In no particular order:
- Being part of the community feels even better than being part of your smaller self-organizing groups
- You notice that there is no end to the community
- Community purpose has become your individual and group purpose
- You experience remarkable difference within the community—many people who look, think, and act nothing like you—yet you feel completely safe within the community
- You recognize yourself as the community
- You have so many more options and ways of moving in the world than you used to that you start to experience your individual and group decisions as one giant experiment
- The amazing experiences that you used to have primarily within your self-organizing groups you find yourself experiencing with complete strangers as part of the community
- Your self-organizing groups take on a life of their own—overlapping, integrating, and recreating themselves
- Synchronicity becomes the norm instead of the exception
- You find yourself with ample time to hear hints from the universe and limited time to worry that people will judge you
Daniel, you can stop reading here as I’ll undoubtedly talk your ear off about this all weekend.
For those of you with a taste for detail, here’s more. I’m documenting this in detail because I know I’ll be revisiting this list in the coming years. This is how these 10 hints showed up in my own life and work recently…
- Hint #1: being part of a self-organizing community feels even better than being part of your smaller self-organizing groups. I began studying a 100+ person men’s friendship group this spring. This group was unique among the groups I studied because it didn’t end. During an interview with 6 group members, their response to the question “How do you know when it’s time to let go of the group?” was to simultaneously shout “You die!” followed by peals of collective laughter to the point of giggling. They were kidding but also seriously telling me that only death or significant bodily and/or mental impairment kept members away from their weekly meeting. Until that moment, when I studied groups not my own but connected to my own somehow, I was happy to study the group, learn with them, and then move on. This was the first of 30+ groups I studied that made me think “I want this. I want to be part of a group like this one: a self-organizing group that grows steadily and quietly, making their entire community better along the way, and also long after individual group members leave the earth. A self-organizing group that you never have to let go of.”
- Hint #2: there is no end to the community. That 100+ member men’s friendship group was the first time a group/community said that to me out loud. Thanks to them, I started seeing the same thing in the flash mob community. I showed up at my first flash mob (Sept 2010) to study the mob as a group and the small groups with the group. But even back then I could see that there was a substantial core of people who knew, loved, and helped each other at flash mob rehearsals and events and also outside of the events into people’s everyday lives. People who showed up at event after event: friends who became family. I learned that there was such a thing as an OG (original gansta), which means people who’d been mobbing together since the beginning–several years and dozens of mobs together. I learned there were A, B, C, and D teams within the mobs and that moving from D (everyone) to C (people know you) to B and A (friends and family) teams had more to do with dedication to the community than it did about individual skills and abilities. And the more mobs I attended, the more I could see it—this community was large and always evolving and flowing in and around the events that strangers experience as flash mobs. In this case, the community’s purpose is to foster surprise, delight, connection, and joy among themselves and total strangers. If the purpose doesn’t have an end, then the community doesn’t either.
- Hint #3: community purpose has become your individual and group purpose. Thanks to community member Bernie DeKoven, this summer I recognized that my individual, group, and community purposes are all one and the same. I first noticed this as part of my flash mob family (FMF), as community members became my friends, and as some of my friends joined the community. When I’m with them, I’m a friend first, then a flash mobber, and then a researcher. I couldn’t care less if some people think that flash mobs are a passing fad or have been done to death or aren’t doing anything meaningful for planet earth. This community will evolve and change, and I will be with them as long as they want me. What’s more important, I wonder, than demonstrating that complete strangers from all walks of life and all over planet earth can bring joy to each other and completely trust each other? Now friends in person, we’re also extending our time together via Facebook, YouTube, email, Twitter, and so on. Where I used to have the photos my husband and I took of flash mobs, I now get hundreds, and videos, and invites to flash mobs from entirely different communities. I never stop being a learner/researcher, but I recognize that this community is allowing me (and others) to be so much more. It’s safe to check my individual needs at the door and just enjoy being a flash mobber. My individual needs will be met by the community—my individual intentions often aren’t needed.
