In the days of COVID and social unrest, many of us look for deeper connections. If before we could mix online relationships with offline communities, enjoying the affordability of the physical environment, and socially dancing with spaces, ideas, and people, the current situation can feel frustrating and limiting. Hours online can yield little in the way of creativity and meaningful connections.
As we move deeper into a new phase, I suspect that more networks, institutions, and conferences will keep building up their online gatherings and communities to satisfy frustrated global networkers.
As I meditated on in How to Build a Meta-Community, the solution might come from the nature of conversation itself rather than from any technological solution or editorial angle.
I am now calling ‘meta-community’ a ‘circle’ and asking: how might we move from the performative/personas/community to the transformative/persons/circles?
Rigidity and Value
A community is a room, with the facilitator at the front, inviting speakers, activating, and funneling value, like the last breakfast lecture you attended. The space for conversion is the dialogue between the group and the facilitator (or their guests), and it is the facilitator that is the one funneling (controlling) the conversation. A circle is a bonfire, the conversation happens in the middle, and the facilitator positions herself around it. The value is generated from within the circle. A circle is band practice for solo artists, where a community is a choir. Similar to The Thirdness Network, or a space of intellectual discourse and transformation, of the kind that happens in retreats.
Pre-defined to Proto-defined
When you start a group on Meetup we help with some of the logistics, but it’s up to the organizer of the group to set the group’s vision. […] What is your group going to focus on? What do you want to accomplish by starting a group? What do you want people to get out of your events? Who do you hope to meet at your events?
—The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Group on Meetup
Similarly to how members of a circle are expected to show up as a process and not as a product, the group itself is a process and not a product.
A circle is in conversation with the room, and can adjust to its inner workings: the energy, cultural context, and transformation. Communities are crafted for a target audience, based on a need, seeking a deliverable, or in sync with a campaign. They are a product, placed on a shelf, waiting for a customer.
Performative vs. Transformative
Because communities are designed for a persona, there is an implicit agreement on a future benefit (transaction) and the performative nature of that group. Members are expected to be a certain way, follow an etiquette, and fit in. Otherwise, the community might deem “it is not a fit,” Hence, the application uses a standard form: standard applications look for standard personas. A community is a fixed space, which expects its members to be slow in their transformation.
Purpose Why does the community exist? Member Identity Who is the community for? Values What is important to us as a community? Success Definition How does the community define success? Brand How does the community express itself?
—The Community Canvas, p.4 in the PDF, Google Docs
Circles are built for Thirdness, communities for oneness. A community unifies around an idea or identity or a common goal. It is about creating a collective commonality–like altMBA’s coin–to create affiliation and be more robust as a collective.
There is a common starting and finish line.
A circle is a space for small actions and not a big reveal. It is about enabling people without telling them what to do. It is about open, vulnerable dialogue with the person, in all of its diversity. Communities are about converging such identities into a fit, out of the dogmatism of finding common language with the other.