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Hackathon Pilot: Emotional Drivers and Key Principles of Communities of Passion by Paul Higgins

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A few weeks ago, we kicked off the Hackathon Pilot, an experiment enabling passionate MIXers to collaboratively "write the chapter" on how to enable communities of passion within our organizations (learn more about the pilot here and here). This is the third post in a series where pilot members have synthesized some of our learnings from Sprint #1. Today's synthesis post comes from Paul Higgins.
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Emotional Drivers and Key Principles of Communities of Passion
by Paul Higgins

As an overall framework for my synthesis, I have used the working definition of communities of passion supplied by Hackathon Pilot contributor Alex Perwich:

" a group of people organized for a specific purpose around a shared set of values; who collectively care deeply about the purpose, adhere to the shared values and are selfless in their pursuit of purpose and interaction with others”

To start, I took some of the principles espoused by Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody and some of the points raised in contributions made by Alyson Huntington-Jones regarding Daniel Pink’s work on mastery. In doing so, I have attempted to look at the underlying drivers of successful communities of passion.

Firstly I have tried to define underlying emotional drives of the participants in communities of passion – what drives them to be in the community they are in:

  • Vanity/ego.
  • The desire to make a meaningful contribution (encompasses comments about being able to see tangible results to receive feedback on that need).
  • The desire to do a good thing (includes Andy Middleton’s comments on the rocking chair test – being able to sit back in your rocking chair and know you have done something worthwhile). This also includes the need for tangible progress toward the larger purpose as opposed to just seeing tangible results from one’s own efforts.
  • The need to belong. There were numerous examples of communities of passion where being “part of the tribe” was central, particularly in sporting club examples but also around people and products such as Justin Bieber fan clubs and Harley Davidson.
  • Curiosity – just being involved in nutting out things.
  • Being in the know. I see this as separate from the need to belong. This was particularly articulated by Michele Zanini’s description of Volunteer Technical Communities that thrive on being involved in all the technical details the average person does not know.
  • A drive to overcome an enemy. As Eric Hoffer once said ““mass movements can rise and spread without a belief in God, but never without belief in a devil”. In some cases the open source movements are in part driven by a desire to overcome the major software companies. The drive to overcome an enemy is certainly driving the community of passion that is the Tea Party.
  • The desire to be exposed to different ideas and perspectives. This was raised as the driving force behind participation in the Burning Man community and it is certainly one of my driving forces. The social media groups that I participate in are all about gaining a diverse range of views and information I would otherwise not see.
  • A drive for mastery of a particular area of expertise.
  • Having fun. This is sometimes forgotten in the seriousness of analysis but was raised by the group in relation to various communities, and children playing hide and seek.
  • As a way of achieving a purpose of self interest that can only be achieved through the common good.

If we understand these desires and motivations better, we are further down the track of learning how to better manage and lead organisations by fulfilling people’s deeper emotional needs.

Along with these key drivers, a number of key principles/values of successful communities of passion were raised by participants:

  • A clear vision and purpose for the group.
  • Openness.
  • Respect for others.
  • Accountability for your contributions.
  • Welcoming environment.
  • Democracy/lack of hierarchy/meritocracy.
  • High Trust/Low Fear.
  • Clear boundaries of the group/organisation (a clear idea of what they are not).

Interestingly a number of areas that in my other experience and reading have been stated as important were either not mentioned or hardly mentioned:

  • Power Laws – that a small percentage of the community usually make a very large majority of the contributions.
  • Facilitators/drivers of the communities, especially ones that are driven around commercial interests such as major brands.
  • Scaling issues.

Perhaps these will be raised later in the process or are less important than I previously thought.

As I have described them here, I see the principles/values being necessary but not sufficient pillars of the structure and set up of a community of passion. Then the passion is supplied by understanding the underlying drivers of the participants. Missing values can kill the community and the passion but the passion has to be there in the first place and it is driven by deep emotional needs.

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sam-folk-williams's picture
Paul - I'm interested in your observations of the elements that were not raised during Sprint #1. The idea of "power laws", as you phrase it, definitely rings true for me. I think a lot of CoPs have informal (or perhaps formal) leaders, or thought-leaders. Maybe the founders, or original organizers of the effort. I think this may be a necessary incrediant for a CoP to come into being. Somebody has to be the driving force behind the organization of the community. 
 
I'm also quite interested in your observation that vanity/ego are key emotional drivers for people who participate. Usually those words have a negative connotation, but on some fundamental level I think this is true. I noticed that a lot of people participate in things that make them feel good, or perhaps make them feel better about themselves (i.e. boosting vanity/ego).
 
Nice thoughts - thanks
 
Sam