Thoughts on Community

As 2016 began, we decided to try something different. Throughout the months of February and March, the Thin Difference team chose to share our thoughts, experiences, and challenges when it comes to building, working and living in community. Our hope was that by publishing several different perspectives on a specified theme we could facilitate discussion and achieve one of Thin Difference’s goals of cross-generational collaboration and connection.

We like the way it played out. We were reminded that our community matters even more than we think and that we can achieve power through community. We were encouraged to find community through collaboration even when we’re isolated as solo-entrepreneurs. We were challenged to give in to peer pressure, to consider how our physical environment impacts our ability to create community in the workplace, and to recognize the difference between our colleagues and our community.

Further Thoughts On Community

The discussion went so well, we didn’t want to stop with just the team. So we reached out to several members of the Thin Difference community — appropriate, yes? — to continue the conversation.

We asked them, “Often, a community engages around a common purpose but then hits a wall or stumbles in the midst of a project. What was the secret sauce that enabled your community to rally past the challenge and catch your stride again?

Here’s what they had to say.

Pioneers in Skirts_Lea-Ann and AshleyAshley Maria: I’m directing a documentary, Pioneers in Skirts, which follows my own journey to confront the obstacles career-driven women face, and my film crew and I are confronted with our own obstacles every day! Sometimes, these challenges feel earth shattering in the moment; but, just taking a second to breathe, we always find a workable solution.

Recently, we had an on-camera discussion with our main characters’ dads. It was a very important interview to me – to see how they have grown as men since having daughters. We had so much we wanted to cover but less than an hour to do it. We rushed to set up but could never quite get everyone in a clean shot. I could see the team getting frustrated. As the director, I set the tone for the production, so I decided to slow us down and change our game plan. The pressure was off, and it was only a matter of minutes that we got our thoughts together to set up a great interview. I was so proud because I could see the determination to do great work for this film. A community is built when everyone shares a common goal, and our goal is to help today’s career-driven woman and make a great movie in the process!

tim_siburgTimothy Siburg:
If there’s one thing I have learned, it is that there is no sure-fire secret sauce that works every time. Catching the stride again for communities I have been a part of has always started with listening- listening to the group, to their needs, wondering and questions.

One time this led to the creation of ground rules, which enabled the community to move forward with a shared grounding of expectation and responsibility. Another time, as a community we decided to read a new book and that book collectively helped create new imagination for us, sparking possibilities.

More recently, a community I was part of felt like we had hit the proverbial wall about what to do next. So we decided to take a step back and to have a “dreaming session.” This session brought stories to the surface that community members had never shared or heard from each other. It sparked action. This dreaming has led the group forward, and we’re still in the midst of seeing where that is leading.

anne-loehrAnne Loehr: Courage is the secret sauce that enables a community to rally past challenges and catch their stride again. I’m talking about courageous individuals, courageous leaders, and courageous teams.

Before communities stumble, the pain is felt individually, even before it hits the team. It takes courage for an individual to speak up and say, “Something is wrong.” Yet doing just that creates the first awareness of the challenge ahead and inspires others in the group to confront the truth and maybe even speak up too.

Once a courageous individual steps up to the plate with an honest observation, it’s then the community leader’s turn to have the courage to truly listen and say, “You’re right. I didn’t notice the challenge. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” Most leaders think they need to have all the answers and always be right. Not true. Admitting mistakes and thanking someone for bringing an issue to them requires humility and adaptability. It shows courage.

Finally, the entire team then needs courage to pause, reflect, and change direction. No one likes change. It’s easier to move along the same trajectory, even if it takes the community in the wrong direction, than to shift gears collectively. Change takes time, patience, and willingness, all of which are often in short supply.

Danny Rubin headshotDanny Rubin: Recently, my public relations agency had to stage an event for our client, a health organization, in which we place a dental chair in a public place and offer impromptu screenings for oral cancer. We tried to borrow space at several malls/town centers because of the heavy foot traffic, and officials at each place turned us down for one reason or another. We had hit a wall, and event planning was going nowhere.

