I recently signed up for Alex Hillman's email list-serve. He's a guy I find super-inspiring and, if you've read anything I've written very carefully, you might have noticed that I mention him frequently. He's somewhat of a community building guru and his perspective is unique. What I find exceptional about him is that he comes across as a hard working guy and a "go-getter" yet he understands that sometimes you have to take what is given to you.
His email this morning included a parable about two brothers working on a farm. One works really hard to help the seeds grow, giving them everything they need... yet he tends to overdue it because he is impatient and believes that if some is good then more must be better. The other brother cares more for the soil and just tosses the seeds, letting them land wherever they want. They both see some growth, but the latter gets a much more lush, albeit more wild and random looking, crop.
I've become so involved in many different forms of community building in the last year and beyond and I can definitely see the tendencies of the first brother coming out of me sometimes. When sales are down and growth is slow, I probably tend to overdue it: Facebook updates, more advertising, more promotions. More, more, more!
I find many conversations I've observed lately, too, reacting to things this way. Let's plan more events! Expand it to a wider audience! Get more businesses here! Surely that will change the way things are.
Well, based on this parable, I'm guessing you know what I'm going to say. It's probably not going to work. I think the average consumer can start to feel strangled by all the advertising and drowned in the flurry of events and promotions. Also, the thing about community is that it's stronger when we all work together. At some point, people have to prioritize how they spend their time and if we give them too much to do, they will start to have negative reactions or will be forced to make a choice and all of us community builders will end up with just a percentage of our potential attendees.
What if we spent more time tilling the soil before we planted more seeds? What the heck does that even mean?
What I'm taking away from this: Listen and Compromise. You can't force things to go your way. There are always environmental factors that are out of your control. Spend more time creating high quality and well-thought out products instead spending more time just creating more. Give people the opportunity to breathe and form a community in their own time... organically.
I put that photo above because it is an example of how I understand living as the second brother. I am incredibly picky about the art and the things I choose to have in my home. When I have an empty wall, I usually spend a lot of time imagining what I'd like to see there and eventually I get a pretty clear idea. I almost never listen to anyone else's opinion. Then, I spend FOREVER looking for exactly what I want. I have patience and I don't lose sight of the goal, because I want to love what hangs there... especially since I have to look at it every day. The coolest part is that I always find what I'm looking for, eventually, and all of those things I hunted for over time are things I really love and they have real sticking power. They live beyond any trends or changes in taste.
I'm hoping to build a community like this. One that can outlive any economic trends or "shop local" campaign.