I’ve often thought about business framed around the idea of the village – a grouping of individuals bound by a commonality. I suppose if you go back far enough in time you’ll find those bonds were one of obligation to one’s master but when I think of village I think of the parish church, local pub, general store and the family doctor.
As parochial and quaint, as pastoral and seemingly unchanging those societies are, in my opinion they continue to exist in part because of an intransigence to the new. Try to be an outsider or agent of change. They are fundamentally designed to keep norms, and norms are safe. And those norms are master to all.
I recently watched a community coalesce around conflict. The condo I live in was dealing with a potential threat to our way of life. A developer on an adjacent lot wanted to convert part of our drive into a lane way to allow deliveries and garbage service – I should add that our drive is private property. Both the management company and the boards of the various constituent condos supported the developer. A number of individuals stepped up and had the measure defeated soundly.
In the threat to the community at large, support in opposition coalesced around a few key leaders. Sans conflict, we revert into intransigence, enjoying the benefits of having most of our needs taken care of by the invisible hand of the condo. As the threat recedes, our complacent norms reassert themselves.
That brings me full circle to the idea of community in business.
If I think back over the years of management education and organizational experience I’m struck by the emphasis on the elemental impersonality of it all. Think of it this way – most businesses see themselves like an advertisement. They choose to be perceived by the way they present themselves in the hope that they offer sufficient appeal to the buying public to meet their needs – to sell a product or service. The public aren’t part of their community.
In the process of self-discovery over the past year and a substantial effort at rebranding our emphasis a key part was on boiling down the essence of what we stood for, who we are presented in an honest and forthright manner.
What my business partner and I, and our marketing guy, seem to be struggling with right now is how to build the business out going forward encouraging engagement. Linda is successful in attracting people who want to be part of her circle, to be part of something larger. I am affable and intense at the same time and rely on my intellect to guide through what can be a pretty confusing landscape. Rob is just finding his feet as a social marketer applying skills he’s acquired going through the process of building a startup.
Where we have failed is not acknowledging that we three form a community that’s part of a larger one. I can talk about target market and business proposition until I’m blue in the face but it doesn’t change the fact that to be successful going forward I, we, have to be conscious of how business has to be operate going forward.
It is easy to galvanize a group and provide leadership in the face of crisis. I can fall back on the very elements that has in the past built successful business practices – fear, greed and envy, as a peer and mentor once hammered at me, but a community can’t be grow unless the process is built on something more sustainable. Living and working in a state of perpetual crisis, or conflict, is inherently unhealthy; creating both dependencies and fear are mere manifestations of that.
So what is it then to try to build a successful business around the sense of a larger community? I don’t know but I’m willing to find out. And I’ll be finding out one engagement at a time.