I’m at PDF2005 at CUNY in New York city today. I moderated a panel called “Tools and Ideas for Empowering the Edges” in the morning, so I’m off-duty now, able to participate as an audience member and on the really snarky backchannel chat.
Right now Micah Sifry is interviewing Andy Stern of the SEIU. More comments when I’ve had time to digest the people and ideas I’m encountering here.
3 responses to “Personal Democracy Forum 2005”
A Short Interview with Christian Crumlish
I had the opportunity to meet Christian Crumlish yesterday and today (well monday and tuesday, at this point). Christian is a writer for http://www.personaldemocracy.com/ab
Si vous avez quelques affinit
Christian – Thanks for your writeup on Meetup’s decision to introduce fees. Now, I’m fully aware of the need to run such services rationally – even successful Open Source ventures require rational business models which include funding mechanisms, yes of course – but I found the manner in which Meetup chose to introduce the fee system to be, quite honestly, astonishing.
Astonishment doesn’t always dovetail with wonder though, and I also found watching the collapse of the WTC towers “astonishing”, in a nightmarish way – who could have imagined that ?
In the case of Meetup’s fee imposition, my astonishment was similar but less anguished, another of those perennial spectacles which occurs as individuals who are suddenly thrust, by some combination of luck and talent, to fame and fortune are unaware of the potential pitfalls and so become so entranced by and caught up in schmoozing with wealth and power that they forget to stop and ask themselves how, exactly, they came to inhabit such a favored niche, or what they might need to learn about leadership.
The delusions of power are a staple concern of historians – see Barbara Tuckman’s “The March of Folly”, and perhaps they are intrinsic to the human condition. It is well known – to biologists in general perhaps but to ethologists certainly – that leadership, among the social mammals, is a chemically – hormonally – mediated affair. Among primates, struggles for pack or troop leadership are incessant, and upstarts who fight their way to the top undergo, when they get there, hormonal changes. Testosterone titration goes way up.
The US military knows full well that leaders can be created – basic training, at the squad level, requires that every squad member take a stint, for several days, as leader. Typically, individuals quickly adapt to this new role and begin to exhibit the behavioral traits of leadership.
One of the delusions of leadership, though, involves the conviction that one is always right. But, high levels of Testosterone – in male primates anyway – have actually been shown to inhabit learning and also sociability. Testosterone charged male primates tend to try and bludgeon their way to get what they want, whereas females and less Testosteronally driven males seem to be far more inclined to creative problem solving.
Among humans, wily, savvy and seasoned leaders ( Odyseus is an archetypal wily leader ) – whether male or female – will be aware of these sorts of pitfulls endemic to the social primate family and so will take pains to talk to those they lead, to maintain consensus sufficient for a widespread sense of ownership and inclusion. Think : the “big man” approach as opposed to the scorched earth style of a Jack Welch.
The leaders of Meetup seem to have forgotten one of the most basic rules of social software and of human social process in general : people want to feel empowered and included in decision making, and they don’t like decision that are imposed on them by executive fiat.
People like to give their consent and – when asked politely and if the decision is a reasonable one ( or seems to be ) will usually give it.
If Meetup had openly presented members with its financial shortfall and made even a minimal attempt to solicit member opinion on solutions to the problem and on possible fee structure, it is very unlikely that Meetup would have opted for a fee structure which discouraged those very individuals who were making meetups happen, and regardless of what fee structure was chosen member loyalty would have been preserved simply by the polite expedient of asking people what they thought – and felt – on the question.
That is – quite simply – good business practice, and in the course of discussing citizen journalism, Mark Kraft ( the ex-business manager of LiveJournal ) has gently but thoroughly impressed this imperative into my thick head (and my head actually is thick, like a Cro-Magnon’s) :
Healthy social processes cannot be coerced, and on the Internet they are exceedingly fragile. The margin for error – in terms of building and preserving member trust and loyalty – is vanishingly small. The very small group of individuals who built LiveJournal made most of their management decisions in public and solicited user feedback on decisions – was any given decision a good idea ? Or a dumb one ? In that way, the architects of LiveJournal – now bigger than Blogger – built, preserved, and reinforced member loyalty and a culture of inclusion.
The case of Meetup.com presents a striking contrast, one that clashes rather violently with its association with the Dean Campaign. One would think those connections and that recent history would have predisposed the leaders of Meetup.com to be aware of such democratic, or consensus building, considerations.
Again, thanks for the writeup.
I’m working with a group which is developing a version of Scoop that will enable meetups ( Rusty Foster has built some new capabilities into Scoop, in his latest version which was developed specifically for political campaigns and is being used in the Corzine campaign as a forum and community builder.) and will be power my Talk to Action project. It also might become a platform for other types of communities.
I won’t drop another such essay on your blog – it’s just one of my idiosyncracies that I enjoy writing in this way.