Communities grow by non sequitur

May 23, 2008 Jack Repenning

In adapting Open Source processes into the enterprise context, we want to take the best of the available Open Source tools — and community needs to be viewed as an important tool, not merely a byproduct.  And there are a few Open Source tools that we want to leave behind, such as "indefinite schedules" and "transient workforce," but that means we have to "crank up the volume" somewhere else, in compensation.  Once again, community is among the best options.  And of course anything new that’s contrary to traditional enterprise work styles and best practices needs some special attention.  And once again, that’s community all over.

Enterprises tend to work by "command and control", which is a very efficient way to communicate but a really hopeless way to commune.  Communities, on the other hand, depend on a certain amount of conversation not strictly related to the task at hand — on non sequitur — which is not really very efficient for communication, but seems to be essential for community. The Cluetrain Manifesto calls it "the human voice."  Depending on your community, non sequitur may happen at the coffee pot, on the golf course, at the coffee pot, in email, blogs, wikis, instant messaging, IRC, Jabber, or Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be possible to have a community without it.

The need for non sequitur is at the heart of Redeeming the Commons.  Building community means caring about success for each other beyond what makes us personally successful: the good of all, not just the good of me.  If you deal with coworkers like Coke machines, you’re not going to care much about their needs—nor they, about yours.  You need to engage them off-topic, because community is off-topic: a higher topic, a more productive topic, but still a different topic than your immediate deliverables.

So: pick a conversational tool (or better yet, let the community choose). Find a community leader.  Have them encourage contribution, and reward it with recognition.  Find the people who aren’t contributing and help them join the conversation.  Let the community decide what to discuss: you’ll find a lot of baseball scores and baby stories; you’ll also find a lot of design thinking, resource sharing, requirements clarification … you’ll find your Commons.


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