- Hint #4: there is remarkable difference within the community—many people who look, think, and act nothing like you—yet you feel completely safe within the community. The remarkable differences within flash mobs are apparent to anyone who has been part of one. Every human difference you can think of shows up in these groups—nationality, culture, age, color, orientation, ability, political affiliation, likes, purpose, religion, and fashion to name a few. What remarkably different and also safe does to a person is astonishing. You begin to move in the world differently—more fluidly, less haltingly. I noticed this spring that this is true for me within my own Central District neighborhood. If you live in my neighborhood, to me, you are a genius by default. I may not like everything you do and say, but I’m glad you’re here, making the neighborhood unique and special, and I’m honored to be living in a neighborhood with such amazing people now and in its history. This also fully hit home for me a few weekends ago with my FMF. A group of 30 or so core flash mob community members mobbed a wedding (at the request of the bride and groom, who mobbed with us). As we were leaving the very fancy building, I saw somebody point to us and screech happily saying “Oo, there goes the entertainment!!” as we walked up a grand hotel staircase. Wow. Somebody pointed at me and saw me as “the entertainment.” I am a quiet, geeky, book worm, academic, less-than-athletic, researcher, shy, home body. There isn’t even a small part of me that I imagined ever having the courage to become “the entertainment” and to hear that applied to me was pure joy. I looked around me and realized that I was surrounded by people radically different from me—actors, dancers, entertainers, event planners, students, moms—some several decades older than me and some several decades younger than me. This community made that moment possible. Seeing something in yourself that you couldn’t even begin to imagine was there—that is the gift of self-organizing community.
- Hint #5: You recognize yourself as the community. As I was co-writing an e-book with my friend Doug this summer, he pushed me into saying out loud what I myself am experiencing these days–things I hadn’t fully thought through until he showed up and together we pulled ideas out of our group. I realized that I now experience the ability to move in and out of three “selves” and I can imagine a fourth. I think of these selves as 1) fish (my individual self), school of fish (my self-organizing group self), river (my self-organizing community self), and ocean (my self-organizing planet self). I’ll talk more about this in upcoming posts.
- Hint #6: you have so many more options and ways of moving in the world that you start to experience your individual and group decisions as one giant experiment. My experience of negative conflict within one of my groups this summer opened my eyes to what living with my fish, school, and river options (see #5 above) really means. Instead of getting angry and avoiding the issue or yelling when negative conflict happened, I experienced being able to move in and out of my individual perspective, my group perspective, and my community perspective. I got to choose from among an extraordinary amount of different options for how I handled what happened. With several core members’ help, I landed on a “pull my individual self out of the group for a few months and wait and see what the amazing group does without me” option. I’m experiencing the whole thing as a giant experiment that the group and I are part of—there’s no longer anything negative about it. I noticeably changed my own past. Cool. I became able to feel gratitude from each perspective and for each perspective, even for my individual self for speaking up loudly to me that the boundaries of the group, for me, felt like they were in jeopardy. I realized that it might be time for me to leave the group, but that the relationships I’ve built with core members will last–they are part of my community, my “river” self. It may also be time for the group itself to change. Can’t wait to see how it all unfolds!
- Hint #7: the amazing experiences that you used to have primarily within your self-organizing groups you find yourself experiencing with complete strangers within the community. We’ve lived in our neighborhood almost 9 years now. It’s a large urban neighborhood, so every year we meet new neighbors and learn about the amazing people who live in all directions around us. In late July, the people on our block threw together a large, fun block party in just a couple of days. Everybody joined in and contributed what they could. Some of these people I recognize as self-organizing groups and are close friends, some I know only by sight, and many are total strangers. As I watched email go back and forth all week, I realized that many people on the thread didn’t know each other at all. Yet it didn’t matter. We did what we needed to do. Things went remarkably smoothly. We had a blast. Everybody was a leader and nobody was. We had more food than we knew what to do with. People from other blocks came over. So did people from other neighborhoods in the city. This group acted like the smaller self-organizing groups I study–groups in which members are all close and deeply aware that they are part of a special group. But there were complete strangers in this group and they got to have the amazing experiences too.