The secret sauce to keep us on track? We took a deep breath, hit the reset button and decided to approach public facilities instead. We called a local recreation center, the marketing director welcomed the idea with open arms and the event was a major success.

The key was to stop looking at the problem through the same lens. Malls weren’t going to work. We had to step back, reevaluate and try again with a fresh approach.

Kare-Anderson2-200x300Kare Anderson: A community is most likely to grow in numbers, scope and in value via two intertwined traits:
1. It provides an obvious, concrete sweet spot of shared interest for participants

2. There are a visible, valued benefits for participation that spurs members to become icreasingly engaged and to evolve and grow the shared purpose.

For example Quantified Self <> began as one MeetUp, a gathering for self-tracking individuals who wanted to explicitly learn from each other how to improve some health condition they had. They now have hundreds of MeetUps around the world, and have evolved their ways of working together to address myriad health and fitness issues. Their methods have become so rigorous that medical research organizations now ask their members to participate in studies. QS is now a respected platform for large-scale research participation. Tip: When a community structure offers obvious value to all participants it often attracts more participants and can enlarge the scope and value of it’s mission. Such communities have created a virtual circle.

Tru Pettigrew - Gifts, Passion, and PurposeTru Pettigrew: I’m not in law enforcement, but I work very closely with my local and regional law enforcement departments. These connections and relationships came about because of all of the issues that have surfaced across the country between law enforcement and the African-American community as a whole. Locally, we realized that many of the incidents that happened across the country could have easily happened here in Cary, NC. And we did not want to “wait and see” if it would happen in Cary. So what did we do?

We started a conversation. That conversation led to a plan. That plan led to positive engagements. And those engagements led to a stronger community.

Me and other leaders within the African American community in Cary are part of a Building Bridges Committee that was initiated by the Cary Police Chief. This initiative was initially designed to strengthen the relationship with local law enforcement and the African-American Community in Cary. It accomplished this and more.

Below are three major lessons that I took from my experience in this community building initiative.

1. Every community at every level must have clarity, understanding, and buy-in on the overall purpose, mission, and vision for that community to thrive. This is true socially, personally, and professionally.

2. It requires a common unity to build community. It is through intentional inclusion, connections, and collaboration among diverse community members that the biggest strides will be made in building a healthy, thriving, and prosperous community.

3. Frequency breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds trust. Trust is a critical component of building a strong community, and the best way to build trust is to spend more time with members of your community, getting to know where they stand in times of both comfort and controversy to make everyone better — more accountability and less judgment.

Hd8rp_en_400x400Kathleen Kruse: These days, Adobe PDF (portable document format) is universally accepted as a standard for sharing digital files in a way that preserves the visual fidelity of the original. But it wasn’t always that way.

Although PDF promised dramatic improvement in business communication and productivity, it challenged organizations to think in radically new ways about their workflows. The technology was ready, but people weren’t.

We realized we had to reach beyond Adobe’s traditional customer base (primarily graphic designers and printer manufacturers). But we didn’t have the budget to influence individual businesspeople with massive consumer-oriented promotions.

So, we developed a community of champions “in the middle.” We sought out high-profile publishers and information integrators who could demonstrate the value of PDF at scale. Then we showcased their success stories – leveraging their business credibility to establish a market for this novel product category.

We created deep, trusted relationships with those early adopters. And the pilot programs we seeded with them generated feedback that helped shape and refine the product strategy and roadmap in fundamental ways.

Had Adobe not focused on fostering open communication with those early strategic allies, I’m sure that PDF would never have received the broader business traction it eventually gained.

This is one of the most powerful examples I’ve seen of community in action, helping to create value for a viable, but unproven, idea.

What’s Next?

As we move into April and May, we’ve decided to continue our focus on one unified topic. Just as before, we won’t only publish articles that address that idea, but the theme will be peppered throughout our posts during the coming weeks.

Next up? We’re going to consider mindfulness, self-awareness, and contemplation. If you would like to participate in the community post that we hope to publish in May, please chime in below in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you.