roll band from Ireland. Achtung Baby is a product of the band intentionally losing its established identity, giving themselves time and room to explore (albeit contentiously), and birthing an almost unclassifiable masterpiece and subsequent co-opting of mass, and particularly, electronic media as part of the album experience.
In 2011, From the Sky Down was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The film takes the band members back to Berlin to talk about the creative process of recording Achtung Baby, and in the act of creation, remaking the band.
One of the most insightful moments in the film is at the end, when Bono sums up the intention behind the Berlin sessions and the album. It is at once terrifying and inspirational:
“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression,” says Bono, “and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all“
I LOVE this. Applied personally, it is a call to action to grow, explore and transform. Faith in your instincts, talents and abilities bridge the gap between what you are and what you can become, and help hedge the risk.
It occurs to me that most organizations are in a similar state today – business models, culture, internal structure – basically most everything needs some level of transformation to thrive in the new increasingly connected and empowered market that is emerging globally.
How many will have the will to reject the “current expression” of the org?
How many will invest in the work needed for exploration and transformation?
Most importantly – how many will find the will and purpose to risk it all?
We will find out in the very near future.
ps: I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Berlin in 2011. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the trip, but I wound up falling in love with the city and its energy- including the vibrant startup scene. I posted some of my pics from the trip here: