“It’s said there are only 10 plots in all of fiction, but I believe there’s only one: “Who am I?”
– The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
“It’s said there are only 10 plots in all of fiction, but I believe there’s only one: “Who am I?”
– The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are terms coined by noted German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies over a century ago, to describe two concepts in social groups. Gemeinshaft and Gesellschaft are loosely translated into “community” and “society” respectively.
Gemeinshaft (community) is characterized by:
Examples of gemeinshaft social groups include rural neighborhoods, families, tribes, garage bands, sports teams.
Gesellschaft (society) is characterized by:
Examples of gesellschaft social groups include corporations, diverse countries, social clubs, universities.
In practice, Tönnies would not classify a social group as purely either gemeinshaft or gesellschaft. More than likely both types are at work in a social group at varying strengths.
Tönnies theory provides a useful lens to see social groups and social networks through. Because of the mixed nature of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft in social groups, you can see transitions where groups that used to be gemeinshaft-oriented move toward a more gesellschaft nature.
Let’s take a look at Twitter and in particular early Twitter and modern Twitter. In the early incarnation of Twitter, the use case and the social groups that formed around the service were much more gemeinshaft oriented. In a recent Build and Analyze podcast, developer Marco Arment mentioned how Twitter used to be a conversation with friends and now the signal to noise ratio is much lower. When Twitter was small, the community that existed had much stronger bonds. Twitter as a service was used as a public conversation with friends.
As a late-comer to Twitter, I have a very different use for Twitter. For me, Twitter is a utility to get news and stay on top of what is happening. The social group I make on Twitter is predicated on a contractual relationship where I as the individual am much more important that the circle of followers/followings that I formed.
Thus we see the rise of App.net, where the early adopters of Twitter have a chance to pick up and move their social group to a place where gemeinshaft is better facilitated. Because of the paid nature of App.net (a yearly fee of $36 is required), it is likely that the service will keep it’s smaller community and be able to keep the gemeinshaft communities served (providing it survives on a smaller group).
We see this transition from gemeinshaft to gesellshaft often in modern social networks. On Facebook, we see “friends” start as a small set of friends into a directory of acquaintances. In order to restore gemeinshaft, Facebook allows you to now deliniate “friends” vs. “family”. In Google+, this takes a similar form of being able to define “circles”.
As social networks grow in size and scale, there is an almost inevitable transference from gemeinshaft into gesellschaft and an equally inevitable conflict. Periodically, there is backlash and those seeking gemeinshaft splinter off to form a new social network or protest - seeking to return to the days when the network was smaller.
You could also say that gemeinshaft and gesellschaft underlie some of Geoff Moore’s ideas about Crossing the Chasm. In order to move past early adopters and “cross the chasm” to mass market, Moore recommends establishing a small narrow “beachhead”. The beachhead is a small slice of the mass-market - a gemeinshaft community, if you will. Identifying and taking over this “thin edge of the wedge” allows you to expand out to other groups and cross the chasm to mass market.
Gemeinshaft communities are easier to attack because of the nature that these communities take. Gemeinshaft communities are characterized by shared social mores. People in the group tend to share beliefs and values (even if the shared value is individual uniqueness). You can cater to the common elements of a gemeinshaft community much easier than the looser associations and individuals of a gesellshaft group. This is one reason why every other startup pitch is: “It’s like Facebook for X” where X is a smaller gemeinshaft community of:
As Tönnies himself pointed out, gemeinshaft and gesellshaft are “normal types”. They are idealized notions useful for conceptual framing. In real life, they are mixed and complex. They are useful from the theoretical standpoint in framing and talking about social groups but when you’re dealing with actual social groups, it is necessary to delve deep and empirically research the mixtures of the two types.
