Social Artistry – Linking the Unlinkable

In a meeting in San Francisco with Etienne Wenger in 2008, we were discussing the critical role of a weaver in the field of Communities.  It is more commonly known as a community manager.  Etienne described this ‘community weaver’ as someone who is a Social Artist.  This was the first time I had heard this term, yet when he described what he meant, I felt validated in the work that I’ve been doing for years. Being a weaver, or what Richad Koch calls, a SuperConnector.

Recently a former colleague was mentioning that they missed my role in the community.  She was lamenting the fact that I’d rolled off that closed community project as I was invited into a new community project.  What she was described to me in great detail in terms of the void that I
left in the community was that of the Social Artist role.  This is why I’m writing this blog post, to help provide more visibility and credibility to this capability as it’s not yet mainstream and therefore something that CEOs and other Executives don’t value within their organizations.

Wikipedia describes it as a technique, “Social Artistry, [6] represents a new model for leadership. Houston, working through the United Nations Development Group, has been training leaders through this modality since 2003. Under the direction
of Monica Sharma, [7]then Director of Leadership and Capacity Development for the UN, Houston traveled to developing nations throughout the world bringing Social Artistry techniques to leadership groups. As of 2011, Social Artistry  trainings and projects are ongoing in a number of countries and new leaders are being trained on a constant basis. This work is supported through The Jean Houston Foundation.”

Puzzle Pieces Cory Doctorow from London, UK

Social Artistry is a leadership skill where someone provides the glue and holds the entire community or network together.  They have an innate ability to see strange divergent connections between disparate concepts together via culture, human beings, and notions of progress and development.  They link the unlinkable.   They foster a feeling of connectedness despite the divergence and most importantly they communicate openly and authentically.    They make what could feel like a fragmented bunch of networks, instead the sense a community has is one similar to that of a puzzle that was recently completed, when you as a member visualize that last single piece snapping into place, which resonates
with your interpretation of that image. It just fits.

What does it take to be a master community weaver?

The composition of the community as it turns out is really important – you need more than just a modern infrastructure of tools and a great product or service – you need the right people, committed to the overall goal of the community who are willing to look at the conversation, the content, the focus and partner and lead to allow it to flourish, grow, etc.  What I mean is that you need special people with the secret sauce.  Yes, that is correct – it’s not every ordinary day person that can be a community convener.  You need professionally trained community builders who understand the fine balance between driving business results and honoring individual motivation and needs.  This is the tight rope that is often very hard to balance.

This idea of developing, nurturing and cultivating communities work described by Etienne Wenger, Bill Snyder and Richard McDermott  in the “Cultivating Communities” book is an excellent framework to consider.    But what I’ve found when composing communities is that there is a great need for talent in what I call the “loom factory’, as you need to quickly hire master weavers to the team.  Sounds easy right, well these people aren’t so easy to find.  You need people who ‘give, give and give more’ according to Mike Dulworth, author of the Connect Effect ’.  These people are great listeners who with ease and grace can welcome new community members, while educating, informing, sharing, encouraging and can invite new community members.  For existing members they need to be able to facilitate online systems and tools, while challenge being able to facilitate in person workshops and challenge community members all at the same time. 

The talent we look for as community composers are these individuals that are natural weavers of knowledge.  They share outwards and bridge, they are social artists that can listen for and see new possibilities while understanding each community members’ personal needs and motivations. They live in a variety of digital habitats and have strong verbal and written communication competencies, as well as leadership, drive and passion.  They are workhorses who strive to allow community members to accomplish goals or solve customer problems.  They are generative in nature and have emotional intelligence.  Master weavers bring people into to a new, warm inviting place – into a community of high value.