Strong Communities help people support one another, share their passions, and achieve big goals. And such communities aren't just happy accidents- they can be purposefully cultivated -Charles Vogl, Author of The Art of Community
Alan: Welcome back I’m visiting here today with Charles Vogl he is the author of the book, The Art of Community the seven principles of belonging. Charles welcome to today's show.
Charles: I'm delighted to be here
Alan: So for the listeners can you give the background what inspired you to do your book?
Charles: A number of things when I was a younger man my experiences in human rights, civil rights and labor rights activism and for several years I was a genocide education activist while I was an independent PBS filmmaker telling a story of genocide survivors who journeyed to America. And the theme in all of those roles that I played is I talked a lot about very sober subjects and I couldn't depend on the excitement of the subject to carry conversations and for success in all of those efforts I could only be successful- our work could only be successful in bringing people together around shared values to work on something that was really big in many cases problems are not going to be solved in our lifetime. So that was the cauldron if you will that formed me through heat to get better at bringing people together. And then I went to graduate school to study philosophy, religion, ethics and business and while I was there one of things that I could study was spiritual traditions that have stayed together for millennia and I was really inspired by the idea that these groups- even facing existential threats- could stay together in such powerful ways that you and I could leave this room right now and meet their descendants and India and China and even here in the United States. So when I got to the Bay Area after grad school, I sat down for lunch with a guy named Kevin Lin who is the current COO and still one of the founders of Twitch TV. And for those who don't know what Twitch TV is, it's an online platform that brings together online gamers largely through video. And today they have over 100 million unique users every month and Kevin was telling me over our lunch how he knew that the company could still expand but what he really wanted to do was to make stronger connections with the people who are already coming onto their platform and connecting but they didn't have a rubric to do that and of course he didn't want to experiment willy-nilly because didn't want to break what was already a successful company and serving people and so over that lunch sitting over those tostadas I had almost exploded with ideas because I saw in that moment that I had spent the last several years studying how people come together and create those strong connections even through a big challenge and he'd been spending his time building a global tech company and there was this way that we could come together at least in conversation and create something new for this generation so I went home to write down some ideas for Kevin when I was done it was book length and now we're talking about the book now.
Alan: Now when we're looking at communities how do you define a community?
Charles: For the purposes of my work I define a community as a group of people who share mutual concern for one another and that's important because we may be in groups where someone might call it a community, or we want it to be a community but those mutual concern relationships aren't there yet. And that's important to know because I almost exclusively work with people in some kind of leadership role and leadership meaning they're creating a future that does not yet exist and they need to other people to come on board to create it. And if we want to create groups where people who are tightly connected we need to understand what we're doing in leadership is creating those relationships from we're in a room together to how do we share concern for one another so when something goes poorly or even well we're there for one another.
Alan: When did you first become interested in communities?
Charles: Oh my goodness- well the reason that I'm able to be an expert on building communities now is because I spent a long time lonely and when I say lonely I'm honest when I say that I wondered if I'd ever find a place where I thought I'd fit in, I wondered if I'd ever have the kind of friends that I wanted. I wondered if I'd ever find a place where I knew that I belonged. So in as much as I felt lonely and I think most people I talk to have at some point felt lonely, I've been real interested in the people who have a place to belong and they have community. As far as being really struck that there's a way to come together that is powerful and life-changing, when I served in the US Peace Corps in northern Zambia, I lived in a village of about 150 families and as you can imagine it's a really poor place and my host family and I lived in mud houses with grass roofs and the way that they all feed their families is through subsistence farming and everyone takes care of everyone else. It's very difficult if not impossible to starve to death as an individual or a single family in this community because other people are going to make sure that you get enough and they celebrate together and they mourn together and when help is needed people don't even hesitate they stand up and help one another. And it's pretty powerful live in a place where you see people don't have enough often and yet they're willing to share and help with everyone they live with.
