How to build a lasting community with Mitja Cernko
How to build a lasting community with Mitja Cernko
In this episode of Science of Business, I will be talking with Mitja Černko, psychologist and researcher applying data science methods to discover the ways we can support people to thrive.
We will be discussing different research pieces in the field of Community Building to understand how and why people come together to shape a lasting connection, and how could we use that to build better networks in our companies and among our clients. We will start from the research on Communities of Practice and try to extrapolate how the outcomes could be used in the other types of communities.
Radek: Welcome to Science of Business Podcast by Valueships. My name is Radek. And together with experts from various industries, we discuss new research pieces and their application in business life. If you're a manager or you want to be up to date with science that can be applied in your work, this podcast is made for you.
Today, I will be talking with Mitja Cernienko on the topic of community building. And just to start very dynamically I wonder if I could pass the voice to you Mitja. And if you could let us know why communities, what is so interesting for you in developing those?
Mitja Cernienko: Sure. Thanks for having me. It's really exciting. I actually don't know fully why. I wrote my bachelor's thesis on cultivating communities of practice, a subtype of communities, which is focusing on knowledge basically, on kind of learning together, developing a practice together… It's like a guild. And I guess the reason why for me started with noticing as I was volunteering in kind of international student organizations that people were paying to work and for… like I was really confused by that like how come, you know, people pay for conferences for, like they take out, they put their personal time, they kind of work in a regular structure like with different roles and, you know, isolate themselves from their immediate environment to be the weird people behind laptops working on stuff, when there was no money involved. And I gradually found out that this community building doesn't apply just organizations but it's this… I hesitate to use the word alchemy. But it's this some weird process we're involved in as individuals because we're all members of different communities. And it's like we're little cells inside of larger organisms. And usually we're not even aware of that, you know, we're kind of inhabitants of cities, citizens of countries, members of organizations and usually we just kind of look through our own perspective, you know, what's my task? What are my responsibilities? What do I get out of it? But through our actions and through what we do and how we interact, we're actually like little cells in organisms. And for me that was just like, you know, getting a telescope and figuring out wait, I’m a cell in this larger organism, what even is this organism. And can maybe I even contribute somehow to shaping this organism or influencing how it evolves, so that's a very high level kind of take on, I guess.
Radek: When I was reading the review you created on communities of practice, I was thinking like all in all we are communities in all different sorts of way. So, you are joining some Facebook group of people who have the same diet as you do and this is a community. And actually even maybe a community of practice where you exchange knowledge. But going to more extremes when we as the business owners are creating some communities for our clients to make sure that they are updated with all the new promotions with all the new products we have, in the end is also exchanging of knowledge. When we post something on social media asking like is there anyone who would recommend a restaurant I should go to. It's, in a sense I believe the practices you have summarized are really useful to any kind of community we are shaping. And especially if we, if you are, if you want to have a little bit of control over that of how it works, why it works and why it doesn't work sometimes.
Mitja Cernienko: I would just swap out the word control for influence because I would say it's practically impossible to control a community. You can influence it often with unintended results and sometimes that's the point to get unexpected benefits and tap into value, we don't even know it's there. But for sure I would agree, like, to be a human person there's something inherently social about it, right? If you're a human - animal in the woods, you know, without being brought up in language and stuff like that. Sure you can, you know, human but to be a human person, it for sure I agree involves an overlapping basically. Yeah, an overlapping set of different social contexts you belong to, right? So, yeah, I agree it's pretty foundational. And just to mention the guidelines that you're mentioning, I’m, most of the knowledge I’m going to share if any is coming from the book cultivating communities of practice from Wenger McDermott and Snyder. I hope I’m pronouncing their names right. And it's relatively an old source. It's like a 2002 book basically. They're synthesizing a lot of their kind of knowledge and experience in case studies. But in preparation for this talk, I did a recent review of the literature and I was surprised that how little, the very nuts and bolts pragmatic kind of sources and… okay, how do you go about cultivating a community have changed or grown? So, I think we're still lagging behind implementing certain knowledge that was already shared decades ago, now 20 decades ago actually, two decades, sorry, ago. But at the same time I think we're really at this kind of golden age because using different techniques like social network analysis and virtual communities. Yeah, there's a lot of, there's a lot of insights and low-hanging fruits that we could pick.