Comments, flames, thoughts? - @marksweep
Perhaps you may have read “Leaders”, the seminal book on leadership by Warren Bennis. Or maybe you’ve skimmed over “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell. Perhaps you have a well-worn copy of Steven Covey’s the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” sitting on your bookshelf…
You probably haven’t heard of this book. Or if you have, it’s not in your leadership section of your local Barnes and Nobles. The book I’m talking about is called “Steel my Soldiers Hearts” and it’s a war book.
Instead of being a book about leadership, it’s a book about leading. Specifically, it’s an autobiography of Col. David Hackworth’s time in with the US Army’s 4/39 Battalion of the 9th Division in South Vietnam. And it’s an object lesson in leadership.
The 4/39th Battalion was a sad-sack reject battalion with low-morale and lower combat performance when Col. Hackworth (then Lt. Col.) took over. Its mission was to patrol the quagmire of swamp and rice paddies in the Mekong Delta. And it was failing badly. More soldiers were casualties to booby traps and landmines than enemy fire and morale was terrible. It was the Army’s worst fighting battalion.
In the space of a few month, the battalion was transformed into the “Hardcore Recondos”, one of the fiercest fighting forces in Vietnam. It’s a great story, a turnaround story as great as any business leader’s, even greater because lives were at stake.
The book seldom talks about leadership, it rarely distills the lessons into laws or maxims. Instead, you as the reader have to shift and analyze what Col. Hackworth did to turn this “pussy” battalion into warriors.
Leading from the Front
By the time Col. Hackworth left the 4/39th, he had received his seventh Purple Heart. The brass deemed him too important to be shot at and turned him stateside. By leading from the front, Col. Hackworth endeared himself to his men. He wasn’t willing to sit back at the fire support base in an air-conditioned command tent while his men were in deep in the thick of the fight.
Col. Hackworth had the utmost respect for the American fighting man. Remember that these were not the highly trained, expert warriors of the modern U.S. Army. These were members of a draftee army, pulled from every neighborhood (mostly poor) in America. These were average citizen soldiers who had the misfortune of not being born to rich parents and having an unlucky draft number.
Before he took over the battalion, the previous commander had had a porta-potty flown in and planted next to the command tent. Cold beers and hot showers were normal luxuries in the middle of the Mekong Delta. Hackworth did away with all those, imposing lean, hard and austere conditions on the men. They complained, they resisted, but they also knew that it wasn’t a double standard. Everything they had to suffer, their commanding officer suffered with them.
A New Identity
Infantrymen at that time had to wear “steel pot” helmets which had a camouflage helmet lining made of canvas that was strapped over the helmet. When he arrived at the battalion, Col Hackworth noticed that the G.I.’s had scribbled invectives on the lining that reflected their dissatisfaction with the Army. He ordered everyone in the battalion to flip their linings inside out. Instead of a camouflage print, a simple brown color now covered all the 4/39th’s helmets. As the battalion learned their new tactics, they starting hearing enemy chatter about the hated “brown-hat soldier” and how they were to be feared and respected! This simple act of discipline helped instill psychological fear in to the enemy and gave the soldiers a bonding symbol.
Col. Hackworth had to change the culture of the outfit and started slowly but ensured that the cultural changes were ruthlessly enforced. When starting out, he would only issue two new rules. When the battalion mastered those two rules, he would give two more. Like turning a massive tanker, he tackled small meaningful things first and kept at it until those small things were retained. The first two rules - weapons clean and present at all times, helmets always on. Little things.
The 4/39th were given a new name. When saluting the soldier would have to say “Hardcore Recondo, sir” - and the officer would have to reply “No F*cking Slack.” Recondo was a combination of recon and commando. It sounds hokey and silly but as a testament to the power of naming things, “Hardcore battalion” became a source of enduring pride. Special insignias were made for the members of the battalion. Stationary was changed. It started out as silly until it became a badge of honor.
Vision and Details
All of these leadership tactics would have been moot if Col. Hackworth didn’t have a vision for how to fight the VC. What ended up being cool, could have been “Mickey Mouse” if the commander didn’t lead them to victory.
