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Hackathon Pilot: Mastering the Art of With by Silvia Colombo

by Chris Grams on April 28, 2011


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Hackathon Pilot: Mastering the Art of With by Silvia Colombo

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). During Sprint #2, our pilot team was tasked with defining what a community of passion is and how exactly you might enable one. This is the second of three posts where pilot members synthesize the ideas from Sprint #2. Today's synthesis post comes from Silvia Colombo.

Communities of Passion: Mastering the Art of With
by Silvia Colombo

Even for Sprint #2 “Defining Communities of Passion”, the Hackathon Pilot Team has “walked the talk”, showing a passionate approach to the pilot, getting engaged in a very lively exchange of ideas, reflections and experiences.

Team members were free to propose their own definition of a community of passion, based upon both the outcome of Sprint #1 and their previous knowledge and experiences. As a result, the team came up with a really rich menu of contributions (30+ definitions and comments).

Defining “Community” and “Passion”

As we already envisaged during Sprint #1, there was plenty of convergence regarding the definition of a community as a group of people/individuals/human beings having a particular characteristic in common and establishing relationships with each other.

When “passion” came into the picture, things became a bit more complicated. The definition of passion itself was simple:

Powerful or compelling emotion that becomes a driving force for something, a strong desire or enthusiasm for something, a strong devotion to some activity, object, or concept, an intense feeling or conviction.

What becomes complicated is the role passion should play in the definition of communities of passion.

Communities of Passion vs. Passionate Communities

Is passion a “special feature” of the community or is it its “raison d'être”? In other words, is passion related to how the community works or to what the community is? Take for instance groupies of a rock band, which are often very passionate communities. But are they communities of passion or a passionate communities? The Pilot team has not explicitly answered this question yet.

Some team members think that “Communities of Fans” belong to the category of communities of passion, because fans have a common interest (singer, actor, sports team, etc.) and a strong desire to group together in order to express and share their enthusiasm and devotion.

Some others though have the opinion that “Communities of Fans” are not proper communities of passion. In the first place because their ultimate purpose (Go Justin! Go Milan AC!) is not to achieve something and have a collective impact. Secondly - and consequently - because the type of engagement required to their members (wear your favorite team’s T-shirt, have the same haircut as Lady Gaga - good luck!) is not connected to an intermediate goal, which is linked to the ultimate purpose of the community.

My personal view is that “Communities of Fans” are a subset of communities of passion, that I would define “Passionate Communities”, because in these cases the role of passion is essential, but it has more to do with how the community works (in a passionate way) than with what the community is (a means to achieve a common purpose related to a deeply-held common interest).

Some Requirements & Attributes that Define Communities of Passion

Most of our definitions included some requirements that distinguish communities of passion from other communities:

  • a shared interest/concern/experience
  • a purpose/mission/goal/expected impact
  • some forms of relationship/interaction/connection/collaboration among community members
  • high levels of commitment, engagement, enthusiasm related to the shared interest, purpose, and to the possibility of actively contributing to the community’s life
  • a unique identity, again related to the shared interest/purpose

We have also elaborated a great deal about attributes/factors that are somehow correlated with communities of passion. Here are just some of them: trust, tolerance, freedom, confidence, safety, support, reciprocity, diversity, strength, sympathy, empathy, knowledge, learning, experience, problem-solving, meaning, motivation, energy, depth, magnitude, access, serendipity, rewards, satisfaction.

A Possible Definition

Capturing such a variety of rich contributions in a single definition is an extremely difficult task. But after having analyzed all the definitions and contributions, I’d suggest the following definition as one that reflects our collective thoughts:

A community of passion is a group of people sharing a deeply-held common interest and a common purpose, who voluntarily decide to commit, connect and act together to achieve this common purpose. Individuals belonging to the community are motivated and thrilled to engage in an interdependent activity, trust each other and the community itself, share a common identity and recognize the community as a multiplier of energy and an effective means to pursue the common goals.

The “shared common interest” can take several forms: share information, share experiences, share ideas, improve skills/knowledge, solve a problem, advocate for a cause, support/help people, create a new product, etc.

Besides overlapping, shared interests can also evolve. For instance, a community of passion that starts as a focal point for information sharing can transform itself over time into an advocacy community. Passion is in fact a dynamic concept.

Due to evolution and overlaps, sub-communities of passion might emerge within the “main” community. For instance, the Hackathon Pilot is a sub-community within the MIX community.

Synergies And Incentives

Communities of passion are so powerful because community members tangibly experience how synergy works. In fact, if passion were a measurable concept, the community’s overall level of passion would exceed by far the sum of community members' individual levels of passion.

Besides synergies and those already mentioned above, what are the motives that induce people to affiliate themselves with a community of passion and to commit to its activities?

Some more specific incentives/rewards can probably be envisaged, like the satisfaction of living the passion itself, getting a sense of recognition and appreciation from a community of peers, getting involved with something that is worthwhile, achieving results together that would be unreachable by the single individual alone.

Enabling a Community of Passion

The issue of motives and rewards led the Pilot Team to get engaged in another discussion about “what it means to enable a community of passion”.

Some team members were skeptical about the possibility of enabling passion. And probably the idea of instilling passion from outside does not make much sense.

Therefore, another perspective was implicitly adopted: enabling a community of passion means to create the conditions and mechanisms allowing passion-holders to recognize peers and to connect together sharing the purpose/mission and way of functioning described above.

To start the process, we proposed a few mechanisms aimed to:

  • gather people together (free lateral association) sharing a common passion (interest, concern, problem, etc.)
  • set up the community with its own mission, goals and path to achieve the goals; identity; code of conduct/rules of the game
  • empower and encourage people to share and blend ideas, interconnect and interact together
  • give feedback and highlight the "collective impact" of community members' actions and interactions
  • keep the bar for passion high, by allowing new members to join the community and by setting an exit strategy for old members who need to “recharge” their passion batteries.

The issue of enabling will be further developed during next Sprints, starting with barriers that hinder communities of passion from forming or reaching their potential, which are the object of the Hackathon Pilot next challenging task: Sprint #3.

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kartik-subbarao's picture
Good summary! I like how you've integrated the various comments in the discussion and organized the collective insights of our group.