Radek: Yeah, I’m thinking like when I was reading those, when I was reading those principles, it seems like they were designed with an idea that some technology will allow to do… to apply them even better. So now we're, when you're talking, I’m checking my notes, I didn't know that that is like from 2002 book. But when I’m checking the notes, it's actually, like when I was reading it, I was thinking about using social media groups, using discord and other platforms designed for community building and they apply and they apply well. But let's talk about them. So, let's go through some of those principles. What should we know? What should we think of when we want to design a community?
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah, it's a jungle. It's really a personal preference I guess where to start because it's such a vast literature. But maybe the first kind of thing I would mention is when you… and I’m kind of guilty of that as well but we usually fall into this engineering mindset, like design a community, right? And I would actually suggest that taking an ecological mindset is much more productive when cultivating communities. And what I mean by that is you can for example design the infrastructure for a community. And that would be analogous to like preparing the garden beds or, you know, setting up the fences, so the foxes, don't eat your chickens or whatever. But for the actual ecosystem to emerge actual community, like you cannot pull grass to grow, right? You can just create conditions for it. And then stuff starts happening, stuff starts evolving. So, the first thing I would mention is yes, this kind of ecological mindset. It's very useful. And then very briefly I would just point out different kind of lenses that could come in useful and then maybe focus on these principles. The first lens is just to know a bit about the anatomy of a community. If you think about what are the core building blocks of a community, I would just quickly mention that. You can think about the domain or the practice, so that's kind of the topic of the community, the purpose bringing it together. So is it a harry potter interest group? Is it a community that's focusing on the future of learning like trainers form? Is it a YouTube community, you know, focusing around the creator and his ideas and content? So that's the domain. And you can think of that as kind of the direction of the community. And then there are two aspects that actually bind a random group of people into a community. And that's a sense of shared identity. So, here you have kind of different symbols, you know, a name for people, you might have noticed on YouTube, people have come up with different names to refer to their communities, you know, some examples like shared symbols, merchandise, in group jokes, you know, stuff like that, that kind of sends a signal that okay, we're a part of the same group. And then the related sense to that is actually this sense of connection and belonging. So that doesn't involve kind of explicit symbols or like norms that kind of signify that you're a part of the same community but it's the actual connections between people, the time they spend together, the conversations they have, the friendships they built. So that's kind of what holds the community.
Radek: Yeah. When I was reading your summary, what opened up a new perspective for me was that you should focus mostly on helping people building connections between each other. So, the more networks people inside the community build not with you not with the community but with each other, that's how you define how strong the community is and that's a… like a great cornerstone for…
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. What you're mentioning here exactly it's one of the challenges when shifting from like a managerial role or organizational, development or whatever into community building; you have to de-center, right? It's not about you, and that's one of the tricky parts about community cultivation. You need to take the community's perspective, right? So not your and your individual roles as a community manager but like to try to see from the perspective of the community, right? And just to wrap up the anatomy part, the last part is the actual practice, right? So, we had the domain, we had the shared identity, we had the connections and then at the bottom is the practice. So, it's the stuff that people do together, right? Is it like write and comment on each other's Facebook posts? Is it to have kind of networking events? Is it to have picnics? Is it to kind of create and attend webinars from each other? Like what do people actually do, like the rhythm of events that actually kind of manifest the community? So that's one lens. And the last lens I would mention before we kind of dive into the principles is, I think it's really useful, this idea of stages of community development. Like with most organisms like you have the birth, you know, the maturation and then the death, the transformation to whatever so. In the same way depending on which stage of community development, your particular community is in, there's different kind of needs that need to be balanced and different challenges and different opportunities to focus on. So that's briefly just to mention them. Their potential, so that basically means kind of when there's potential in the air but there's no community yet, right? Then you have coalescing, meaning the first group of people come together and it's still a group of friends that figure out oh, we can help each other out and do something together that actually we cannot do one on our own that generates value. And then you come to maturing which means like okay, we're on to something actually here, you know, and let's try to set up more official structures, names, whatever, schedules, roles… So, you start maturing. And then you enter this kind of cruising altitude of communities which it's stewardship. So, you basically position yourself as a community that's actually responsible for something and a go-to place for something. So for example couch surfing is a pretty much, it's in the level of stewarding, you know, when it comes to finding strangers whose couches to surf, right? And then the final stage is basically transformation. And that means either, you know, when the environment shifts the community shifts. Yeah. Do you disband the community? Do you turn it into an organization? Do you pivot to somewhere? And then you basically repeat the cycle, so that's the groundwork. I would just mention that goes into the backstage before even applying any principles.
