When is ‘Big Enough’?
We are all part of a number of communities – voluntarily or by default – but not all communities are created equal. So it begs the question,
- I propose that size matters. I know there will be exceptions to that rule, but overall
- Too small and it’s kinda like a birthday party on Christmas Day – everybody is busy elsewhere and nobody wants to play
- Too big and it feels like the proverbial urban jungle where nobody really cares about each other and everybody is on the take
There is a pretty widely-held belief that bigger is better. In all aspects of life we are culturally conditioned to feel that more is always good, but time and again this is proven to rarely be the case. Before you write this idea off, let me explain.
For sure there are times when big is well, kinda awesome. There is an electric atmosphere and a buzzing energy that goes along with BIG. Opportunities seem more expansive, we gain freedom through anonymity, there is a lot going on all at once, catering to almost any preference.
“Growing and maintaining an engaged community has been one of the leading reasons for our success as a business.”
But when we want real connection, when we seek out meaningful encounters, and when we feel the most a part of a greater purpose – they’re all in the realms of ‘big enough’. Think of a gig with your favourite musician. Going to a stadium concert is fun, it’s exciting, it’s electric. You might have the time of your life, or you might lose your friends, have your wallet stolen, or not be able to see anything because of the group of veritable giants in front of you.
Think now about if you had the opportunity to see that same band or solo artist in an intimate, acoustic session with 50 hand-picked fans and not a drunken dude puking to be found. These things are rare. They’re exclusive. They’re incredibly special. The artists don’t make a tonne of money, there’s no pyrotechnics or 12 person dance troupes. It’s just you, the artist, one-on-one conversations with the audience, autographed albums and a mind-blowing shared experience. And it’s the kind of night you’d remember as a highlight of your life.
You might be thinking, “yeah but that’s different”, but it’s kinda not. Sure Coles has everything you need in one place, but shopping there is a totally soul-less experience further isolating people from each other with self-service checkouts and supply chains that screw someone at the other end. Shopping local and direct just feels better.
There is a famous case of a woman who was stabbed to death in a crowded street in front of dozens of witnesses yet nobody called the police or intervened. This sparked what is known as the ‘Bystander Effect’, whereby the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. This Bystander Effect happens all the time when something grows too large. We assume somebody else will take care of it, or reach out a hand to help, or do something. BIG takes away the natural inclination we feel to connect and help others in our community.
I have seen this in a number of business groups I am part of. They start out small and engaged and incredibly supportive. But as they grow and the growth momentum takes hold, they become dumping grounds for one-way broadcasts and every man for himself. Nobody gets much out of it, but from the outside it can look like it’s a happening place. As members push past 1000, 15,000, 100K, 2 million, it increasingly loses what attracted people to these communities in the first place. Unintended consequences start to take hold. AirBnB is a great example of people with grassroots but has turned into a multi-billion dollar business where locals suffer housing shortages and once thriving neighbourhoods have become ghettos of short term stays and mega-hosts. On the other side, guests are hardly having an authentic, local experience and making new friends in an unfamiliar city.
One of the darker sides of these bloated communities is their eventual, almost inevitable commodification. Just as Facebook have turned us into their product – our billions of eyes, our lives as content, our connections as their capital – most communities cannot resist the temptation to profiteer from our coming together.
Eventually, the members of these behemoths start to peel away, creating smaller clusters of sub-groups. In big cities we’re seeing people re-building communities to regain a sense of the village where people know, like and trust each other again. Shop Local, Kindergarten Co-Ops and Neighbourhood Street Parties are capturing people’s hearts and minds as a better way of living.
Late last year, mega marketing company Hubspot posted the blog ‘Why We Unsubscribed 250K People From HubSpot’s Marketing Blog & Started Sending Less Email’. It’s a fascinating article which makes a strong business case for why more is not always more. There is little value to either the organisation nor to its unengaged users in a community so large it no longer serves people in the tailored, specialised or personalised ways it once did.
- To be self-sustaining each community needs to reach a tipping point where its collective strength is greater than the sums of its parts.
- Reaching this sweet spot ought to be an organic process, where self-selecting in or out is encouraged over a ‘free-for-all’, once size fits most approach. This will take time. Be patient.
- As a member of the community, remember that you will get out what you put in. In order to bear fruit, each person must individually take up the opportunity to both give and get in equal measure. Nobody likes a taker.
- And finally, be skeptical of a growth-for-growth sake approach and evaluate who BIG is really serving.
GiveGet is a tribe of supportive, passionate and talented entrepreneurs and freelancers finding connection through a trusted network, and success through reciprocity. Find out more at www.giveget.biz