Community means friendship

Community means friendship


Working in tech, you hear the word “community” a lot. When I was starting my career more than a decade ago, the concept of a community manager was starting to go mainstream.

Today it forms the foundation of our industry’s latest IPO – WeWork. For years they have been crowing about the power of community.

From their mission page:

When we started WeWork in 2010, we wanted to build more than beautiful, shared office spaces. We wanted to build a community. A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’. A place where we’re redefining success measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line. Community is our catalyst.

The truth is, this language is more hype than reality. People sometimes becomes friends at WeWork, and sometimes they’re just deskmates who never talk. The core thing that unites these people is the need for work space, which is not a very strong place to start.

This is not a takedown of WeWork. Plenty of folks have done that better than I, including Scott Galloway (WeWTF) and Harvard Business Review (No, WeWork isn’t a tech company)

I will say however that WeWork’s infamous Summer Camp is where I’ve cemented a number of friendships. One in particular was someone I had met a few times but finally decided to invest in a deeper relationship with. And for that I am grateful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community.

Perhaps because I’m living in Seattle for Techstars Alexa, away from my wife, my friends in New York. I’m stepping into some new communities: of my fellow founders from this batch, the folks living in the Seattle area, and the Techstars community at large. I’m also trying to build a user community for my business, Midgame.

In The Art of Community, Charles Vogl defines the term to simply mean a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.

It’s not about shared interests, shared activities, or even shared beliefs. Although those things often happen in communities, what defines them is that the participates care about each other’s well-being.

That sounds a lot like friendship.

Creating community means encouraging friendship. When an old classmate invites me to dinner, that’s community. When I call my friend who became a parent and a startup founder in the same month, that’s community. When I introduce two people to each other who I think will get along, that’s community.

Vogl goes on to say how strong communities tend to have certain qualities:

  • Membership identity (Who am I?)
  • Shared values (How should I act, what do I believe)
  • Moral proscriptions (What do I uphold? What do I abhor? How do I show respect?)
  • Insider understanding (What do we all understand about the world?)

Think about the communities you are a part of. Friend circles. Alumni networks. Families. Activity groups. Work mates.

Each of these communities answers these questions. The stronger communities do so more clearly and powerfully than others. This is the stuff we often think about and talk about when we discuss community management, along with rituals, tokens, invitations, hierarchy, and other topics in the book (if you can’t tell, I think this book is great).

I think of my communities of startup founders, folks in NYC, former gymnasts, Stanford alums, civic techies, Asian American men, my family, even my mutuals on Twitter. They profoundly shape what I think is funny, or important, or harmful and how I behave. Which means I should be mindful of which I invest in, since they make up such a big part of I am, who we all are.

But at its core, a community needs to share mutual concern for each others welfare. I write in part to serve my readers. So if you’re reading this and you care about me even a little bit, then we’re at least a 2 person community, even if we never meet or communicate.

We are living in an epidemic of loneliness and easy targets like “social media” don’t address the complexity of the situation. Joining or creating communities both online and offline can help address that.