Alan: I’m visiting here today with Charles Vogl he's the author of, the book, The Art of Community, The Seven Principles of Belonging, and Charles I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm visiting here today with Charles Vogl he is the author of the book, The Art of Community, The Seven Principles of Belonging, and the first segment we talked about your interest in getting into the book I want to delve a little bit into the role that religion plays in helping to build communities?
Charles: For the purposes of my work I discuss communities as groups of people brought together around some shared values and they may not be all the values they share but some values and obviously religious communities have been bringing people together for a long time around shared values and when people are involved with a religious tradition and the rituals that go along with it there they have a cadence in their life of gathering with people who they believe hopefully accurately share their values and you may know that we're in a time in American history where Americans are largely running away from their home faith traditions unfortunately often for really good reasons. One of the things that we're losing as a culture because of this trend is Americans are not gathering together with those groups that share whatever those core values were. I'm not judging whether those were good or bad values. They should continue doing that and we're also losing a connection with those rituals that mark the changes in our lives our transitions that help us understand we're maturing and so religion has provided that, whenever is good and bad about religious history it's provided that role and we're seeing less of that or certainly a different form of it in our current American generation
Alan: When we look at communities is there a methodology for how they are formed?
Charles: There's no magic formula and there's no one model of community that's going to work. We talked earlier that I think if a community is people who share mutual concern for one another. that could be your family that could be people on your block, that could be people in your profession that you just want to make sure that they're safe while they're doing their profession and obviously there's no model that's right for your family and for your colleagues that's why when I wrote the book I called them principles. How they're going to apply to your family or to my family are going to look different but the principles that- we're looking for sacred spaces. I talk about the temple principle- all I mean by that is a place where we can go and know we're going to meet people who share our values, space matters. For many people during Thanksgiving, a family home becomes a sacred space. We know it's sacred because things are said there that aren't said elsewhere and things are not said there that are said that are said elsewhere and when we can notice the sacred spaces are important places that are set aside for special times or special things then we can start protecting them then we can notice who are we inviting into these sacred spaces and how are we keeping those places safe so applying principles like that can be important if you want to bring a connection together including a family and don't yet know when I wake up in the morning how do I invest myself to help doing that
Alan: With the advances in technology today it seems that there's an evermore increasing principle of anxiety within individuals in lives and when we when we measure this why do so many people feel that the loneliness in this world?
Charles: I think it's a big subject and I want to make sure that I don't demonstrate gross hubris by claiming knowledge I don't have. One of the things that we do know is that Americans are feeling more lonely than they have seemingly ever we know that more Americans have no one to talk to about important subjects than just two generations ago. We know that personal networks have shrunk by about a third in two generations and we know that the number of people that Americans have to go to when they have something important talk to has shrunk. And I have to imagine that when you see that people don't have people to go to that there's a sense of loneliness. We're spending more time on screens and you may have seen the Atlantic article this year discussing how there seems to be a correlation between screen time and depression. Of course when we're on a screen were not connecting with other people in the real world and so there's been a shift in how our connecting in general. It's very difficult to build connections stronger within a community if you don't know who's inside and that doesn't mean that it needs to be a really sharp boundary but this idea is you want to know who am i working with to bring together and a part and parcel with that is this idea that we need to recognize who are who are we inviting in to events to conversations and to our physical space and if we don't know who were we want in and we're not extending invitation this is very difficult then to build a community of support and so the power of invitations is something I talk about when I work with leadership. Who are you inviting how often are you inviting who were you inviting him into and how are you articulating that that invitation so that I can be compelling and when I work with leaders we all know that success comes after a lot of failure and so we just need to accept that not only are our invitations going to get turned down but our success rate may be in percentages fairly small. I've invited I don't know how many thousand people to join me for dinner I know more people have ignored the invitation or declined than said yes. I know that hundreds and hundreds have said yes and I have hundreds of close friends with whom I've shared long meal. So the important part here is who says is yes because I made the invitations- not whether my invitations are rejected.
