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February 03, 2009


It wasn’t absolute zero yesterday, but it was a colder day than most, and ten inches of snow brought London practically to a standstill.

On Wimbledon Common the snowman building tribe came out, for one day only, to do their thing, a temporary tribe.

People were engaged in a shared experience and the community spirit was not only alive and well it was thriving, creating a life affirming energy in the depths of winter. That’s what communities do.

Chilling out has long been associated with having a plus side, it suggests moderation, it attracts rathers than repels. As Lucy Kellaway writes about the recession’s web of fear and how we manage an emerging global collective psyche, arguably the best thing we can do right now amidst the panic of potential meltdown, is chill.

The interesting thing absolute zero as a temperature is it’s when matter exhibits quantum effects such as superconductivity and superfluidity, so as far as getting things going is concerned, it’s a pretty good place to be.

Apply that to economics and no growth may be a good thing for a while, a time to take stock in lateral ways.

When we take time to survey the economic scene it’s just as much in the depths of a bleak midwinter as my local snowscene. It looks like the repetitive rush to profit and productivity has driven us at a reckless pace into the buffers like a runaway train that’s facing derailment on snowy tracks.

Compare that to the strongest social community I know, Seth Godin’s www.triiibes.com community where, on an entirely voluntary basis, in six months 3,942 members have created 353 groups, 3,163 discussions, 2,075 blog posts and uploaded 437 videos.

It’s the laissez faire approach coupled with a strong leadership ethos of ‘lead and get out of the way’ that’s generated an excellent signal-to-noise ratio, such remarkable productivity and a whole wave of active participants as the antidote to 'single-think'.

The internet lowers the cost of failure and has the ability, in social communities, to create safe places to land, thus spawning entirely different cultural possibilities compared to more rigid management structures.

These cultures are more relaxed, committed to the need for collaboration as the way to get things done, and capable of rapidly accelerating group capabilities because of the cumulative effects of learning iteratively together in real time.

Strong community cultures accept and encourage everyone involved to express themselves, to feel valued for having a point of view, metaphorically speaking, to build their own snowmen.

They recognize that consumption and production and new forms of credit can often be generated better as a group, for and with one another, than by seeking that fix from outside, especially when a common purpose can bind people together like glue.

These things are beginning to emerge as new imperatives for productivity and growth. Being chilled about that probably isn’t a bad way to start.


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