Radek: Okay. So far we have two things: one is to remember that it's something we're not designing but we're nurturing as the gardeners, we observe what works what doesn't work, I believe like each community needs something different; and the other is to reflect on what stage it is like, what… I think it also goes down to our expectations, is that when we are in the potential stage we cannot really expect it to be operating very efficiently, like it needs to grow like the seeds when they're even underground and we're not sure if they will grow or not. So that already is something pragmatic I’m taking. And then what else give us more principles?
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. I guess the things that we could focus in the time that we have here because it's, like I mentioned it's a jungle. They mentioned the authors; I mentioned in the book, they mentioned I think seven principles. Yeah, just to keep at the back of your mind when doing anything about communities. So, maybe what could be useful if we just went through them kind of one by one and. So, the first one is basically designing for evolution. And what they mean by this is that your, whatever you're doing is a work in progress, right? It's not an end result and an end state that you're trying to implement but it's a starting proposal. Like, you're, I remember there's a good, there's a good metaphor with planning kids birthday parties. Like, you cannot plan them in the strict sense like schedule them and we're going to do this, you know, then. But what you can do is you can create a space and you can throw in a bunch of toys, a bunch of different activities and you let a group of kids in and then you see kind of what people are attracted to, what they actually respond to, right? So, in the same sense you create opportunities, right? You kind of provide initiatives, you provide suggestions and then you see kind of what people respond to and what they don't. So, it's not even expecting, you know, to say okay, I’ve sat down, thought about it for five hours and here's this brilliant plan and initiative and we're going to do this and this is going to be done. Which is just saying kind of okay, this is the general direction, I would like to invite the community in, and here's like three different kind of small experiments, I launched simultaneously to get there, and then based on which one works best, you take that and then you kind of adapt and vary from it further. So, yeah, basically it's the same kind of thought before taking this ecological model.
Radek: I’m wondering when to give up on some approaches. So what is usually my approach is that when you introduce something new like okay, let's meet every month on a given date or maybe even let's create a doodle or some other form to know which date would be best. But then you have a community of 300 people, you create this and then you have five people present. Does it mean that it's not suit for the community or maybe it needs time or maybe it's one of those activities for this specific group of people who really want to be very close to each other. Because what I also read from okay, maybe I will introduce it later. But just for now how do you think is it better to run five experiments like that and then if we see okay this only attracted one percent of people maybe let's choose something else because it's demanding or keep on do improving it until it's better.
Mitja Cernienko: Well, I would mention that it depends of course, right? And what I mean by that is, it's tempting to compare your community to other communities, you know, but it's based on the stage that your community is in the specifics of kind of how many people are in there, what's the topic… I would say that to determine if something works or not, I would compare with other things you've tried to achieve the same thing, right? So, if your intention behind this kind of setting up different meetings is to increase kind of member participation. That's for example your aim behind the strategy. Ideally you kind of come up with three different strategies that is as orthogonal to each other as possible, right? So, different ways… And then trying all three of them and seeing which one works best. And for example if the call for personal meetings got five people and other things got two and three people, you have your answer what works, you know. And then you can iterate on that and kind of find different ways of improving.
Radek: It reminds me; in trainers from inside the online communities we tried some different things. For instance there was this idea, if you remember of having one-on-one meetings, there was a bot pairing people up every week, it didn't work. But then something that worked and it surprisingly was a game inside discord that you can buy some things, you can earn, you can ask for money. So, some very silly text game but so many people got engaged into that at some point. So, like came together to a place where other things also happened, other more relevant things in terms of community. So you never know.
