Monday, July 28, 2008

Recommended Reads

I finished two books this weekend that were well worth the time spent. When first sitting down to write about them, I was thinking they were quite different books, but in this moment I see they are about the same thing, from different vantage points. Both books are about building community, which is one of my primary interests. I am interested in building community infrastructure/relationships, and then developing collective vision and skills within that community.

Personal Village: How to Have People in Your Life by Choice, Not Chance by Marvin Thomas was published in 2004, so it is not new. Nonetheless, I found it timely in its themes. I appreciated that this book is not heavy into or dependent on technology to build community. Thomas focuses on the old-fashioned putting yourself out there in a real and courageous way in strategic places to attract people who compliment and inspire you. Thomas suggests finding communal hangouts where people share your values and your interests. This might be a third place like a coffee shop or yoga studio or gym, or it might be a more formal group specifically formed around interests. Whatever the group, Thomas gives forgotten advice about being engaged and engaging in order to become attached and rooted. The best part of this book is the collection of resources after each chapter. I think studying successful community building strategies would go a long way to making the organizations we work in, the second places, more fulfilling and thereby more effective.

Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing The Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is also about building community around a business's interests through technology, specifically blogging. This book is a survey of businesses that blog and the context in which they blog - some successful and effective, others, not so much. Scoble and Israel in effect have collected stories of how and why companies are building community around the common element of being a product-user. In fact, the Naked Conversations blog that they used to collect write about much of their research has been renamed Global Neightbourhoods.

I am fascinated, and was not let down in reading this book, by the movement toward cultures that are more open, more transparent, and more authentic. I find it amazing that CEOs of huge, multi-layered, well-insulated corporations blog. Here is an interesting wiki that is following this phenom. There are, however, corporations that blog which is more like their PR department getting tech savvy instead of real authentic blogging. Dave Winer, creator of RSS among many other things, sums that up nicely in the book with this quote, " The act of creativity -- only a person can do it, a company cannot."

I recommend reading Naked Conversations with your computer very near so that you can check out the blogs they are talking about as you read about them. Then, highlight the structural questions as they critique them Who should blog? What are the policies and parameters, What does open mean and are we comfortable with that? Are we going to try to monitor the blogging by employees are just trust? -- there are many considerations. But, their bottom line, and I agree, is that blogging is an incredible opportunity to build community, create trust, earn respect, and engage in passionate, reciprocal relationships. And, blogging done poorly or for the wrong reasons does more harm than good.

The logical book to read in conjunction with Naked Conversations is The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Read both and realize there is developing a very new usual in business. Only those who get it will be relevant.

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