A few months ago I listened to an interview with Brené Brown on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brown examines how it is that we can find a sense of belonging with others while also staying true to our own beliefs. In many ways, it’s a reflection on what’s needed for healthy communities – online and off.
Having diverse voices able to safely express their input and for it be received respectfully is vital to the functioning of teams, groups and communities – including those online and in science. This is a special instalment of the URLs of wisdom in which I round up some new and some not-so-new links that explore silencing, story and speaking up. If you have additional reading material on these topics to recommend, please add it as a comment.
What if how you direct your attention is one of the most important decisions you will make again and again multiple times every single day for your entire life? What if you seldom knowingly make that decision? And what if instead multiple actions occurring around you are actively circumventing any ability you might have to stay focused?
At first glance that might read like the book jacket for a dystopian sci fi novel about a civilisation that loses its way, but these are the very real challenges at the heart of living with the online attention economy – where sites jostle to attract and retain our eyeballs so that they can continue to generate advertising revenue.
One of the questions I’ve been kicking around for a while is whether it’s possible to generate novel knowledge in online teams where the team members are working asynchronously. You probably know what it’s like to brainstorm ideas successfully in person – one person suggests something, another throws an additional idea into the conversation and these are considered and iterated until a brand new idea arises from the combined ingredients. A perfect alchemy of trust, some constraints on the process, the use of exploratory language, a dose of caffeine, and no doubt other factors can result in co-creation of new knowledge.
But how easy is it to replicate this creative process online?
In talking with Chris Parsons at theCR Connect a few weeks ago, I learned about a model for problem solving called the double diamond. Proposed by the Design Council it explains the four broad steps needed to go from defining a problem to identifying a possible solution.
In reading “Reclaiming Conversation” by Sherry Turkle recently, the chapter about work caused me to reflect on our ongoing relationship with email. New apps, such as Slack, are touted as email killers, but why are we so addicted to email in the first place? In this post, I’ll dig into our relationship with email and what we might do to release its grip on us and our interactions at work.
Avoidance tactics – when email removes real connection
It prevents us from getting out of our control zone – We probably all know that feeling of being productive and terribly reluctant to interrupt our rhythmic rally of send an email, read an email, send an email, read an email…Yet while we’re firing words back and forth at speed we may have lost the sense of connection with the recipients, and almost certainly can’t context switch between different threads and recipients with any precision.
It helps us to avoid moments of vulnerability and accountability such as saying sorry – Missed a meeting? Late to deliver a report to a colleague? Send a quick “Sorry” and move on. Email lets us avoid the awkward eye contact. We get out of seeing the effects of our actions in the flesh. And so we also miss out on taking the sometimes messy, emotionally difficult steps to rectify our mistakes and rebuild relationships.
Next week I’m taking part in a panel discussion about the role of trust in communities at the Community Roundtable’s annual CRConnect event. Ahead of that I wanted to share a few reflections about trust.
Trust and vulnerability come hand in hand
Trust is ultimately about a willingness to make our vulnerability visible to another – and to believe that they won’t take that show of vulnerability and abuse it to hurt us. Vulnerability can take many forms from revealing a secret fear to a friend, to sharing key insights with a collaborator or admitting to a supervisor that we need more support.
The moment at which we take the plunge and share our vulnerability is always transitional – the next steps for the relationship hang in the balance until we receive a response from the person we’re sharing with. If our revelation is met with reassurance, care, and appropriate respect then we’re likely to share again and the relationship will continue to develop. Break the boundaries of the tentative formation of a safe space and the relationship may be damaged temporarily or permanently, depending on the scale of the breach.
In a series of 3 posts, I’m sharing some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this post, I recommend 5 books that cover various aspects of how we behave online from different types of interactions to how structures influence our activities and more.
1. “It’s complicated” by danah boyd
I really enjoyed danah boyd’s dissection of the various beliefs about how teenagers use social networks – indeed, it was probably my favourite book of 2014. But it’s not simply an internet explainer/debunking of scare stories for the worried parent. Yes, each chapter addresses a topic of potential misunderstanding – from online identity, to privacy, to the naive belief that the internet is a great leveller. But, boyd frames many of her arguments in relation to the 4 affordances of online networks – the behaviours that the various online tools make possible. I enjoyed considering persistence, visibility, searchability and spreadability as key factors in sharing content online – and have started a series of my own musings about these affordances.
Social intelligence is the ability to navigate complex social relationships and environments – something key to being a successful community manager or facilitator. However, on reading recently about some of the components of social intelligence proposed by Dan Goleman it struck me how poorly we optimise for many of them on social media.
Goleman proposes that there are two broad categories of skills that comprise social intelligence – those of social awareness and those of social facility. Social awareness includes paying attention to others so that we develop empathy, attunement and cognition, whereas social facility is about how we regulate our own interactions with others – including how we present ourselves and exert influence.
Could some of the problems that we’re seeing with anti-social behaviour online be attributed to two related issues? 1) Platforms being better optimised for social facility traits and 2) Technical limitations that seriously restrict social awareness online. I unpack these ideas in this post.
Did anyone else see this article in The Atlantic that asks “What is community”? It explores what community comes to mean if we focus on personal identity – in politics, online and in our relationships:
“….Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and Snapchat and their many fellow services emphasizes identity through a combination of consumption and performance: On Facebook, for example, one’s favorite music and one’s favorite news sites and the memes and jokes one shares suggest, in the aggregate, not just what they like, but who they are.”
I’d argue that things are a bit more nuanced than that – sharing of information in the right context can lead new connections, and that it’s only by revealing something of ourselves that we are able to build meaningful relationships to others. The detrimental effects of focusing on identity seem to come when we hold identity as a rigid, immutable concept, instead of one that it able to change based on new knowledge and experiences.
What do you think? Do we have spaces online where identity can be more fluid? What is the role of the community manager in issues of identity? How would you define community?