Communityism (+ Shareholders, Stakeholders, And Steakeaters)

How to keep a community together 101. Don’t blow it up by understanding who’s here and why. Remember – you won’t like them all, but you can understand why they’re there (and that’s half the battle). Pardon this “rant to self” edition, but I’m experimenting over here!

The concept of shareholders and stakeholders has been showing up in my life a lot lately. Usually it’s with well meaning founders and investors. One of my core beliefs is that you can’t talk about markets without talking about marketing. This is driven by the realities of competing shareholder and stakeholder interests.

When figuring out how to get “buy in” from multiple constituents, you’re usually looking for shareholder and stakeholder alignment. But there’s always a quibble. People who are politicking at each level, and more aggravatingly, dead weight people who just want to extract value. Because I’m thinking of this and what to do with it, I (apparently) invented a new word to help me puzzle through this with people.

On to the post. I’m calling this idea…

Communityism. 

Communism comes to mind first, but think about feminism or racism or transcendentalism too. 

“-ism” at the end of a word means “taking side with” and I wanted a clear way to take side with community.* Not just the good parts of it either. Hence the new word. 

I’m also borrowing a piece of an idea from the corporate world. This is the markets-based or capitalistic wrinkle. I’ll use profits loosely below, but I think it’s a very important distinction even in non-profit-based communities (re: yes charities, but also families, friend groups, etc.). I’ll attempt to give a corporate and family example for each to help clarify what I’m talking about for my non-businessy readers.

Communityism: Seeing the entire community, including both its good, bad and indifferent members, to study how tensions can productively resolve in the interests of keeping the community together.

Shareholders: members who have a potential benefit extending externally from the benefits of being part of the community, as well as take a risk in exchange for the potential benefit. In corporate speak, this is the owners who take the risk of profit or loss. In family speak, this is the parent(s) or most responsible person/people who deal with good or bad for sake of soldiering on. 

Stakeholders: members who receive a benefit by being internally a part of the ecosystem. Yes, this is basically everyone (even the prior and next category), but look for the layers and significance of each layer’s “stake” in relation to the risk-taking shareholders. In corporate speak the employees at the bottling plant are stakeholders, which extends to their families, and starts to back off as we include stakes like the grocery store in the neighborhood the employees mostly shop at. In family speak, this is typically the kids first, then the pets, then neighbors or other more loosely related communities the family belongs to. 

Steakeaters: members who have a benefit internally from belonging, but create unproductive tension by 1. Putting shareholder benefits at risk, and 2. Putting stakeholder community membership at risk, via rent-seeking, imposing predatory costs, poasting, etc. Steakeaters kill the cow, eat the steak, ask the shareholder why they don’t just write off the loss and give a shoulder shrug to the fellow stakeholders who now don’t get milk. In corporate speak, it’s anyone who leeches profits for self/external gain without being a shareholder who is taking an owner-level risk. In Family speak, it’s a member who is disinterested or disenfranchised with keeping the unit together, and their actions support the fraying. 

When we talk about communityism, we can’t ignore: 

Who shoulders the risk (shareholders)

Who feels the impact of the risk-taking decisions within the ecosystem (stakeholders)

Who introduces seemingly unnecessary tension to the equation via leech-like qualities (steakeaters)

The answer isn’t “just ban the steakeaters.” That’d be great. But it never works. There’s always a version, big or small, causing an issue somewhere. 

The answer, or rather this non-answer but more descriptive idea of communityism, has to include the problem children. How to use them or redirect their annoyances productively at the shareholder and stakeholder levels, together. 

Because community only survives and thrives when shareholders and stakeholders find alignment. It’s the obligation shareholders take on. It’s the draw to an ecosystem stakeholders stick around for. And yes, it’s always centered on one group’s risk appetite aligning with a larger group’s support. 

You can have tension within the shareholder group, within the stakeholder group, or in between the two. So long as it’s productive tension, that’s the normal quest of finding buy-in and seeking mutual alignment. However!

Steakeaters always negatively impact alignment. I don’t think we can talk about community without understanding their presence. They’re less a thumb on the scale, and more a tiny monster hanging onto the underside of the scale, tipping it in a weird and creepy way. 

What do you think? 

I’m no philosopher, I’m just trying to get to the root of something that’s bothering me lately as I talk to more community and business builders. 

Seeking alignment from the level you’re leading is critical. Knowing your shareholders and stakeholders is critical. But if we don’t also address steakeaters, or parse apart happy/ticked-off parts of the shareholder or stakeholder class, we’re not being realistic. 

I have methods for dealing with this, but as my notes indicate, I’m searching for more words/labels to help. 

My working theory of communityism is that sometimes the shareholders deal with the steakeaters, sometimes the stakeholders deal with the steakeaters, and on rare occasion both groups oust/get the steakeaters in line together. 

Communities fall apart when nobody addresses steakeaters, because all they want is to eat all the meat and then complain when there’s no happy meal. Communities also fall apart when shareholders or stakeholders become infected with a steakeating tribe that ends up hollowing everyone out. 

Drop me your thoughts, please. 

*I did run into communitarianism too. And some other home definitions of communityism. My issue was they’re too focused on the positive and not the negatively contributing members of community. Watchmen needed Rorschach, this is my attempt to inkblot the shareholder/stakeholder conversation.

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