Why values based communities are so important

February 21, 2017

Intentions for people to engage in any community are as diverse as the people that engage. Many intentions means many desired outcomes and that means that tensions may arise from simply trying to “do the right thing” as “the right thing” has never been articulated.

I have been part of many projects, communities, companies and teams that ran into exactly this problem, “why am I here and what do I want to get out of it”. People want to get something from the community they engage with based on their views, their ideals, their values and that, unfortunately, means that if those outcomes are either not clear or the value set is not aligned frustration builds up and may erupt quite violently, often to the complete surprise of the person that triggered it.

Things get worse if we have people involved that are celebrated for their contributions in the field, often looked up to which may creates big egos. Not necessarily a bad thing but often these people are then referred to as being “in it for the wrong reasons” - I have seen this (and am guilty of saying this) in many communities I have been involved in.

Small diversion, I have been at Webstock last week and really liked Jared Spools talk about the UX tipping point where he explained a concept that stuck with me since. He talked about four stages people go through when they learn. They start out in a state of “unconscious incompetence” - a state where you don’t know what you don’t know. This is a happy place till you realise that there is something you have been missing out on, something you should read up on, learn some more. This is called “conscious incompetence” and is normally a place you want to get away from. Once you figured out how to repeatedly get a desired outcome you enter the state of “conscious competence” and that is normally where we stop, we can do something, we can repeat the outcome, done. However, if we do something out of reflex, no thinking required we reach a state of “unconscious competence” and this is where the real magic happens, if you apply learnings without even knowing you do, just out of reflex, you truly mastered something. The path from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is referred to as “literacy”, the path onwards to conscious competence is referred to as “fluency” and then on to unconscious competence as “mastery”.

This gave me a lot to think about, when we refer to people as being literate in something, do we really just mean they reached conscious incompetence? Especially in terms of building functioning and welcoming communities I see it vital that we create a pathway for everyone who joins a community to unconsciously be competent about the values of that community. Now, moving someone from literacy to fluency and then to mastery means we need to educate, we need to coach, we need to have a defined pathway and a defined set of values and goals for a community and then we need to be very patient and move people through the stages. Telling people off and being upset does not help that person when they messed up but coaching them towards the share values and explain why something is not aligned with these values will over time.

If you join a community or create a new one, ask for the values, ask why people participate and help establish a shared value set everyone in that community wants to contribute by. Then help everyone to work towards that value set and help everyone to become unconsciously competent.

My goal for the next months is to work towards this in the communities I am involved in, I’ll share my learnings along the way.