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. And what you're mentioning here is also really… I think it's useful to highlight and point out explicitly. It's, sometimes things happen in a community completely tangential and unrelated to what you're trying to do, but they have some side effects, right? So, it's the same way as if you have a garden and some seed just randomly blows in, you know. And there's this wild weird herb growing in your garden that you haven't planned on being there, right? So, in the same way it's, I think it's very useful to keep this very broad view as a community cultivator and just see what's happening and respond and kind of nourish that, right? If you see that you happen to have a community that's very gamer oriented, that's something you can tap into.
Radek: Great! And just one thing which is probably the biggest lesson I had from your summary is about the community composition. Like, first off you mentioned, I think this is just a fact we need to accept that only around in total 30 percent of people will be engaged that you would see that. Like there will be a lot of observers, a lot of people who are not that active. But especially you mentioned like the core and the coordinator, people who are running the community, like these are 10 to 15 percent. And what I observe in Facebook and in LinkedIn groups is that usually there are two, three people who are actively moderating the groups. And the groups are, you know, counted in thousands. So I wonder do we fail in here. Like should we really take effort? Because when you consider it okay, I have a group of 500 people, so then I need 50 people together to work on that. I think I could recruit 50 people if I focus on this goal. So, I wonder how you think how relevant it is to have big enough core. Like, yeah exactly this is my question.
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah, that's I think we're often, especially for the people who are very engaged in communities, it can be very demotivating if you start out with expectations like everyone or at least most people should be as engaged as I am, right? You're setting yourself up for disappointment right there, right? But for sure like it's a broader principle even you know this Pareto principle, if you look at stuff like music producers and how many songs are being played on the radio, you know versus how many people produce music. Like, its tiny percentages, you know. And even from those authors like how much of their opus, kind of the songs they've created are being played again a small percentage. So, I think that's true in most areas of life that there's a small number of people or a number of causes that kind of is responsible for the majority of kind of the results. So, I think for sure it's if nothing else is good for your sanity as a community cultivator to kind of accept that fact and really kind of have focus on. Like you mentioned building the core like a… maybe one thing I would just mention around this kind of stratification of different communities, right? You can, for sure there is this kind of core that you can mention and that usually involves the role of the coordinator which can be one, two, maybe three people. Like, in the context of virtual groups, those would be people with basically with the power to pull the plug, right? Who has the hand on the button, the admin rights, who can kick other people out, who can legally represent the community to the outside, stuff like that… so, you have the coordinator. And especially if you're starting a new community from scratch like you is basically the coordinator, right? You're the first kind of person starting the wave. And then you have the core, right? And the core like you mentioned there's a few percentages floating around, around 10 to 15 percent is considered kind of good. And I wouldn't even men; I wouldn't even kind of think of that as a bad thing. Like that there's a smaller amount of people. I would compare it, for example to like a company or like a railroad. Like, we not all of us need to be involved kind of maintaining railroads, right? It's perfectly fine to have a small group of people who kind of take care of the backstage stuff of the recruiting of the promotions of the scheduling. So, other people can actually enjoy the benefits of being in a community, right? And engaging with other people and actually doing what the community is there to do, right? So you can think of yourself if you're a part of the core group as kind of a person helping to maintain the infrastructure and kind of take care of this system but ultimately the community is like… it's not there for its own sake, right? The community is there to generate value for people to create certain stuff, support interaction. So in some sense all of this lower engagement participation is, I think that's kind of the point of the community, right? And even its, I think useful to accept that certain people have very passive interactions, they might just be for example newcomers to a field and they really get a lot from just observing what's happening in the community and the discussions that are happening in the resources that are being shared so. And often what's also happening is that there's stuff happening in the background that you're not aware of, right? People messaging each other privately and, yeah, that's also part of the value.
