In 1999, entrepreneur Michael Dell spoke to a luncheon hosted by the Detroit Economic Club. Attending were several leaders of a Community building organization called Team, Orrin Woodward, Chris Brady and Ed Zentnter. What they heard excited and energized them.
Michael Dell said for businesses to be successful in the digital age, they had to be online, with a web presence that worked, and called it Content. Businesses also needed Commerce, the bricks and mortar to back up Content’s click and order. Flashy Content is unworkable without a way for consumers to pay for and get what they order.
The third piece, Community, got the attention of the leaders of Team. Community, Dell said, is the loyal and even fanatic customer base, people who buy products, fall in love with them, tell others about the products and order the products again and again. Dell said without a loyal customer base, Content and Commerce are useless. It takes a Community to really make any business succeed. Dell said he was frustrated by this aspect of Community, because he knew customers were using his older Dell computers that needed upgrading to go online and
buy another brand, because it was on sale.
Hearing about Community and its importance energized Team’s leaders because that is the area in which Team has always excelled and been industry leaders in their market arena. They knew about Community, how to build Communities of loyal and even fanatic followers and how to keep Communities healthy and growing. But it wasn’t until that moment they realized what they had their hands on, how potentially powerful a tool they developed.
Why are Communities so important? The digital age has brought with it much that is good: the flow of information and its availability; the ability to communicate with people around the world; the increased efficiency of workflow; entrepreneurship in arenas totally unheard of by previous generations. All of these are benefits of living in a digital age.
Yet, along with its many benefits, the digital age has brought some things that are not so good. People are overwhelmed by information, and have a hard time sorting out the good, bad and simply ridiculous. Work has increased, instead of decreasing, as was initially predicted. Online entrepreneurship is still hard work, and often made harder when the entrepreneur’s friends and family don’t understand what they are doing. And there is a definitely increased feeling of disconnectedness among people.
This feeling of disconnectedness leads to a longing for Community among many people. According to the numbers, members of FaceBook have made it equivalent to the 3rdlargest country in the world! Yet, for all the people having FaceBook accounts and
in friend lists, many feel more disconnected than ever. A growing number of people find the relationships on FaceBook to be shallow, superficial and one-sided. Some derisively call it “FakeBook,” and “Unfriend” and “Unfriended” have entered the dictionary, describing the growing feelings of disconnect.
Human beings are creatures that have a need to be in relationships, to be a part of a Community. Children who do not develop positive connections with adults as babies can fail to thrive, and even die. When an older child or adult has a mental or emotional inability to connect, it may be diagnosed as a developmental, psychological or psychiatric disorder. These can include Emotional Detachment, some form of Autism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. These are serious issues, often requiring therapy, medication and ongoing support.
People need to be connected, to somehow be a part of Community. The theme song from the popular 1980’s sit-com “Cheers” highlighted this need. . We all need and want to be a part of a Community “where everybody knows your name.”
What does it mean to be a part of a successful Community? It is a group or a place where we can be comfortable with being vulnerable with its members. We all have a need for safety when we are emotionally vulnerable, and a Community provides this for its members. When “everybody knows your name” they know who you are, what makes you tick and there is a high level of acceptance within that knowledge, encouraging us to trust fellow Community members and follow the Community’s leaders.
It is a place where we can reach toward the heights of Professor Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and continue on a journey toward self-actualization. Self-actualization, according to Maslow, only occurs when the other needs are met.
First, needs of physiology, shelter and food, are required. This is living at its most basic, and can be seen in Third World countries.
Second is safety. This includes everything from larger concerns of terrorism to more immediate and intimate ones as abuse. If we do not feel safe, we cannot look beyond ourselves.
Third is a need to love and be loved, and to belong. As humans we are relational beings. Communities are particularly good for this need. They can even serve as substitute families for those who are either distant or estranged from their families. Communities can fill this need in negative ways like gangs, or positive ones like sports teams or churches.
Fourth is esteem, a need to have good self-esteem for one’s self, and to be respected by others. If we do not feel good about who we are and what we do, if we have no respect from others, we cannot look to larger purposes in life. Again, Communities are especially good for this need, providing people who respect us and like us for who we are, encouraging the growth of positive self-esteem. Often, they are project-oriented, and contributing to a worthwhile project is an excellent way to increase self-esteem.
Self-actualization, the final entry, is the search to find purpose in our lives. We all seem to have a place within ourselves where we ask, usually in secret thoughts, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” Here is where Communities excel. Often our very choices of the Communities we seek out and to which we belong can point us in the direction of where are purpose lies, if we are unsure about it.
While some authors have scorned Maslow’s Hierarchy, others have praised it. After he
survived the Holocaust, Victor Frankl, psychologist and renowned author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning, proposed adding self-transcendence to Maslow’s list. This is the going beyond ourselves and our purpose, and seeking God, however we perceive the concept of a Supreme Being. People who are secure in who they are and their purpose in life often will say it is because of their sense of being certain of their position with God, or whatever version of eternal belief they possess. Even those who are skeptical about God, or do not believe in a Supreme Being at all, can reach this as they ponder the questions, “Is there more to life than what I see? Is there more than this?” Certain Communities, particularly religious ones, specialize in this last need Frankl suggested.
Communities are often a good place for personal development. Many Communities, like Team, are oriented in this direction as their primary purpose. Even among those that are not primarily directed in this regard, some personal development is usually bound to take place among the members. As places where the members care for one another, Communities provide the freedom to grow and the friends who love us where we are, and who also won’t let us stay that way. There is often a culture of personal growth among various types of Communities, and it is in them personal growth almost becomes inevitable. It is “almost” because in Communities, as in all things, human choice is still entirely operational, and members can resist growth. However, these members will quickly feel a separation from the shared culture, and will either succumb or disappear from Community life.
In joining Team, my husband and I found all the positive aspects of Communities. Within the structure of Team as a whole, the growth of smaller Teams is encouraged, as a strategy to grow not only Team as a whole, but also for the mentor-ship, connectivity and success of its members. We love and are loved by people who know us and make us feel we belong to the group. We are encouraged in our self-esteems, by people saying good things about us and encouraging us, and by the positive things we do as Team members. We have found a purpose in helping people and in seeing Team’s goals come to fulfillment. And Team encourages us in self-transcendence, by being an organization that promotes an active faith life for all its members. Team is a wildly successful organization because it fulfills not only Maslow’s entire list, but also that of Frankl. I cannot be strong enough in encouraging you to find such a Community for yourself.