Alan: I'm visiting here to date with Charles Vogl he's the author of the book, The Art of Community, the Seven Principles of Belonging, and I need to take another break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I’m visiting here today with Charles Vogl he's author of the book, The Art of Community, The Seven Principles of Belonging and Charles let's run through those principles what are the seven principles?
Charles: For the purposes of building leaders to be better at bringing people together, the principles are these: the first is a boundary principle it's the line that distinguishes between members and outsiders and this is important because leadership needs to know who's on the inside that we're investing in to bring them together. The initiation principle is the second one. They're the activities that we engage in that marks a new member so the members know when in fact they're on the inside and other people are part of the community can know who else is on the inside we all want to know at what point we really belong. The rituals principle, and these are the things that we do that have meaning they may be activities that have started as practical things to do but now they have meaning for us and they typically mark our transitions as we grow into more mature people. The temple principle this is the idea that there's a place set aside where we can find the people in our community and even if we don't go to the temple we are feel more connected. If we know there is a place we can go -and there can be big temples and minor temples. The stories principle you obviously know what a the story is, and in this context, stories are what we share that communicate our actual values. In my experience very few of us care what it actually says in a website that it values our but we do understand the values when you hear what are the stories people in that community are telling. And if you're in a leadership role and you don't know what stories are getting shared then you don't know what people learning about you. And if you have stories you want people to learn and you don't know how they can learn them, those stories aren't bringing people together. The symbols principle these are things that represent a set of ideas or values that are important to us. Obviously we've all seen symbols and we use them our lives. For the purposes of my work we can understand that we can use symbols to give people a way to tie them together, that if we didn't recognize their importance and one of the most important symbols- I'd talk about are the tokens. They are symbols that we give to people that they can take with them as a reminder of their connection to us and the values that we share together. And then the last principle by far- the most sophisticated- the inner rings principle. This idea that in a mature community there are groups within the larger group of people who have come together and in a really unsophisticated community those rings are there just for older members to brag that they're and more so higher rings than younger members but that's not what I'm talking about, what I'm talking about are inner rings within the bigger group that reflect a broadening realm of concern for those members as people mature in they're concerned for more people than just themselves and what that means is when a new member shows up and joins a community what they find is a path to growth by entering deeper rings that will reflect their honest maturation and those are just obviously a very quick summary.
Alan: In the book you touch on rituals, what role does rituals play in belonging?
Charles: One of the rules at rituals can play in a community is there a way where others can acknowledge our change? So there are rituals of rite of passage when we pass from one way of being to another from a student to a graduate from a follower to a leader from a single person to a married person right and those transitions may happen without the rituals the rituals give us a way to experience something where we know that people care about us notice that we are changing and when I teach leadership I always put a photograph of a wedding up on the screen and I note that there's elaborate dress and there's elaborate decorations and there's many people in the photograph and I note that if we lose the people in the background of that wedding and we keep the fancy dress that's a really lousy wedding but if we keep the friends and family celebrating the couple and we lose the fancy the dress that's still a fantastically powerful moment in someone's lives. In ritual it's important who shows up who's acknowledging this change in celebrating it or mourning it if it's if it's a sad kind of change and whether we show up matters when we provide rituals and arrange them and everyone I talk to has a moment their life where they're invited to something and whether it's intentional or not it meant something to them about being connected to that group and I hope that we can all notice that other people did things to create that experience and we could do the same.
Alan: What was it genesis for the inspiration for you writing this book?
Charles:Well it really came to that conversation with Kevin here in San Francisco when he shared that even though he was connecting people around the world on an online platform he wanted a better way to bring people together and so I went home thinking I could write a few ideas that could help him bring people together and presumably other people as well if I shared it and it turns out I had so much to say that filled a book.
Alan: Kevin was with Twitch TV that had a hundred million-
Charles: Twitch is over 100 million unique users a month now.
Alan: That that's phenomenal that technology will enable us to scale on that size when you're looking at a community of that size, you know if a person sets out to say I want to build a hundred million member community, how difficult is that?
