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Hackathon Pilot: Defining a Community of Passion by Alyson Huntington-Jones

by Chris Grams on April 29, 2011


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Hackathon Pilot: Defining a Community of Passion by Alyson Huntington-Jones

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 third of three posts where pilot members synthesize the ideas from Sprint #2. Today's synthesis post comes from Alyson Huntington-Jones.

Defining a Community of Passion
by Alyson Huntington-Jones

What is a community of passion and what does it mean to enable one? Defining an answer should be an easy enough exercise one may think, but the sheer diversity of ideas generated during the Hackathon Pilot Sprint #2 belies any such notion.

However, after much work, I arrived at the following definitions:

  • A community of passion is a unified group of individuals who regularly interact in a common area or location and share a strong liking, desire for or devotion to some activity, interest, object, purpose or concept. 
  • To enable a community of passion means to create and nurture an evolving sustainable environment which best:
    • Elicits passion by satisfying individuals’ core needs for autonomy, mastery and purpose.
    • Fosters a sense of unity and belonging through establishment of a common purpose and guiding standards, norms or values.
    • Frees individuals to interact and openly share knowledge, ideas or support.
    • Multiplies impact by leveraging the contributions of many versus one.

So how exactly did I arrive at these definitions? After reading all 30+ posts, it first occurred to me that clarity could come from defining what a community of passion is not. Based on our team’s responses it became clear that it is not:

  • Comprised of just one person
  • Always tied to a geographical/physical place
  • Constraining, governing or inhibiting
  • Lacking in purpose or meaning
  • A toxic environment devoid of positive emotions and rewards
  • Static or unchanging
  • Without guiding standards, norms or values

Having framed part of the question in this manner, I turned my attention to the topic of passion and began to reflect upon lessons on motivation from Daniel Pink’s book Drive.

In Drive, Daniel Pink persuasively outlined that to elicit engagement we need to upgrade the current motivation ‘operating system’ widely in use today, from Motivation 2.0 to 3.0. Motivation 2.0’s foundational programming is based on ‘command and control’ and comes from the belief that people want to shirk responsibility. Once deployed, this system leads to compliance, which produces accidental or no ‘flow’ in work (simply survival activities) and an ultimate outcome of a feeling of helplessness/victim mentality in people.

Thus, to elicit true engagement we must upgrade to Motivation 3.0 operating system. This system’s foundational programming is based ‘autonomy’ and comes from the belief that people want to be accountable and have the following three core needs satisfied:

  • Autonomy - the need to freely direct your own life
  • Mastery - the need to be able to create and learn meaningful new things
  • Purpose - the need to connect your quest for excellence to something larger than yourself

As Daniel Pink so aptly stated: “Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more.”[i]  Purpose provides the contextual backdrop in which to view one’s efforts/outcomes and a feeling of deep motivation (passion) is the end result. So Motivation 3.0 operating system leads to engagement, which produces continual flow and mastery; and an ultimate outcome of deeply passionate, mastery-oriented people.

So now having framed what a community of passion is not and the question of how passion is elicited, I turned my thoughts to some personal experiences and particularly resonating posts from Michele Zanini, Silvia Colombo, Paul Higgins, Alex Perwich, Kartik Subbarao, Ellen Weber, Atna Modaresi, Susan Resnick West and Alberto Blanco.

In one discussion, Alberto Blanco and Susan Resnick West concluded that communities can only be created and nurtured and passion can’t be created or forced. Thus, focus should be on architecting an environment that provides the conditions needed to sustain a community of passion and enable it to flourish. That includes designing safeguards to ensure that toxic elements don’t invade the environment and kill off the community of passion.  The importance of this last point is further highlighted by Ellen Weber’s stirring post about passion:

“Passion can flee, faster than lightening strikes an iron rod in an electric storm. When stress, negativity or ego shoots down top ideas, passionate participants wonder whether it’s a lot less stressful to hang up their cleats in favor of doing bare routines”.

Last but not least, it occurred to me that the power of a community fueled by passion seemed analogous to what occurs in nuclear fusion in active stars. When the right conditions are present in the environment, two or more atomic nuclei join together to form a single heavier nucleus; and as they fuse an abundant and natural energy source is released. So disengagement in groups, communities and organizations is so prevalent, because they simply have not created environments that best enable fusion to occur between diverse individuals and the energy of passion to be released. So it is my hope that through things such as defining what a community of passion is and what it means to enable one, our MIX community can help others realize what is lacking. This realization eliciting an ardent quest to create evolving sustainable environments that best evoke the power of a community of passion.

[i] Daniel Pink, Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 133.

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