Radek: It reminds me a palette, there is quite an interesting model that there are a lot of ambassadors that declared that they will write articles every month, they will be engaged in different ways. And I think if we make it to also find such ambassadors within our group, and we specify exactly like what could they do, and then like following the gardening principle we are just observing how people react to different content. Because in the end like if we have a group on a certain topic in social media, sometimes all its needed is just to ask a question to spark some exchange, to spark some idea generation. It doesn't really have to be a lot of involvements from this core. But what I liked in here is that you cannot really run a community on your own. There are people needed to make it sustainable, there is more people needed. And way more than I would expect in a sense like… when you say 10 percent and you say it's not that much I would say like compared to every social media group I know. Or even when we have, you know a group of people working in the same company in the same field like engineers which exchange or i.t, more frequently that exchange their code and so forth, still there 10 percent is a lot. But I think when it's very healthy to have that, so it's not on your shoulders only as the coordinator.
Mitja Cernienko: And just to mention the difference between kind of the coordinator role or group and the core group. The core group is basically, not necessarily involved just in the story thing but they're the people who are actually actively engaged in the community. So, they're the people, if we take the example of, I don't know a Facebook group, they're the most frequent commenters, they're the people who engage the most. You can, I think it's pretty easy to see like with modern analytics to basically, you know, just download the entire data of the group and just see like where the people who engage with the site the most. So, it's basically the people who are using the services provided by the community are engaging in the activities of the community the most. They're the kind of, if we take the YouTube example again, they're the people who watch every video, comment on stuff, help you out of their own sense, when someone's kind of trolling in the comments to kind of step in themselves. Yeah, so they're basically the active people, right? And that's I think useful to keep in mind as well about communities. Its like people have, like we mentioned in the beginning overlapping communities, right? And for whatever reasons in their life, they might shift from being a part of this core group in a community unintentionally kind of between different communities, right? At some point they might be really engaged in a certain kind of career-wise choice, then they might get sucked into a game, and they're really active there. So, yeah, it shifts and it absolutely flows. But the point is… and there's also a lot been written about the strength of weak ties. And that's kind of the other kind of… I don't know. 70 or whatever percent of your community which is, often it's called the periphery, like, that's where a lot of the potential lies, right? Those are people, who can kind of sometimes introduce new topics, new skills… yeah, the regulars kind of might not be aware of. So, yeah, it's all kind of, it has its place. And especially this kind of weak ties and small participations, it's what kind of enables this emergence, and yeah variety.
Radek: So, I think we need to always innovate, it relates to this design for evolution but really thinking about okay, more and more people are joining and they are in this observant role. So maybe we can figure out something new that would be interesting for them to get engaged. But also on the other hand to accept that some people are just observing because maybe they are learning the most in this way. And I’m looking at my notes; there is one more thing that I see you written that to be a strong indicator of the group being alive which the rhythm of the group is. And if you maybe could tell us a bit more what it is and how could we shape a proper rhythm?
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. The rhythm, it's basically the pulse of the community, right? And this is something that the core has the most influence over, right? So, its how frequently our initiatives kind of launched in the community, how often are the meetings happening, how often are new kind of activities introduced. And that's basically something you can kind of use as a basic dial because sometimes, if there's a lot of things and a very quick pace happening for different community members, maybe for whatever reason they kind of log out from the community for two weeks or whatever, and they come back, and a lot of things have happened, and they might find it overwhelming or hard to kind of engage. And on the other hand, if it's too sluggish and too slow, yeah, you know, the community was somewhere at one point and then six months later you come back and it's basically the same thing. So that's kind of demotivating as well. So, the rhythm, it's really about kind of, its staying kind of trying to stretch the community's availability and willingness kind of one step always, right? Seeing if they engage, it's better to kind of have, I would say a few kinds of invitations or a few events that are less attended than to have kind of too few events and that they're overcrowded, right? You're missing out on potential.
Radek: Okay. So, I imagine like when… because it's called the rhythm. So, we treat the calendar as our music notes. And then we make sure regularly in this rhythmic pace something appears of different kind to trigger the community and to give them the space to exchange. And with this there is another rule that is much related. I think public and private spaces. So, I imagine like these are the notes in the rhythm, these are the different ways we engage our members. If you could maybe elaborate on that.