- Hint #8: your self-organizing groups take on a life of their own—overlapping, integrating, and recreating themselves. This year my own self-organizing groups began to noticeably overlap, integrate, re-create themselves, and get all mixed up with each other. Group boundaries have become porous, fluid, yet they still feel stable. It’s become impossible for me as an individual to keep track of how many self-organizing groups I’m part of—it’s chaotic and messy and enjoyable. Examples:
- A friend of a consultant friend ended up at a workshop I did, then joined our consultants group, and is now working with me on a project
- A person who found my blog became my friend, then joined our consultants group, then invited one of his friends to join the group. Now that friend and I are working together
- The spouses of several of my group members have helped me with my work
- I regularly share ideas from one 3-person international group with several of my in-person groups
- A neighbor and good friend of mine reimagined herself as a consultant and then joined our consultant’s group. This same neighbor is also part of my larger neighborhood-centered self-organizing group and several smaller groups I’m part of as well
- A Microsoft-days friend of mine and my husband recently decided to support each other’s photography work and community build together—years after my friend and I worked together (during which time none of us knew about the photography interests of the others)
- A work colleague of a friend of a friend became my friend and is now my work colleague
- A consulting group friend connected her flash-mob-curious friend with two of us who regularly flash mob. We connected her with flash mob core members/organizers to get her questions answered.
The more overlap and mixing across my self-organizing groups, the better, from my perspective, because the more visible the community becomes and the more visible opportunities within it become to all of us. But this also means letting go of my individual researcher’s need to track and study all these groups as separate groups. Means making a big decision to trust that the community will provide a coherent answer within me if someone ever asks me “How many groups have you studied?”
9. Hint #9: synchronicity becomes the norm instead of the exception. Synchronicity is becoming an every-day sort of thing. Now I’m surprised when something amazing doesn’t happen within my communities on any given day. Off the top of my head, here are a few examples from the past 6 months:
- Spontaneous 1-hour planning, funding, and coordination of a road trip by groups members for a member who really needs to get away but can’t afford to travel
- Friends and family members—as self-organizing groups—now regularly helping with my blog, which I once thought was separate from my “life” because it was my “work”
- A self-organizing group member offering to serve as a conscious learner/researcher at Burning Man—a self-organizing community that he’s part of and I’m not—and guest blogging about the experience
- Resources show up within one part of my community (such as an article posted by a Twitter friend) the very day that somebody else in my community (a member of my consulting group, for example) needs them
- I just learned that a new flash mob friend of mine also happens to be friends with a close friend of mine from my Microsoft days—the boundaries I created between my old work life and my new work life just collapsed
- One of my planet-wide personal heroes started following me on Twitter last month. I have no idea how this happened but, for me, this is akin to all four of the Beatles deciding to follow one screaming teenage fan. OMG!
10. Hint #10: You find yourself with ample time to hear hints from the universe and limited time to worry that people will judge you. My work is more challenging than ever before, yet these days I’m experiencing it as remarkably easy thanks to the community. For example, my community shows up daily now and puts examples and ideas directly into my hands. I have more to reflect on that I possibly could reflect on and more to share than I possibly could share. Many of the groups I study and am part of—for example, my consulting group, my book club, my friendship and hobby and learning groups, my flash mob family, Collective Self blog responders, my Central District neighborhood, my husband’s and friend’s communities, and my biological and extended family—are now themselves creating most of what ends up in the Collective Self blog. This freed me up to hear the universe’s “hints” and to recognize where to direct my attention next. Today I plan less, worry less, have more free time, do more of what I love, work with more people I love, and I see more, learn more, and get more done. I’m also talking about “hints from the universe” which my individual researcher self would have stopped me from saying out loud in the past for fear of being judged. This self-organizing community business rocks!
I’d suggest that “Community purpose has become more important to you than your individual and group purposes” might be more accurately described as “Community purpose has become identical to your individual and group purposes”
Oo, Bernie, that’s so much better. Thank you! 🙂 Think I’ll shorten it even further to “Community purpose has become your individual and group purpose”
The language that I used came from my initial reflection on setting aside my own “self-organizing groups researcher” title and agenda whenever I step into my flash mob community these days. The community’s purpose to surprise, delight, foster connection takes priority over my own “learn everything I can about self-organizing groups.” But in your words I can see more wisdom. What I’m actually doing is recognizing the community’s purpose as my own purpose. I’m not giving up my individual purpose, I’m coming to more clearly see my individual purpose thanks to to my communities. Which, apparently, now includes you! This evolution point feels similar to when I first recognized myself as a self-organizing group, but it’s even more fun this time around.
Very nice to meet you, Bernie, and thank you. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.