Why Kinship, Community and Business are Important and Connected

In John Jantsch's (fabulous) book The Commitment Engine he has a section The Promise: Community which starts with the chapter The Community Is the Business. For us at KINSHIP working with social technologies and our partnership with Work Futurist Jeremy Scrivens this is very very exciting to see. We believe that Community, in the broadest possible sense, is the future of private and public business and is a mind-set which you need to bring into your business or organisaton. Just as the big picture vision of the value of social technologies requires a mind-set shift, so does the big picture vision of Community.

You, my customer, are kin to me

The modern English words kind and kindness derive from the same root as the work kin, which refers to persons of a common ancestry, that is, relatives. In a very real sense, if I were to say that you treated me with kindness, I would be saying that you were treating me as if I were a favored relative, that I was your kinsman. In the Buddhist tradition, the ancient Pāli word metta, which translates as loving kindness, captures a similar meaning. It refers to the willingness to set aside self-interest in the promotion of the well being of another. Kindness, then, signals that I will promote your well being even if it means setting aside my self-interests. It is in this sense that we can say that the opposite of kindness is not cruelty, nor even unkindness. The opposite of kindness is indifference.

It's easy to understand that in business if you treated your customers with indifference that the business would be eroding its goodwill or in more specific terms its brand value and brand equity. Oddly enough, as we all know, being treated with indifference is not all that unusual and is in fact perpetuated by the regular appearance of offers which state "new customers only".

Treating customers as if they were a favoured relative is uncommon, and very challenging to achieve. It's what Zappos achieved with its culture of delivering happiness, both to customers and employees, which it built through delivering happiness internally through its core values.

Employees, customers and Community

Now, here's the kicker - the connection between kinship and Community. And I'm mostly writing Community with a capital-C because it is the new version of Community (see Not Your Mother's Community).

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos said:  "Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own." By igniting passion and purpose, injecting it into an organisation's culture, it is intrinsically brought to market in a strategic manner. It sounds like tactics but it is in fact the key way to attract and engage a community which is committed to your business.

The new Community reflects culture and commitment and connectedness and marketing from a strategic point of view. It reflects the association between openness, transparency and authenticity and leadership. And the new Community is built from the inside-out. It is not something which you build by simply installing community software. You must begin by bringing the new Community mind-set into your business and through kinship live the Community model inside and outside the business as part of a wider integrated authentic network e.g. with social media or the Internet and crowdsourcing.

Community a directed form of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing has produced some phenomenal business results, many of examples of which Don Tapscott details in the now famous Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Jeff Howe coined the word crowdsourcing and his original definition was "the act of taking a job once performed by employees and outsourcing it to a large, undefined group of people via an open call, generally over the Internet". He later modified it slightly to "the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call".

Over a period Howe researched crowdsourcing "ventures" especially in journalism and came to the conclusion that the wisdom of the crowd resides in how the crowd is used. That conclusion shines some light on the connection, or difference, between the "large, undefined group of people" and a Community which has a broader purpose.

In that sense a Community is a subset of crowdsourcing - it includes some sense of shared beliefs which go beyond a single task. To be clear, Community is not necessarily more powerful than crowdsourcing, it depends on the purpose. For example in gambling some of the smartest and most reclusive quantitative gamblers harness the "wisdom of the crowd" to amass fortunes. The "eccentric numerati" David Walsh describes the public's ability to make accurate collective decisions as an "emergent strategy", like birds flocking or democracies (which form not in the mind of one individual, but through the interactions of many).  "I am saying there is wisdom in crowds beyond the point you can model without explicitly incorporating it", says Walsh.

Zero-sum crowdsourcing is not Community

The gambling crowdsourcing example may sound a little esoteric but in fact it gets to the heart of the matter. In that example when quantitative gamblers who have sourced the wisdom of the crowd win it means that the crowd loses. Essentially this type of crowdsourcing is a zero-sum game. Many types of innovation crowdsourcing are also essentially zero-sum - the crowdsourcer "wins" and 99.99999% of the crowdsourcees do not win - perhaps only one who wins a prize "wins".

A Community represents crowdsourcing which is a positive-sum game or a win-win game. You might say that a Community is crowdsourcing with kinship. Hence we have come the full circle from collaboration to crowdsourcing to kinship to Community.

In summary - communities aren't Communities and crowdsourcing isn't crowdsourcing. Look behind what each means to determine where kinship lies and you'll start to discover the real opportunities of second generation social media and community.

How do you get started on this thinking and second generation social media and community? Start here with our partner Work Futurist Jeremy Scrivens and Appreciative Inquiry.

Reading: Todd Lido CMO Threadless on community and marketing strategy

by Walter Adamson 

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