Having spent years before in Vietnam, Col. Hackworth had a strategy to win. He would have the Hardcore Recondos “out G the G”. The would be better guerrilla warriors than the guerrillas themselves. Using ambush tactics and smart deception, the 4/39th built up a fearsome record in the Mekong Delta and severely shut down VC activity in the area.
But it was not enough to be a big picture guy, one of the traits of all great military commanders has been their ability to focus down and make sure the details are right at the tip of the spear. Col. Hackworth would personally greet every replacement soldier, as well as walk the perimeter and chat up the soldiers in the forward areas.
His supply officer, recalled the time when a soldier complained that his boots were too large for him. Col Hackworth chewed out his supply officer and ordered him to pull apart the country looking for boots that fit. This officer ended up finding a pair of women’s boots that worked. “This taught us all an important lesson, that Hack cared for the lowest of soldiers and he expected his commanders and staff to damn well look after them.”
Col. Hackworth knew the value of knowing the greater pictures as well as zooming in to the small details.
Col. David Hackworth died at the age of 74 in 2005. After leaving Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and criticized the Army’s disregard for soldier’s welfare. He formed Soldiers For The Truth Foundation, an organization dedicated to military reform.
To the very end he was a soldier and a leader of men.
“The ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.”
– Oscar Niemeyer
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
I went to a Brooklyn Nets game the other day. Having lived in both New Jersey and New York, I’ve now been to both recent incarnations of the team and was struck by the differences.
The Urban Stadium
The Brooklyn Nets have a fancy new stadium called the Barclays Center. It sits in the heart of Brooklyn at a major subway hub. My wife had the opportunity to visit the Barclays Center while it was still under construction. The builders mentioned to her how it was a smaller stadium than they were used to building.
The stadium is surrounded by sidewalks not parking lots. While this means there is no “tailgating”, it also makes the center much more intimate to the community. You can literally look into the stadium from the street and see people in their seats through the glass entrance. In addition, the stadium doesn’t dominate the skyline, it’s sunken into the ground. Street level is actually at the top of the first section of seats. It’s not an imposing structure, it’s approachable, manageable.
Most stadiums have giant screens that blare out light pollution all night long, however the Barclays Center seems to have been designed with this consideration in mind. The main screen is shaped in a unique “doughnut” type structure which blocks much of the escaping ambient light. Like the MCI Center in D.C., this stadium part of a new breed of urbanized stadiums - integrated into community.
Compare this with the Izod center (Continental Airlines Center when I attended). Situated in the marsh known as the Meadowlands it’s a large elevated monolithic block structure surrounded by acres of parking lot. It rises from the swamp like a some sort of mausoleum to sport.
You come to the center via car or bus (or train now) to consume your sport and then your leave to go back to your home. There are no local restaurants, there are only miles of concrete highways and swamp.
The New Look Nets
One thing I found really interesting about the new Brooklyn Nets was that the team really wasn’t about the Nets at all. It was all about Brooklyn. I’ve never seen a team that is attempting to be so identified with its location.
Notice the (oft-criticized) Jay-Z designed logo- a B for Brooklyn rather than an N for Nets. When you’re in the stadium cheering for the team you don’t say “Let’s Go Nets” or even “N-E-T-S, Nets, Nets, Nets”. The chant for the team is a taunting hip-hop flavored chant of “Brook-l-yn, Brook-l-y-n.”
The video highlights during the breaks highlighted community activity. The team was shown serving Thanksgiving dinner at the local soup kitchen St. Joseph’s Bread and Life. Throughout the game, the usual sound clips (bugle calls, “Charge!”) were replaced by sound bites from rap songs featuring the word “Brooklyn” or New York artists.
In an age of corporate team moves - where the “Jazz” play in Utah instead of New Orleans and the NY Jets play in New Jersey it’s interesting to see a team focusing on making the community the focus instead of the team. If they’re successful, it will be a powerful identity -
Brooklyn is the Nets and the Nets are Brooklyn.
