I wrote about multi-membership in 2002, in blog (that a tech glitch wiped out): “Cross-functional individuals belong to multiple communities of practice, and it is the multi-membership that gives them the boundary-spanning multi-perspective, from which they can see radical innovation opportunities where others may see an opportunity only for gradual improvement or nothing.” Given that, it was a true delight to discover Sébastien Paquet’s concept of “community straddling” in a brief but germinal essay on Online Communities and the Future of Culture. A “community straddler is someone who participates in several communities, be it simultaneously or sequentially, and who understands the culture of each to a certain extent.” Seb also wrote:
These people do not feel irrevocably bound to a particular community. They see themselves as multidimensional: as opposed to saying “I’m a doctor, don’t expect me to teach you anything” or “I’m just a programmer, don’t bug me with politics”, they’ll say “Well, right now I’m into this and that and that, and if you have something new to show me I just might take a plunge!”
As humankind’s collective intellect–reflected to some extent on the web–became the most powerful force of production of our times, multi-community membership and the corresponding multi-dimensional evolution of human faculties, became harbingers of cultural and economic transformation much more profound and broader than we’ve ever had a chance to experience.
As a 19 century German philosopher wrote:
“For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood…,” while in the future “nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes… thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticism after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter fisherman, shepherd or critic.”
Those ideas had to wait more than 150 years for history to catch up with and realize them. We’re the generation in the life of which it’s happening in an accelerated way, but still with a lot of resistance from those who feel uncomfortable with change and having to learn new things. Although I’ve been a “straddler” for decades, I can still pinpoint areas of resistance in me when I have to learn using yeat another new technology. Is it a question of not getting any younger as the years pass…, or just plain lazyness…? Well, this entry is not about me but, so let’s not become too personal… 🙂
Another quote from Seb’s essay:
“Community straddlers keep the air fresh in a community; they help keep it alive. They contribute to the exchange of ideas between cultures which would otherwise hear little about each other.”
It is true to the role of straddlers as “connectors” not only between ethnic but also professional and other kinds o cultures. That’s because one’s social network which includes a multi-community menbership may be a more potent source of innovation and value-creation than a network that doesn’t.
That’s just one more, although not negligeable, reason for launching a learning expedition into mapping the obstacles and enablers of “straddling,” psychological, technical, organizational, cultural, etc… If you want to participate in and maybe even co-design such expedition, drop me a line.