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah, sure. Yeah, like you mentioned with the rhythm, one also important part is the kind of the stability of it, right? Because if you have to schedule all the time, it's like hard for people to align their lives in different time zones with different things going on. So, it's very useful for this rhythm to kind of be something stable, so people can plan their lives around it for sure. This principle that you're mentioning, this kind of focusing both on private and public spaces, what's meant by that is the public space of the community, it's what we what we usually think about, right? That's the Facebook group, that's the web page, that's the newsletter, that's the thing that is kind of the front-facing stuff of the community, the main kind of events, official ones, that's important. Like, that's the kind of keynote in a way, that's kind of what brings the community together. But, the private spaces are what happen after that, right? What happens in between that? So what are meant by that are the individual interactions between people, right? So, in a way it's not just about the value that you as the core team or as the coordinator provide to members but it's the value that the members can provide to each other, right? So you can kind of get out of the way and people can start sharing and interacting with each other. And there are ways to support that, for example, if you as the community coordinator, have a general overview of kind of your community members and what someone is good for. When people come to you with requests or when you notice something that someone has some kind of request or issue or challenge, you can just connect people between each other, you know, and invite them to kind of meet in private to kind of focus on that. And that's the kind of backstage. That's the kind of connective tissue of the community, often the people are connected.
Radek: I’m thinking it is missing a lot in plenty of different communities let's call them. Like, one thing I was talking recently with my colleague is the mailing list. There are so many people around there that could benefit from each other but you don't give a space for that. On another note, I think even though in Facebook groups in those online communities, there is some space for exchange. It's usually also coming more from few people that are sharing something rather than, you know, counting in numbers when you have a thousand people in the group and then only few of them ask every now and then. And just one method to change that we were discussing are the masterminds to create meetings where it's all about the participants, their needs, their issues that they want to solve and they solve it together. I think mastermind is a great case for this empowerment for private spaces because in the end I’ve been to a lot of that kind of speed dating networking style. So, it feels so superficial. Well, it doesn't… like the only purpose is to tell about you. It doesn't really help in creating relations.
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. I think it's an, especially if you're a bit kind of experienced in facilitation and stuff like this, I think it's very helpful to provide this structure for how to have a mastermind, right? Because it is awkward for most people to kind of just reach out to complete stranger on the internet, you know, start forming a relationship with them about certain issues or challenges or interests that you have in your life, right? But if you can provide some kind of a structure and maybe even if you have some insight into the members of the community, it's you can make it a lot easier if you, if you know how to connect different people who might kind of benefit from each other. And if you share like a very simple kind of starting kit or info pack on, you know, how to structure a mastermind group, you have to get the most value out of it. So, for sure there's a lot you can do to kind of lower the bar basically for people to start interacting in the backstage.
Radek: I’m checking the rules and the principles for it. And I see there are two that are much related to setting up the rhythm and the events. One is about different levels of participation and the other is about familiarity and excitement. Maybe you could also tell us a bit more on those.
Mitja Cernienko: Sure. So, the different levels of participation. I think we already mentioned this when we were talking about the stratification of communities, the different roles that people can take, right?
Mitja Cernienko: And it's basically finding a way not to guilt-trip people for not being active enough but to really sincerely kind of create initiatives and create requests that people, if they have five minutes per day to contribute to a community or to get engaged with it. Like what's the smallest action that people could take in a community that might actually benefit someone or them, right? So, it's to consciously kind of accept this. And they use this really cool phrase, it's like build benches around the community, right? It's not just about the people to get kind of in there, in the core, do the heavy lifting, do the heavy work but sometimes it's just enough, you know, to somewhere on the periphery, create a bench for people to sit on and have their private conversations, right? So, yeah, it's just this kind of awareness that you're not… that it's like in video games. Like, you have different difficulty settings to really be explicit about kind of the… if someone's really engaged with the community to have like, the real heavy lifting that needs to be done to make those requests for sure, but also not to forget all about the lower kind of or less involved ways. And the familiarity principle, that's related to making sure that there's a stable core in the community, whatever that means, like that there's if you for example come back to a community after two or three years of not being active that there's still some flavor of like oh, I know this. Like, this feels familiar, you know. I can relate this. To make sure that there's this kind of red thread, this identity that stays the same. But the excitement part, it's like where the innovation comes from, where the growth comes from, right? And you need to balance both, right? If you start shifting too much in terms of the activities you have, the visual identity, the… whatever like. People just, it becomes a different community, right? But if it's too slow, it's like the same thing over and over again and people whose interests are.
