Sunday, December 23, 2007

Poignant Parting when Dreams Diverge

I wrote a couple days ago about Ma'ikwe's frustrated attempts to establish an intentional cmty in Albuquerque. Cmties fail all the time (their success rate is similar to restaurants—most don't see their second birthday), yet there were was a special quality about the Albuquerque efforts worth noting.

Over the last two years, I worked professionally (through CANBRIDGE, my process consulting business) with Ma'ikwe's forming group five times. In fact, until a couple months ago, I thought I was going to be living in the group part time as Ma'ikwe's out-of-state consort. So I was highly motivated to pay attention and I knew the group pretty well. While the mix of who was in the group varied, there were nonetheless some interesting themes to their efforts.
Over the course of my 30+ years in the field, it's my sense that the #1 cause for failure among forming cmties is insufficient social skills, by which I mean (listed roughly in ascending order of sophistication) the ability to:
—clearly express thoughts
—clearly identify what topic is being discussed
—minimize repetition in mtgs
—stay on topic in mtgs
—clearly express feelings
—hear accurately what others are expressing
—reflect accurately what others are expressing
—bridge between statements when people mishear each other
—work conflicted moments constructively

What was noteworthy about the Albuquerque group was that they did not suffer from a paucity of social skills. They were, in fact, unusually savvy. Many in the group are practitioners of Avatar, an international personal growth discipline that has helped many become more self-aware and self-actualized. So communicating well was not a limiting factor. 
In this case, the group had a problem coalescing on what kind of cmty to create together. There was enough skilled leadership in the group, but, in the end, not enough flexibility among the leaders to develop a model that all could enthusiastically support. Each had their own dream of cmty, and they didn't fit together easily. One was well defined, with clear boundaries around property and membership. Another was fairly loose, as in a vibrant neighborhood, where there was no common property and people moved in and out of participation as they were motivated and available. A third's vision was about supporting cooperative activities all over the city and region, and didn't want the scope of activities to be too narrowly focused.
The poignant thing was that all of these visions are excellent; all of them are well-rooted in a common value of promoting a more cooperative, sustainable lifestyle; and all of them are needed as antidotes to today's fragmented and alienating society. While no one was the "bad guy," in the end, no two of the three leaders were able to effectively combine energies to fully manifest any of the three models. It has been painful watching the three of them struggle so hard to cooperate in the service of Cooperation. 
While all three remain friends, their paths are now diverging, and they're seeking different allies to build their dreams. Because of their social skills, they all have excellent prospects. It just doesn't appear that it will be happening with each other.
As important as social skills are to a cmty's success, sometimes they are not enough.

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