How are we investing in our networks and communities? Wait, there’s a difference?
We are surrounded by networks and communities. We exist on and within them. Understanding their differences can help us adapt our approaches to get the most out of each.
Networks are systems where each added connection improves the function of the entire system. A classic example is email. Email on only one computer is pointless. Emails between two computers is a novelty. Emails between 100, 100 thousand, 100 million computers is a mainstream mode of communication. The more active users, the more valuable the network becomes.
Communities are systems where each connection has the potential to engage and improve each individual’s experience. Classic examples are social groups, organized religions, fans of sports teams, etc. The overall level of engagement determines the experience. Imagine a group of friends that meets weekly for drinks. They individually enjoy the collective cohesion of the group. Adding more members, unless they’re specifically tied to the group’s community in some way, might actually hurt engagement.
The distinction between more connections being additive and more engagement being additive is what matters. While both networks and communities require a group to exist, network effects benefit the entire group while communal effects benefit the individual. Confusing the two will lead to frustration. Understanding the distinctions can help guide targeted activities to drive positive results. Here are some questions to apply. Consider how we’d answer them how and how we’d like to answer then in the future (look for positives and negatives):
Networks at work: what are we doing to increase the function of our entire group? What are we observing that is limiting the collective’s potential? How does a new client benefit from our resources while our resources benefit from the additional client? How does a new employee benefit from our resources and how do our resources benefit the new employee?
The community at work: how do we introduce new people, coworkers, and clients, into our community? How and why do people leave our community? What are the rituals we use to drive a sense of belonging? What is it that we do to keep everyone collectively engaged?
When combined positively, networks and communities establish trust and create durable bonds between people. These relationships and the role they play in the productivity of a broader ecosystem are what impacts outcomes. How we choose to invest and cultivate each will play a key role in determining our long-term potential.
For more on this and related ideas, listen to Rebecca Kaden of USV talk to Patrick O’Shaughnessy on the Invest Like The Best Podcast, episode 155.