Thursday, 16 July 2009

How Do We Define 'Community'?

Charmian Love got me thinking this evening when she asked members of the Twitterverse to share their definitions of "Community". Hers is here but, not exactly known for my brevity *ahem*, I doubt I could even have asked that question in a Twitter-friendly 140 characters, let alone answered it too!

My characteristically rambling answer to Charmian's question is, therefore, below ;-)

1) A community is a number of individuals connected by the spirit of belonging to something synergic, or (to steal a phrase) greater than the sum of it's parts. To me the word 'community' evokes the notion "we're stronger together."

2) My conceptual community has an established set of core values shared by all members and, of which, the maintenance is equally and autonomously the responsibility of each individual. So the community is, therefore, self governing.

3) There is an established culture of co-operation to resultant mutual benefit which allows for the creation of a creative space to cultivate and grow ideas.

The definition I have settled upon is 621 characters long. Interestingly, it happily suits 'virtual' and 'cyber' communities as well as neighbourhoods and, I would assert, is the foundation for the happiest families I know.

It is also, I have just realised, pretty damn close to the definition of Anarchy .... oh well ;-)

Think you can do better? Go tell her yours!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Ponderings on Jeff Saperstein's RSA Thursday Lecture

I attended this week's "RSA Thursday" lecture entitled "Vision Matters: Defining Identity - how visionaries can help us not only survive but thrive" by the wonderful Jeff Saperstein who I was Twittering in favour of throughout his afternoon session at Reboot Britain.

His lecture got, and kept, me thinking so my interpretations and resultant ponderings follow for your (hopeful!) interest. I do, however, encourage you to experience the 'pure' version by viewing the slides and listening to the full audio in order to judge for yourself!

Jeff outlined how we, as individuals, need to 'define'. We draw up definitions and boundaries of ourselves, each other, our environment and our roles, in order to interpret, understand and react to the world. If our definitions of ourselves are narrow they function to restrict us, e.g:
I am a marketing person <--> I do marketing things
This is not a marketing thing <--> I won't do this thing
If our definitions are wider, however, they seek to rightly distinguish us by skill and not restrict by implementation, e.g:
I am a person who facilitates communication --> I could be a journalist, telecommunications engineer, graphic designer, language translator, therapist (!), bar tender (!!) and so on..
The particular problem with restrictive definitions he was proposing (as clearly there are varied and significant problems that can be identified with labeling people in this manner) was that it stifles innovation.

As a collection of people restricted by our labels, be it a community, company, government or NGO, we loose out on a great deal of collected skill & talent as people aren't rising up to the challenge of taking on tasks which they could perfectly well complete. This is because they fall outside of the definitions they have established for themselves (or have been established for them.. yet there is so much to say on that facet I shant even begin!)

In this way, our restrictive definitions stifle our ability to try new things, to challenge and to innovate.

Innovation, he goes on to say, is the only path to increasing productivity and there are no limits to its progress. Clearly I agree, you will never become more productive by doing the same things, the same way you always have, with the same people you always did them with.

He rounds off this domino effect saying that productivity increases wealth and wealth is still the great divider between those that 'survive' and those that 'thrive' as illustrated by discussions of geographic, digital, socioeconomic and educational divides.

The interesting tie in, for me, was the assertion that the most important and effective innovation is the way in which we work together. This links further to messages I took from his "Reboot Britain" session around the common features of highly successful technology clusters being partly a 'respect for knowledge' but hugely weighted towards the concept of an open and flexible working culture where people are encouraged to collaborate with those unlike themselves.

When brought to bare bones it is a somewhat obvious but fantastically empowering message:
By not restricting myself in terms of the way I allow myself to be defined, by working flexibly and openly with people who are culturally/experientially different from myself, and by learning from these people, I can achieve great and unexpected things. Thus adding more to my community/workplace/family and becoming a productive and instrumental force in driving positive change.

(BTW, I'll also be at the Sustainability Project panel on Mon 13th 6:30pm - so shout if you're going :)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Pooling Our Talents *

Spent last Monday's heatwave down in gorgeous Poole. Alas we were not flown down to laze idly on the beach but rather to meet with a team of designers / investors / manufacture, procurement and logistics / marketing & brand strategy, folk.

Again, it was one of those mountainous days. Up at 5:30am to fly at 8:40, jump first connecting train to make meeting at 12:15 (only a little after the 12 noon official start-time) Back on the 6pm train for a flight home at 20:20 and back through the door a little before eleven!

And, yes, I know what you're thinking. 6 hours does seem like a dauntingly long time to have the project (and ourselves!) under the spotlight but, aside from the crippling heat and my longing for the sea, the meeting just flew by in a haze of positive feedback and constructive points for development.

All in all it was an excellent day and we're continuing to work with the team as we speak. Should things proceed in this positive manner we may even have business related news to report!

* I wasn't going to... and then my better judgement left to get coffee. Sorry :-)