Is there a downside to strong communities? Would you believe the answer is yes?
Before you unsubscribe to this blog, please hear me out. Community is a positive force for all humankind. It existed before things like marketing, design and brands ever did. We need community. Without it—we would wither away and die. But strong communities can also have a negative side effect. Sometimes we're all guilty of clinging to our communities—rarely leaving them for "outside world" perspectives and viewpoints. We can become inwardly focused and exclusive as opposed to inclusive. We're all vulnerable to this, including yours truly.
So I've been thinking about Information Architects—a discipline that boasts one of the most vibrant communities around. Boxes and Arrows recently featured a thought provoking write up about the discipline, which challenged Information Architects to examine themselves and the external perception of the field. At first, I cheered—I thought "somebody within the IA community actually had the guts to say this". But the more I thought about it—the more empathetic I became to the practitioners. I eventually realized that we're all going through similar experiences which call for self examination—most of our professions seem to be evolving these days. Things are changing so rapidly within the industry that looking to our communities for support makes perfect sense.
Here's the bit that stood out for me in the piece:
- IAs are history. They used to be cool, but they got caught on a few irrelevant issues, and have lost their chance to gain and hold a central position in today’s information environment.
- IAs are insular. They are unfamiliar with, and indifferent to, things going on outside the world of wireframes, facet analysis and web analytics.
- IAs are shallow. They may be flashy and indeed intelligent, but they don’t think deeply about things, and they have failed to reach the subterranean profundity that other fields have attained.
For the full context you'll have to read the entire post. But I'd like to take a page from Roger von Oech's book and turn this particular excerpt upside down for a moment. What if the statement read something like this:
- IAs have substance. They may be intelligent and thoughtful, but they really know how reach deep levels of insight that other fields would love to emulate.
- IAs are inclusive. They are keenly curious about things going on outside of their immediate discipline and make efforts to include others into their practice.
- IAs are the future. The future is digital and deeply rooted useful and usable. IA's get this in spades and are well positioned to influence other disciplines in the pursuit of creating meaningful experiences that deliver value.
Now that makes me look at the discipline in a whole different way. In fact, if you take a look at "ia" upside down, you'll see an exclamation point—could there be something to get excited about in all of this? An opportunity? Maybe communities don't have a downside—but rather an upside downside. And it also makes me realize that strong communities are more important than ever. After all, an unexamined community is not worth being a part of.