Looking back... by Cindy47452 on Flickr[Looking back... by Cindy47452 on Flickr]

Paul Ding, in a comment on my post over at the Future of Communities wrote:

Having a tent at the county fair, where people work together, elbow to elbow, to feed hungry fair-goers, builds community. Potlucks in the church basement build community. CROP walks build community....You can’t create community. We can foster it. We can provide comfortable seating, dim the lights, provide good music, and pour well-iced drinks, but that’s not enough, either. A community coalesces around people with passion, who can express that passion. If you have that, a community will form. If you don’t have it, they will “stay away in droves.”

Amen Paul. (btw...your blog is in my reading list now...great stuff)

In fact, the other day, I came across the entry in Wikipedia for Community Building:

...is a field of practices directed toward the creation or enhancement of community between individuals within a regional area (such as a neighbourhood) or with a common interest. It is sometimes encompassed under the field of community development.

A wide variety of practices can be utilized for community building, ranging from simple events like potlucks and small book clubs, to larger–scale efforts such as mass festivals and building construction projects that involve local participants rather than outside contractors.

Activists engaged in community building efforts in industrialized nations see the apparent loss of community in these societies as a key cause of social disintegration and the emergence of many harmful behaviors. They may see building community as a means to increase social justice, individual well-being and reduce negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals.

Right. So, communities are built around providing more positive experiences for the communities themselves. So, now with the 'shift' of Community Building into the commercial realm, where does this leave the practice of increasing social justice, individual well-being and the reduction of negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals? I suppose this is where I fear the growth of this 'Community 2.0' meme. That the higher purpose of building communities gets solipsised for the drive for higher sales and better ROI. And Return on Information as a metaphor doesn't really satisfy that, either.

From what I see, we are a couple of trains missing one another in the night...it is really a matter of perspective and, if, as Francois eloquently put it, "that is just how we have conditioned a whole generation of business leaders" then the REAL answer is to re-condition (or is it DEcondition?) these business leaders before we throw another marketing strategy in front of them.

To use a metaphor, teaching current business leaders a community-centric approach would be like painting over peeling wallpaper...no matter how you look at it, that wall will look like crap.

And, any truly community-centric person knows that it is education that is needed first, and that requires patience. No simple answers. No race to the beginning. It will take time and bridges of understanding and win-win situations. And the truth is that there are enough companies already doing this that those companies that enter the community discourse look like bulls in a china shop, rushing around like wild animals, throwing their weight around. Nobody wants to be in that shop when they are done. Nobody.

Yes, we (as in the royal 'we' being those of us who are your customers) know better. And there are companies who are successfully fostering community and they do it with ease and elegance. Why? Well, mostly because they are part of the community they are serving. As Chris wrote over on the CA Blog, "Tara and I ran into Stewart on the bus to the office a short while ago and it couldn’t have been more reassuringly mundane." It was. He sat between us and we laughed about our obsession with our handheld devices and asked one another how the new commute is (both of our offices moved into the same area within the past couple of months). This is the same guy appearing on CNN and the cover of Businessweek. There he was, riding the bus, having fun comparing downloaded mobile apps. Caterina? Super friendly, casual and accessible. Jimmy Wales? He's on my Twitter list. Craig Newmark? He answers all of his own support email.

The NEW business leaders don't have the same baggage. I don't know why. Maybe it's a generational thing. Maybe the time is right for them to emerge. I believe the whole nature of 'success' is shifting. There is something in the air and, like Paul says, "it is always going to boil down to a Star Wars-type good versus evil community versus return (on investment) discussion." In other words, there will be a struggle and it will be really apparent in the coming years.

But after the smoke clears, we won't be left with a monolithically "right way to be", but rather, peaceful tribes, co-existing in a world (not new) that not only accepts, but REWARDS multiple "ways to be" (new).