Radek: Yeah, something to really just use the lenses to take a look at how you arrange that. We have two more. And one I, like at first I wanted to not mention it because I think it's very specific to communities of practice which is this open dialogue on inside and outside perspectives. But the way I see it now is actually when you are open to, especially the outside perspectives which is I think and not that common in the communities, is that you are also promoting your community. So even though like it's mostly about expanding your knowledge and being open to other perspectives, I think what also brings value in here is that you are bringing some new people to know about your community because you are… for instance inviting the leader of an opposite community to discuss. And then people from both can get to know about each other.
Mitja Cernienko: For sure. I think it's, in addition to this just promotional aspect I think it goes even deeper and it's… like we mentioned, like we exist in this overlapping network of different communities, right? And if we take the example, for example an HR Facebook group or community, what opening, what this principle would mean opening a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives would be. For example what can HR learn from sociology? What can HR learn from kind of other disciplines or from other kind of related fields to bring in kind of novelty? And also why this is important is a lot of innovation and a lot of unexpected potential come when someone comes into a community. Like that's kind of interested in it but it's bringing in a completely different skill set. So, for example an IP guy, you know, that has a very strong interest in social science or a very pertinent example for me. For example in social sciences, in general there's a slow uptake of really advanced research methods, so stuff like neural networks, advanced data science stuff, usually you don't see a lot of that in social sciences. But if someone comes in where they actually have that knowledge, you know, and have an interest in in social science, that's where really explosive innovation happened. So, yeah, and also I would mention it's often what's happening and I’m guilty of that as well because if you're invested in a community, you want that community to do kind of well. But often it happens that there are a lot of different communities in the same space, basically after the same kind of thing, right, or trying to provide the same kind of value to people. And one way is just to pretend; you know, that we don't know about each other, how we ignore each other. But I think a much better way is to… for people in the backstage who are kind of actively involved in cultivating the communities to basically get together and just try to find ways that the directions in which the communities grow could kind of be aligned and coordinated in a way that they can actually start working together in a way that's mutually beneficial. So, it's hard but if you can pull off something like this, I think everyone's been…
Radek: Yeah. And fight with your ego. It's not only but I noticed it in social work and this is crazy for me that there are plenty of organizations that deal with climate change. Even doing the same things like planting forests but they won't merge forces. I was trying to facilitate this kind of exchange, this kind of support. And basically people really like to create something of their own; some sort of legacy and this is bigger than the altruism behind it. So, it's a very interesting phenomenon.
Mitja Cernienko: Well, there is a way to kind of aikido that move and mention like if you could find a way to be the one person who unites all these kinds of communities, imagine the kind of legacy that you could create, but yeah, for sure…
Radek: One to rule them all. Very much into the Tolkien narrative! So, the last one I think that is a general rule for life and especially in terms of business which is focusing on value because what we do is that we try to deliver value to our customers to our employees to make sure that they stay with us to basically everyone. Business is all about value. And what I observe is that sometimes the communities are not that much about the value for the members but more for the core for people who are just, you know, spam posting their events in those communities, their discounts, their new products and so forth. So, yeah, what could you tell about remembering and to focus on value in communities?
