Over the years there has been the ongoing debate about whether you can create and build a community or whether you can’t. The latest post in the camp of ‘you can’t do it’ is from Spike Jones in a post titled The Fallacy of Community. I agree with him that the word ‘community’ gets thrown around a lot these days in a way that makes it meaningless. However, I would like to cry foul on the idea that communities just emerge from the ether.
Regardless of who starts a community, a successful community requires agency on the part of a collection of individuals and typically that starts with one particularly committed individual. That agency could be because someone loves stamp collecting for which they have no economic model – instead they do it for fun and have other ways to feed themselves. Other people are passionate because they both enjoy something and it has economic benefit. Some people are passionate mostly because there is an economic opportunity. The reasons for starting a community – or joining one – are quite varied.
The second thing I know is that successful communities do require building. It requires someone to keep the ball moving forward and, again, that can be for either love or money – or both. Passionate people do not, together, rise up and organize themselves – even flashmobs require some planning. One of my favorite video analogies of community shows that it requires exceptional commitment by the first person in a community, and almost equal amounts of commitment from those who are first to follow:
This video often gets cut down so you get the the ‘pile on’ section faster but the truth is that one person needs to be a trailblazer (which also requires looking a bit like a fool) for a while before the movement will gain traction. And then it requires some early adopters that believe in the vision. The commitment to be that trailblazer can be supported by passion or it can be supported by an organization that has a vested interest in consolidating people with an interest in a certain topic or activity (or in the case of the dancing man, perhaps supported by a bit of drugs and/or alcohol).
What you cannot do, is build a community for which there is no interest – i.e. people who pick lint off of sweaters on Sundays. The level and amount of interest does play a critical role in the success and size of a community. But someone does have to start AND build a community.
What kind of leadership do you think is required to build a successful community?
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