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How Do You Spell Community?

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April 21, 2020

For those attempting to master home school while juggling full time remote careers, unfortunately, this week’s blog post is not a virtual spelling bee list.  As our world is forced to stay connected through screens of various sizes, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to build community. 

Venture Café Miami, for example, attracted upwards of 50,000 innovators to our weekly #ThursdayGathering in less than four years.  However, in less than 5 days, our team made a quick transition to the #VCMVirtual online platform. 

We agonized about whether people be too preoccupied to gather weekly. We wondered if folks would forget us.  We were concerned that the user experience would not be seamless.  And, we worried about differentiation in an increasingly crowed market.  But, most all, we asked ourselves if connecting innovators to make to make things happen would be relevant in an environment laced with uncertainty.

Yet, six weeks later and we’ve already logged over 1000 participants — with an average of 200 folks per week tuning in.  What’s more, along with our partners at Venture Café’s across the globe, we’re supporting over 2000 innovators every week with 24 hours of content every Thursday.

So, this week, we’re sharing our thought process in answering the question: how might we build the best possible digital community going forward?

Don’t worry, I am confident that in-person #ThursdayGatherings will be back when safe to do so, but in the meantime, here are some considerations we keep top of mind in cultivating what I call: Community 3.0.

Who Do We Serve?

Understanding who you serve is equally as important as how you serve. Over half a century ago, famed social psychologist Abraham Maslow, classified individual needs:

We believe these needs are neither mutually exclusive, nor hierarchical.  May it be our community, not ourselves that fill any (or all) of the spectrum of basic needs.    We can design experiences to  boost confidence, cultivate acceptance of self, and respect for others.  We ought to create platforms that celebrate individuality, activate creativity, and most of lead with purpose. And, finally, connections in digital spaces can provide safety, security, and serve a place of respite to meet our fundamental physiological needs.  Ultimately, we continue to ask whether from the programs we facilitate to how we interact in virtual spheres we enable help people feel part of a  community.  If not, then start over.

How Can We Connect?

During one of our recent #CafeConvos, a local entrepreneur remarked “social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnection.”  Now more than ever, building community should aim to amplify the power of human connection. We’ve realized that absent intentional design, technology alone cannot mirror how we engage in analog.  We take for granted the casual collisions of meeting potential collaborators, mentors, funders and new friends while networking in a physical place.  As cultivators of community, our roles have evolved to now engineer serendipity. In this new role, we understand that each platform holds power for the designer, power for the user and power in the object itself.

Why Do We Play?

Because play is essential. It’s pretty much a basic need.  I’m surprised Maslow didn’t dedicate an entire classification to play.  When we play, we enter a state of flow — marked by loosing track of time and unbridled  joy.  Notably, research suggests that play: (1) boosts creativity, (2) aids in thinking outside-the-box, (3) improves health, (4) brings us into the present moment, and (5) enhances social connectedness.  This laundry list should be reason enough to bake play into any community design.  Yet, I would add one more to the mix: when leaders play, the community follows.  Just like Jesse Israel is able to motivate stadiums full of people to mediate en masse, it takes courage to be quiet and leadership to set boundaries for balance and restoration.

Cheers,

Leigh-Ann / Venture Cafe Miami

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