As Independent Software’s new Director of Community Development, I’ve been asked to share my insights on The Whiteboard each Tuesday. I’m passionate about the work of bringing people together to move big ideas forward. Articulating what that work actually looks like—and what it could become—is not always easy. I see The Whiteboard as an ideal platform for exploring this work and learning from others about their community-building efforts.
From David Edelman’s thoughts on the Chief Engagement Officer role, an evolutionary step of traditional marketing, to Seth Godin’s Impresario Workshop, where connectors will learn how to bring more meaning to bringing people together, all signs are pointing to the need for community builders. By it’s very nature, the work of community building should scale. At its most tactical level, the community builder owns the work of engagement (though not the engagement itself). At the highest level of strategy, a community builder is a designer—shaping and conducting a tapestry of infrastructure, ideas, and people, where relationships are able to flourish and take hold. Real cohesion in community design requires more than one builder. It takes a gaggle of builders to make it happen. I believe it’s up to current community builders to share our experiences and knowledge so others can join us in this work.
This biweekly column will be my way of doing just that: I’ll track and share my experiences and learning, while shining a spotlight on the communities we build together.
Lighting the Fuse
Let’s start with a story. Last week, following the announcement of my new position, I received an email that included this wonderful note:
“I just wanted to say that I was happy to see your name and thought I would just say thank you. There have been so many people who have helped me get to this place and every little bit has helped. Brent [Robertson, of Fathom] was always supportive of my crazy ideas—and I wish I could have found a way to work with them—but your introduction, as small as it may seem, was really helpful. Every conversation that I have had along this journey has been a part of where I am today. So, I just wanted to say thank you and best of luck in your new position.”
The note was from Leslie Krumholz, a graduate of reSET‘s first accelerator class in 2013 who is now launching her startup, GoodStreets (formally IndigoStreets), this week in Guilford, CT. Leslie and I met when she took a social media workshop that I ran years ago with the CT Association of Nonprofits.
She’s right: For me to connect her with Brent was a small act on my part, especially since I was working at Fathom at the time. I didn’t think about it; connecting people is just something I impulsively do. But knowing that this connection was inspiring and motivating for her is thrilling to me.
But it’s also instructive, and raises an interesting question: Did I instinctively know that connecting Leslie to Brent would lead to something, or did I just get lucky?
Obviously, my part in all of this is to initiate the contact. I light the fuse. I’m the “synapse” and the signal that allows the “neurons” to talk. The hard work of making an idea or a relationship come to life is up to those I connect.
My entire life I’ve been instinctively connecting people, many times without rhyme or reason. Sometimes I think my real calling is as a matchmaker. (If you’re in the market, take me out to happy hour sometime and I can almost guarantee you I will get you into conversation with someone that you’ll want to know more. Note that I promise “conversation”—you’ll need to do the rest of the work!)
But for the past few years and now in my new position, I’ve been putting more intention into my “matchmaking.” I want to take the art of my intuition and marry it with more science. I am doing this to be better at what I do and also to help other budding community builders.
As part of that effort, I’m beginning to think about the ingredients that all community builders have in common so that I can share them with you. By the end of it (and I don’t really know what “it” is yet), I see us compiling a recipe of what makes up a community builder. If you haven’t already guessed, I have my eye on seeing as many community builders take shape as possible—for the CT startup universe and beyond.
The Art of Listening
For now, I’ll leave you with the first ingredient, and it’s a big one: an ear.
Before the work of connection begins, you need to be listening for what’s being connected. Is it the person and their “way” in this world? Their idea? Their experience? Their need?
I’ve learned to take many deep breaths before saying, “Hey, you should talk to ____.” I usually say, “Let me think on that a bit more and get back to you.” Or, better yet, I don’t say anything at all, do the reconn on my own, and then loop back later on after I’ve had time to think about it.
Having a natural instinct on whom and what to connect is great, but purposeful listening is better. Listening is a skill you hone, over time. It begins by quieting down your own brain and picking up on cues, even the smallest ones, that allow you to ask more questions. The more questions you ask, the more material will surface for you to work with. And, for connectors, there’s nothing better than someone who offers up raw material—particularly if it’s about who they are, what they see, and what they want their future to look like.
Having an ear is just one ingredient to making successful connections. While I’ve got my own ears on, what do you see as important ingredients in this work? Please share your thoughts with me by leaving a comment here or contacting me directly at email@example.com, on LinkedIn, or in person at The Grove.