Let’s hope they don’t move to Tulsa…
There’s a new corporate buzzword that’s making the rounds now and perhaps you at MegaCorp have heard of it:
The idea behind disruption is that fundamental innovations allow new players to disrupt the existing businesses of the old leaders. Because, the old guard is so effective and entrenched in their existing (mega-successful) business, they are unable to accomodate the disruptive change.
Someone hands you a book called “The Innovator’s Dilemma” which looks nice on your shelf but you’ve already come up with a solution to the dilemma.
“The startup division”
You create a “startupy division” at MegaCorp. One that can think the innovative thoughts and do the innovative things while the rest of the corporation continues to excel. Perhaps you call this MegaCorp Research Division. The mavericks and “young” folk are placed into this windowless “war room” where they can innovate like a start-up.
The first year works great - sure the division is losing money but they come up with some cool web products that add prestige to the company. You start supplying them with new fangled Macintosh computers and they’re allowed to use GMail instead of the ole Novell system everyone else uses.
But even now the cracks are starting to show…
Some people in the IT department are getting upset at crazy requests the startup division is asking for. Things like open ports in the triple-redundant firewall or something called Mongo. This is opening up the company to attack from hackers! The CIO demands to have a chat with you about what’s happening to MegaCorp security because of this maverick division.
HR starts complaining to you about the crazy hiring forms that the startup division is supplying. One of the requirements forms for a web developer says this:
Ridiculous! HR needs a list of real requirements like all the technologies the candidate needs to be an expert in, and how many years of experience in each.
In MegaCorp, it is well known that the way to get power and influence is through headcount. Since MegaCorp makes money using billable hours and uses FTEs (full time equivalent) as the measure, the more FTEs you have, the more powerful and prestigious your division is.
As a result, the startup division tries to go on a hiring spree. They hire some mediocre candidates but they happen to be cheap! Sure they don’t fit into the culture and sure they underperform, but the division is growing in size and that’s a sure sign of success at MegaCorp.
You have a minor crisis when the startup division starts flying a pirate flag in their team room. Personally you laugh, but soon the head of the Operations department comes storming in talking about liability and it blocking the clean-up crews. The SVP of BigClient comes in and complains that BigClient people might come in and see this thing and think we’re not “professional” enough. You order the flag to come down.
The final straw comes when the startup division inadvertently creates a cheaper better way to service BigClient. Suddenly, it becomes faster and easier to do the work for BigClient, but it also means less revenue from BigClient. Less revenue means your business shrinks. Business shrinkage means layoffs and that’s a big No-No for the SVP of BigClient. It’s also embarrassing.
Companies are about growth.
Prestige is about how many millions you bring in.
What will you tell your CEO-buddies at the country club? That you started a division that ended up shrinking your balance sheet and reducing the number of people you employ? They will laugh you off the golf course.
So in the end, you had to “re-direct” the energies of the startup division. It becomes a support division for your company. Now it helps to make your more efficient at doing the business you’ve always been doing. It no longer is a threat to your business, it’s now an asset! Disaster is averted and you’ve learned a valuable if expensive lesson…
Best not to rock the boat.
An ounce of information is worth a pound of data.
An ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information.
An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge.
Despite this, most of the time spent in school is devoted to the transmission of information and ways of obtaining it. Less time is devoted to the transmission of knowledge and ways of obtaining it (analytical thinking). Virtually no time is spent in transmitting understanding or ways of obtaining it (synthetic thinking). Further more, the distinctions between data, information, and so on up to wisdom are seldom made in the educational process, leaving students unaware of their ignorance. They not only don’t know, they don’t know what they don’t know.
The reason so little understanding is transmitted by teachers is that they have so little to transmit. They are more likely to know what is right than why it is right. Most why questions do not have unique and simple answers, and therefore are difficult to use in examinations or to grade when they are used. Explanations require discussion if they are to produce understanding. The ability to lead fruitful discussions is not an attribute of most teachers.- Russ Ackoff
Peter Senge - Navigating Webs of Interdependence