In this article Kate Griffiths defines what community looks like today and whether or not we can apply that idea to business? She uses the examples of Link4Growth and the 7 Graces project to show how it can be done. She explains that it takes fortitude, perseverance and leadership because working in the new paradigm is going against the grain of today’s accepted truths.
One definition of community is the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common. When it is put like that then it sounds easy. Lots of people have hobbies or interests so surely there should be lots of thriving communities around? Quite often community manifests itself as something that happens because of a stage of life we are at – Mum/ Dad at the school gate during primary school years.
When we look at the parent at the school gate scenario then it amazes and saddens me to hear about people being in fear of the whole process. I know many parents that do whatever they can to avoid it. They feel isolated, not one of the chosen whom they see as being in a clique; the whole experience is a miserable one. One wonders what the impact is on their children too.
So what does/could community look like in business, or is that a contradiction in terms? Something that I have found inspiring in the last few months is Link4Growth. It has an amazing vision and is about growing local communities all over the UK. Currently it stretches from Cardiff to Peterborough. It is all about finding a positive, friendly local environment where you can connect with others, who also have a specialism or a specific interest, and get to know people. The idea is to grow together as business owners and community leaders. It is about creating the kinds of local communities we want to see again and growing your own business through helping others. Link4Growth (L4G) also has an online platform and what is provided is either free or very low cost.
It sounds idyllic doesn’t it? And from a small start, L4G has grown rapidly and has a target of 8,000 members by the end of 2013. Yes to that we say! And yet I attended an evening drinks meeting recently when there were only three of us. I was shocked by the low turnout. It may have been due to the fact that the monthly meetup date had changed and so people were thrown or is it something more?
Building community is difficult because it is based on the idea of sharing, collaborating and that together we can have greater impact than if we stand alone. The idea is to get people to ask how can I help rather than what’s in it for me? This in itself is still a fairly radical concept. Why? Because the prevailing paradigm currently is that purported by Newton’s followers. At its extreme, it suggests that man is a machine and as machines do not have a conscience, it does not matter what we do. In other words, every person is separate from every other human being.
Psychologists carried out an experiment back in the 1970s where one group had read that humans were just a bunch of neurons. Those from the group who had read that, were much more likely to cheat, when given the chance because of the belief that the statement, ‘we are no more than a bunch of neurons’, had generated. If you add to that the impact of Darwin’s theory of evolution, that it is only the strongest that survive, so it is vital that we compete, it is no wonder life can be so cut throat at time.
Increasingly however there is a new paradigm emerging. This starts from the premise that we are all connected and every step we take, word or action, has a ripple effect. Imagine what that means for business. It is now all about finding ways to collaborate. I have already talked about L4G. I would just like to share the example of another new business that is modelling this and that’s the 7 Graces Project.
The 7 Graces came out of a concern that marketing today was making people ill and therefore it addresses how to market our products and services using the 7 Graces of connection, inspiration, invitation, directness, transparency, abundance and collaboration. The project originated from the founder’s (Lynn Serafinn) book The 7 Graces of Marketing. The 7 Graces project is a Community Interest Company, i.e a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and the planet, and restore all that is best about humanity. Three of us are designing an online course and once we have tested it on our pilot group and then refined it, it will go live in the Autumn. That’s it in a nutshell.
However it is so much more than that. We have a facebook group of over 400 people now and those that really get it are supporting each other. I have been very blessed to receive a website, for free, from one member and that is just one example of all the ways that we support and help each other. Collaborative businesses have been set up and the magic continues to unfold. Why is this working so well? Lynn held a conference in June 2012 and those of us that attended witnessed the miracle of collaboration there. This gave momentum to the establishment of the community and all that has followed.
To conclude I do think that it is possible to establish community in business. However it takes leadership, i.e a voice, vision and values underpinned by connections to do it. No one can do it single-handed, we need to find those that share our vision and want to make it a reality, then things can move faster. We need the patience to nurture our vision until we get our first followers who start promoting it for us. We have to remember that working in the new paradigm is breaking ground still because it is going against more established worldviews. Yet as Malcolm Gladwell said so eloquently in the Tipping Point, ‘Critical mass happens when you have 10% of the population believing in the concept then change starts to happen more quickly.’ So the first step is to tune into yourself in toyour favourite spot and ask your heart, how can I serve today? Listen for the answer and that will start you on the path to finding your dharma, your life’s true purpose
Kate Griffiths is a qualified coach, speaker, community leader and writer, who is fascinated by the power of conversation. She teaches business owners, leaders and teams how to communicate effectively to build stronger relationships and thereby improve the possibilities for innovation and collaboration. She also teaches Mindfulness Meditation Walking at the Harmony Centre in Hitchin. Her forthcoming project is to host a series of world changing conversations soon. Kate is also the Community Relations Director of the 7 Graces Project, a thriving community and emerging social enterprise. The aim of the 7 Graces Project will be to provide an educational alternative and business incubator for a new generation of ethical, community-focused businesses. http://the7gracesofmarketing.com.