Question 24 of 365: When should you fire your community?

Cultivating a rich and supportive community is one of the hardest and most worthwhile things you can do with your online presence. It is something that usually requires endlessly making contacts and leaving comments. It requires a consistent voice and a steadfast level of interaction. Most of all, a good community requires time. They are not made overnight and anyone who believes that they have found a shortcut to a great community is taking the term “friend” way too seriously.

So, if all of these things are true, why in the world would anyone want to fire the community that they have cultivated and start fresh with a different set of people? Many are afraid of starting over, afraid of making connections with a whole new set of people. This is one of the reasons why people stay in jobs they don’t like or frequent bars that no longer serve a social purpose. We are creatures of habit. And because of this, we are members of habitual communities.

Habitual communities are like legacy software. It is the same thing that we have done for so long that we can’t remember life without it, and it did seem to get us to the right answers and solutions when we picked it originally. We use legacy software because it is easier than making an enormous change, even though it may fit our needs better or revolutionize our learning and working processes. We stay in our community because it has, at one point or another, been “there for us.” It has gotten us through some hard times and it has kept us going on the path that we set out on.

Yet, I would like to make the case that we should be willing to fire our communities every once in a while. We should look at those people providing comments and theories in topics we care about. We should look at them and see if they are really the ones that will guide us into our future. We should look at them and see if they are holding us back.

This is exactly why I am not sure finding old friends on Facebook is a good idea. While it may be fantastic to make contact with people from your past, you are reconstituting a community that you fired at one point or another. You are surrounding yourself with people who may no longer yield any new benefit for where you are headed. They are people that made sense for a given time and space. Trying to recreate that time and space is counterproductive for the one you exist in now.

However, I do not take this process lightly. Firing my community is not something I would be so willing to do without first knowing that there is another community that might take me in. I know that I need the social interaction of other community members on a daily basis to become a better person (both online and in real life). I need them in order to make better decisions and have innovative ideas. But, the people that I follow right now may not hold the keys to where I am headed. They may not continue to nourish all that I can be.

But, where will the new community come from? Who are those people who will, once again, be willing to put in the time and effort with me to create a community together. Perhaps I need to construct a personal ad for my community (in the least creepy way possible), and perhaps I need to craft a Dear John letter to my current community.

Personal Ad for my new community: I am seeking a community of people who are interested in building new things no matter what sector of the world they may exist in. I am interested in open source, lean startups, educational technology, and asking lots and lots of questions. I am looking for people who are interested in communicating about ideas that will change the world. If you are looking for a person who never gets tired of learning something new or creating an interesting workflow out of many diverse ideas and tools, pleas contact me about your community. Thank you.

Dear John letter for my current community: I am so sorry, but things just aren’t working out. I thought that I was interested in learning about the newest and best podcasting, blogging and presentation tools for the classroom, but I no longer have much interest in tagging those for later reference. I now find that many of your links and recommended readings are somewhat recursive and never really seem to provide the case study analysis that would move the conversation along. If you are a person in my current community who is also interested in building new technologies, learning platforms and ideas; I think there may be a place for you in my new community. However, if you are still only interested in having conversations about how to use Google Docs in the classroom, I think it may be a good time to part ways. While I still want to know that people are putting the technology to practice in high schools around the country. I am just not satisfied with the stories of teachers learning about Delicious or RSS for the first time. My community can’t be about wondering what the next big thing will be. It must be centered around actually building the next big thing.

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  1. I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. The more I think about it, the more I think I mean firing my network so I can spend more time with my communities. George Siemens talks about this, explaining our network is something outside of our control. I can choose where and how I plug in to my network, but not the dynamic and reach of the network. That's beyond my control.
    My community, on the other hand, is well within my control. I have a responsibility to its upkeep and fostering.
    Sometimes I confuse my network for my community. (Oddly, never my communities for my network.) I start to expect things from my network that it's not built to provide. It's a network.
    When I make these assumptions with false expectation, that's right about the time I want to fire it.
    I want to build the next big thing with my community. I want the network to support it, to advise it, to poke holes and act as a resource when needed.
    I want my community to build ideas with.

  2. Yeah… so I kind of fired my network a little bit last week.

    I set up a different twitter account and I started populating it with
    totally different people. I started engaging in the types of conversations
    that I never would within my current networks. I started commenting on where
    people were going for dinner and retweeting things that I let pass on by
    previously.

    It has been a renaissance for me. Like today, I was talking with someone
    from Israel. That never would have happened because I don't reach out to
    people in my old network. I wait for them to come to me. That isn't a way to
    build a network or a community. And I think that I have enough of a head
    start on what it takes to build a community that I might just try and do
    that this time rather than just another network for me to engage in.

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