Glass candle grenade

“There’s only our hair’s breadth between us, obscure as we are”
(Cocteau Twins)

“Community” – a word almost as prevalent in the age of social business (granted, “age” may be a little generous) as the spiritually bankrupt “collaboration”. Like collaboration, it is only ever seen (in the parlance of 1066 and All That) as a “good thing”. One risks a punishment befitting a heretic for daring to question its validity (perhaps a new meaning for another vacuous word, “stakeholder”). While that in itself sounds like a challenge too good to pass up, there is a serious point. Like most paradigms for which the universe gets out the bunting and streamers, it has a problematic side that has been exacerbated by social technologies.

It may be like throwing a glass candle grenade, but consider that communities may just…..

  • Reinforce a siege mentality – no-one understands us, it’s us against the world, if only you knew how tough our job was…
  • Limit learning and development through the exclusion – whether intended or not, or through the creation of barriers that discourage others from interacting – of other views and perspectives on similar issues faced – which is why most professional conferences are generally appalling
  • Create and reinforce petty prejudice – whether an antipathy towards another discipline or profession, or a customer group – or heaven forbid customers (or outsiders, as customers are seen) in general
  • Make it just too difficult to break in, even when in possession of credentials the group would approve of, by being intimidating, and by seeming to have reached a natural capacity
  • Become tedious, pursuing the same issues though ever decreasing circles, never getting close to a conclusion – take “employee engagement” for example
  • Factionalise, as small breakaway cliques form that grumble about the “centre” being too conservative or rational and wanting to shake it all up a bit by doing something that is apparently different but is actually the same
  • Become “managed”, because someone somewhere thinks it needs managing, and thereby become the sort of institution in opposition to which the community was established in the first place
  • Implode – as Nietzsche stated, “all great things destroy themselves from within”

It has been my contention for some time that the era of protectionist professional organisations is passed, that they will fall ever more behind developments in their own field and in wider business for many of the reasons above.

The opportunity presented by social technologies is to break down barriers, create wider and less logical connections, build relationships across boundaries and on multiple levels, to take our connectivity in directions that face to face communication has not the time or scope to achieve. We need to take care not to use it to simply reinforce the worst habits of conventional interaction.

This in no way means we stop working together, rather it means we work together in a wider, more open, less factious way. We need to face outwards, not in. It’s time to take off the badge. There is only one community.

2 thoughts on “Glass candle grenade

  1. Hmmm, you’ve got me thinking. Love the idea of only one community. Yet, in practice, there are perhaps at least three types of communities: voluntary, logistical, and artificial (yes, I just made up those terms. I’m sure someone has described it better).

    Voluntary communities would be like minded folks seeking each other out even when the connection may not be easy or obvious. Social media is great for this, but so is travelling.

    Logistical is a community that happens out of convenience – we’re all from the same town, or we all work at the same place. We might not connect otherwise, but you’re here and I’m here so we might as well be friends.

    Artificial (or forced) would be an outside agency declaring a community. This would be the “protectionist professional organizations” you mention and is also the least stable and requires the most energy to maintain (gotta convince people to keep sending dues and keep thinking they are part of something special).

    Then, we have the spectrum of the human desire to belong and to create community. Some will do anything to be part of a group or create an identity based on the brands they purchase, the teams they support, the university they attended, etc. Others hold to the Groucho Marx quip: “I wouldn’t belong to any group that would have me as a member.” and join groups only at gunpoint.

    Speaking of point, what was mine? I think it was just this: community is at its best when it’s voluntary, natural, and inclusive and at its worst when it’s forced, artificial, and exclusive.

    (Sorry for the long response, you just got me thinking..)

  2. Good summary of shadow sides of communities… vs. “networks” where by definition there should be no center ? Agree also we need to look how to use social tech to become more inclusive and collaborative at work. And yes…there is only one of us here 🙂

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