We Need Both Networks and Communities

Henry Mintzberg at HBR: “If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house.

Social media certainly connects us to whoever is on the other end of the line, and so extends our social networks in amazing ways. But this can come at the expense of deeper personal relationships. When it feels like we’re up-to-date on our friends’ lives through Facebook or Instagram, we may become less likely to call them, much less meet up. Networks connect; communities care.

….A century or two ago, the word community “seemed to connote a specific group of people, from a particular patch of earth, who knew and judged and kept an eye on one another, who shared habits and history and memories, and could at times be persuaded to act as a whole on behalf of a part.” In contrast,the word has now become fashionable to describe what are really networks, as in the “business community”—”people with common interests [but] not common values, history, or memory.”

Does this matter for managing in the digital age, even for dealing with our global problems? It sure does. In a 2012 New York Times column, Thomas Friedman reported asking an Egyptian friend about the protest movements in that country: “Facebook really helped people to communicate, but not to collaborate,” he replied. Friedman added that “at their worst, [social media sites] can become addictive substitutes for real action.” That is why, while the larger social movements, as in Cairo’s Tahrir Square or on Wall Street, may raise consciousness about the need for renewal in society, it is the smaller social initiatives, usually developed by small groups in communities, that do much of the renewing….

We tend to make a great fuss about leadership these days, but communityship is more important. The great leaders create, enhance, and support a sense of community in their organizations, and that requires hands-on management. Hence managers have get beyond their individual leadership, to recognize the collective nature of effective enterprise.

Especially for operating around the globe, electronic communication has become essential. But the heart of enterprise remains rooted in personal collaborative relationships, albeit networked by the new information technologies. Thus, in localities and organizations, across societies and around the globe, beware of “networked individualism“ where people communicate readily while struggling to collaborate.

The new digital technologies, wonderful as they are in enhancing communication, can have a negative effect on collaboration unless they are carefully managed. An electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that’s all….(More)”