Up to All of Us community learning visual thinking skills from Dave Gray on the hotel balcony.

The Things People Call "Community"

I want to distinguish the kind of communities Megan and I champion from the things people call “community.”

Community is Realizing a Shared Vision

We describe community as how people gather around a shared vision and how they collectively act to realize that vision. Others swap the word community in for “things” that may have communities around them, but I want us to be very careful to avoid confusing community with “stuff.”

Community is Not Social Media

I was among the early facilitators of #lrnchat, the brainchild Marcia Conner. Now almost seven years running, it is still on Thursdays at 8:30pm Eastern on Twitter. We had a fantastic crew and many career-long friendships were forged through the exchanges bound together by that hashtag.

#lrnchat isn’t a community. The experience itself was and is a weekly chat. Twitter as a medium provides an excellent forum for questions and answers, but the community is bigger than any answer offered through the media.

Community is Not a Cohort

Several years ago, I attended online classes from Ithaca College for their certification program in Performance Management. I was in a cohort of thirty others, all of us online; all of us communicating through a web forum. There were a great discussions in that first class. In particular we found the reading assignments and our instructor’s facilitating via the message boards particularly engaging.

We were a cohort, going through the same courses together, exposed to the same materials but, ultimately, the same canned answers to our questions. The cohort experience is not a community because courses are full of canned answers; community invites and internalizes new answers and more new questions.

Community is Not an Event

I’m a regular speaker and attendee at many conferences. I’ve done a lot of networking, built many relationships over several years filled with trade events, large and small. Megan and I have organized a few events of our own. Some events I attend (or speak at) overschedule people. Some events are structured to let participants drive.

Up to All of Us community learning visual thinking skills from Dave Gray on the hotel balcony.
Community surfaces from collaborations that sustain themselves through events

Events are important for communities, BUT EVENTS ARE NOT COMMUNITIES. 1,000+ attendee trade shows are not communities, neither are the 300-person conferences, and neither are the small, unconferences for which Megan and I are known. Community happens in the space between events. Community surfaces from the relationships and collaborations that sustain themselves through events. It can be nurtured and teased out, but it can’t be programmed.

Community is Not a Company

We all work for and/or with somebody. Many of us sign up to belong to one or more trade organizations to help us advance ourselves professionally and personally. We may know each other through meetings for any given organization, or through our employment with a given organization.

We may be employed to work together, but the level to which we with the person in the next cubicle is likely a very different thing from the work you might do with someone who shares the same pains as you in that next desk, elsewhere in the company… or completely outside of it.

By the same token, just because you signed up to participate in a forum or a mailing list, or because you subscribed to a newsletter or you paid some membership fees to belong to a professional organization or a health club… this doesn’t mean you’re participating in a community. Such affiliations are not the same thing as working with others to do something meaningful for both yourselves and for a bigger, common purpose.

“How Do I Help Communities Develop?”

If you want to really know how communities work — if you want to help people have the space and freedom to work intrinsically towards bigger shared goals (especially the goals your company might have) — and you’re coming to ASTD TechKnowledge 2014 — then you are in luck. Together, we’ll be talking about Building Communities that Make Things Better on Friday, January 24 from 9:45 – 10:45am.

I am so pumped to share what’s worked based on real experiences and case studies and, mostly, to learn from you about what’s working and what we can help make better, together.