Charles: I can't speak to that because I've never done it and I don't know how many people in the history of the world have. What I understand twitch did and which other people are doing in their own way is there providing a way for people to connect around shared values and because of the technology be available to us with the internet and cameras they can do that in a way that feels really intimate and they can do it very often despite the miles and that's really a new thing of our era. I want to say that spoken with a number of people in leadership at Twitch while researching the book and after the book came out and one of the things I learned from them is they're a company that has all the resources they need to find ways to connect people. They obviously are incentivized to do that by their company mission and they've also discovered that technology cannot sufficiently connect the people in their community as much as they wanted to and I remember a conversation with Marcus Graham who's known as DJ Wheat and he was very senior in leading community building at Twitch around the world and he told me that twitch made a choice about changing their platform and overnight at least 3 million twitch users could no longer use the platform as they wanted to because that feature had been lost and Twitch found out about this and they went back and they were able to fix this within a matter of weeks but the question hung in the air how did we make a mistake that alienated over 3 million customers and of course one of the ironies here is the folks at Twitch are gamers, they use the platform. They're not so disconnected that it was a mystery to them what's going on in platform. Well I'll skip to the end here, what Mark has explained to me what they learned- Twitch had grown so large that they couldn't listen and understand what was going on well enough to create the tools that would serve their customers well. So the way they handled that is they started flying in certain members- they're called partners- to San Francisco to spend three days with them regularly to just be in conversation learn how they're using the platform and you learn how they want it to grow. So here's what I want you to get- Twitch, a billion dollar tech company is flying people together to sit in the same room because they understand at the end of the day sitting in the same room with somebody in sharing conversation is what's important and keeping it connected and understanding what's going on.
Charles: Alan: I'm visiting here today with Charles Vogl, he's the author of The Art of Community, the Seven Principles of Belonging, Charles I need to take another break- I'd like to hold you over for the last segment, there's a couple areas I want to talk ti you on that. We'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm visiting here with Charles Vogl, author of The Art of Community, and Charles in this last segment I want to focus in on how a business should focus on building a community.
Charles: I think the answer is different for every business and the people who know the people they want to bring together and how they want to bring together is the most important part. One of the things to look at is how are people recognized and for who they are and how do they know that they're being recognized and one of the easiest things you can look at is what rituals are there to acknowledge how people are growing in the organization and how are their successes and or how they're handling failures are acknowledged in some way and I'm often there are things going on there that members are just longing to be acknowledged and that's going to be the beginning of connecting in new ways.
Alan: So when people are setting out to build their communities are there common mistakes that are often made?
Charles: Yeah I think one of the biggest common mistakes is just thinking that if you declare a group of people in a room a community that it's a community and just assuming that it'll work itself out. We've already spoken today that we're in the loneliest generation in American history and Americans seem to be getting lonelier. Just assuming that not investing and bringing people together- not giving them some kind of leadership or structure is going to work is a real failing there and also believing that telling people that you're really motivated by only making money and you really want them to connect as people is somehow going to work because I think that most employees are smart enough to see through false intentions and if you want to create a organization where when something's on fire other people stand up to go put it out instead of standing up and talking about what's on fire then you actually want people to be connected you want to invest in that.
Alan: So in the final minutes, we just have a minute or so left, if a person wants to contact you to engage in leadership discussions or training within the organization how will they go and do that right?
Charles: The book is on Amazon and they can get that and that can be shared on a leadership team and then in the book you can find my website it's CharlesVogl.com and there you can find online course where we're live once a week and get together in leadership and go deeper into these ideas that we can apply them and then contact me for speaking with leadership about creating a culture belonging in any organization.
Alan: I've been visiting here today with Charles Vogl the author of the book The Art of Community The Seven Principles of Belonging and Charles were out of time today but I like to thank you for being on today's show and also for the listeners out there thanks for being here on American Dream today join us next week right here on this station. Have a good week.