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah. I think that's a very useful thing to keep coming back to. I always like to joke that we, one particular point where we really took a turn into a blind alley or as a society is after the Second World War. When, for example in America there was hyper production. Like there was a surplus of everything that people produced and at some point they figured out like there was not enough supply for their demand. And what they figured out is by using certain psychological knowledge, Freud was just being kind of introduced back in there, they came up with this idea maybe we can drive demand, you know, maybe we can find a way to kind of not necessarily confuse people about what real needs are as opposed to what wishes are but basically they found a way like how can I convince other people they need my stuff. And opposition to kind of what was there before which is like we're a part of a community, a global national community, a city, and there's people around us, and people need stuff and people as social beings we have this drive to contribute to each other, right? Because none of us could live like on our own with, especially in this kind of world with, you know very high technological and social kind of dependence. So, I think it's very useful to keep coming back to this idea that basically what we as humans do is we contribute to each other, right? And often it's easy to get kind of stuck into this mindset that, you know, I’m a doctor to do my work to get a paycheck, you know. And it's not really about the value that I provide to other people, the suffering I alleviate, the kind of potentials I have helped realize for other people. But I think if you can kind of keep your sight on that, yeah, that's where kind of the really inspiring things come from, right? Because we can all feel that. Like are people trying to pray on our wallet on our attention and, you know, we're just waiting for that, we're like where's the catch, where's the punch line at the end, right? Instead of people kind of being, you know, here I am, here's what I’m offering, if that's something that's useful to you or valuable to you like I would be more than happy to serve, right? So, if we have that mentality and we focus on value what it means in the context of community cultivation is really keeping your ear to the ground of like what's actually needed because when we start something, you know, we probably start something because of our own individual kind of needs or the needs of a particular time and place, right? But as people come in, as different kind of factors changing the environment, you know, the community might change completely. And you might figure out that, for example, what started off as a… yeah for example a good, a guild for learning and training, you know, for just people who are just transitioning out of their kind of volunteering training into kind of professional training to get kind of that support. Eventually this might turn out to be a community of think tank, kind of contributors who are thinking about the future of education, you know. And you might start focusing on kind of formal educational stuff or on creating a local kind of a network of local hubs. So, it can be really kind of mind-bending to allow these kind of… almost even chaotic transformations of communities, you know. On the surface it might think, it might seem like you're completely pivoting but maybe you've just found a much better and a much more efficient way to basically address the kind of main principle of the community. So, I think it's, like that's what keeps communities relevant and alive. If actually as members come in, they are, it actually contributes to their life somehow.
Radek: Wow! Yeah, I just noted down. So, basically to temperature check your community, half a year, maybe every half a year to ask what's the biggest value they get? What's the biggest value they miss to make sure that we follow? And I have a really nice case study in Poland that there is a group for trainers that has over 20,000 people I think right now. And the founder of this community eventually felt like the value of the communities generating is not really suited for her at the moment and she just left it to other people in the car. Totally living out the legacy, even though she's still the founder but she's not in charge of it anymore. And I think that's a really beautiful representation of that, that we should let the community live for its value and not for the one of our own.
Mitja Cernienko: Exactly.
Radek: Thank you.
Mitja Cernienko: And that's the beautiful thing. Communities basically outlive us if we do it right. And it's completely fine if you played your part in the development of a community. And then if you feel cold in a different direction, you know, your talents and your time and your skills can best be used elsewhere. So it's… yeah, it's perfectly fine to move on if you feel called to do so.
Radek: Thank you very much. So, we have covered the principles, the general rules and principles for community but also you mentioned the stages and the components of a good community. Do you have some recommendations or where could we learn more on your perspectives on that?
Mitja Cernienko: For sure. It's, like I mentioned I just finished doing a scan of the literature and we are putting together an e-learning course on putting all of that in a very pragmatic format. It's in the works still; it's yet to be announced. But for sure that's something I’m creating for myself as well as a guide post for my kind of future journeys of community cultivation. And just to mention over here, it's like building a house, you know, or it's like nurturing an ecosystem, it's, I do consider myself somewhat experienced in this but I still think like the major kind of adventures in community cultivation are ahead of me. So, I’m preparing this guideline for myself. This very pragmatic kind of how-to kit and to whatever degree, you know, there can be one, and when it's done and I’ll be sure to share it with you. But if you're looking for something right now, I would mention this book cultivating communities of practice, a guide to managing knowledge that I mentioned in the beginning. It's a bit old and it is focusing on communities of practice which is just one type of community but with some imagination. I’m sure you can kind of expand that to different countries.
Radek: Yeah, it feels universal even in terms of time, space and medium. Thank you.
Mitja Cernienko: Yeah, to be honest like religions have been doing that for a really long time, you know, or creating tribes and stuff like that. So, it's an ancient art, for sure.
Radek: Great. I think I have three pages of notes or even more. So, thank you very much for sharing all of this and have a great day.
Mitja Cernienko: Thank you.
Radek: Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of science of business podcast. Follow Valueships on LinkedIn and Facebook to be up to date with future episodes and live streams from the recording.