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<nettime> Communities of the Future (book review)

<This will appear in the next issue of the Association For Community
Networking newsletter. -Steve Cisler>

The Community of the Future, edited by Frances Hesselbein et al. 
Jossey-Bass 1997

Review by Steve Cisler. Copyright 1998.  <>

Many of us who believe in or practice community networking realize that
those words pair up two of the most fuzzily defined terms in English. The
Drucker Foundation enticed twenty-five different writers (or teams)  to
tackle the first word, community, and describe their vision of what it would
be like in the future. 

The first definition for "community"  in my dictionary is "a body of
individuals organized into a unit, or manifesting usually with awareness,
some unifying trait." The editors use "community" in several ways on the
very first page: 
-community as a trait or glue that is needed for businesses, organizations,
and society to flourish;
-a global community
-a cornucopia of temporary attachment environments that , in the future,
allows us to "move smoothly from one community to the next, finding support
from those around us at work, at home, and throughout the world."

They see some holistic linkage between all communities: "those living within
each community define all community."

This review is a look at the myriad of definitions of community  to try and
find some common themes that these many authors might share.

Peter Drucker, who formed the foundation, wrote the introduction. For him,
every major city  has "degenerated into a chaotic jungle" and needs, "above
all, new communities." He recognizes that the city was attractive "because
it offered freedom from the compulsory and coercive community." He knows
that government cannot supply community needs, and he no longer believes
that business can do that. What's left? The social sector where the
individual can have "a sphere in which they are in control and a sphere in
which they make a difference."

Margaret  Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers see the multitude of communities
as a manifestation of growing fragmentation and separation. The kinds of
groupings spawned on the World Wide Web are called "specialty islands" and
they feel that people only contribute their sameness in virtual communities,
not their uniqueness. In their work they have seen vibrant communities which
mix the individual and the communal. One junior high school was working well
 as a community because of their simple rules (that were followed): "Take
care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place." 
Interestingly, they believe that public meetings "serve only to increase our
separation from each other." 

Rita Süssmuth, a politician from the country that gave us the sociological
concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, wrote about society's ability to
cope with change. She did not use the word "community" often, but she echoed
Drucker when she said that Germans needed to "counter the expectation of
many that the state must assume overall responsibility for everything."

Stephen Covey runs a firm "committed to empowering people and organizations
by building high-trust, high performance cultures." He says that the
survival and success of all organizations will be due to the connections it
has. The ideal community is one where connections are created, where people
tithe their time, and "place great value on being of one heart."  He values
obedience to a good cause, but he skates around words with negative
connotations (conformity, uniformity).

Claire Gaudani says that "wisdom capital" (sort of like a refined
intellectual capital, I suppose) is a community's "common ground." She
believes this is largely untapped and can bind together very diverse people
working together. She also itemizes the actions a community must take to
pass on a tradition, even if the community is a new one. For instance,
telling stories about members experiences, making partnerships key to
progress, continuous learning, using teams to tell local history, and
encouraging everyone to act as a spokesperson.

How do minorities (not just racial ones) fit into a community? R.R. Thomas
writes about diversity and the ingredients needed to foster it yet not
fragment the nation as a whole. He recognizes this is very touchy but
believes it is attainable. 

James Barksdale, ex-CEO of Netscape, has a very web-oriented and limited
view of community: "a grouping of individuals aligned around a common
interest."  He thinks geographic commonality will be the least important tie
a person might have, so this is pretty standard fare from the head of a
rather influential company.  Software people ought to get out in the real
world more.

Marshall Goldsmith uses the term "global community" and "global village" and
believes that these are more than concepts because of the "potential to
communicate instantly and massively across the globe." His views match those
of other cornucopians  "A child in a remote, rural village in India can
receive instruction from a great thinker who is miles away."  This potential
is misleading. Twenty years ago, he could have stated that the child could
talk with Peter Drucker because the village just got a telephone, but it's a
big leap to think it will happen. He also seems to think that governments
have no role and that it's ridiculous to try to control the flow of
information into a culture. Yet, he also states that there is danger in the
endless short term stimulation of Internet based infotainment.  Because of
the technology, he thinks most people will be members of communities of
choice. Again, there is a belief that place does not matter.  He charts the
future changes to religious, cultural, organizational, and volunteer service
communities. His final statement is intriguing: "Almost all significant
communities of the future will be in intense competition for members."

Howard Rheingold takes another look at virtual communities. Those who think
he is a pure technophile will be surprised at his balanced view of the
merits and dangers of online communities.

Gifford Pinchot is about the only author in this series who even alluded to
power in a community. He also writes about the so-called "gift economy"
which was and still is an important component of Internet communities of
interest. (See the Education Object Economy site for more info:

David Ulrich thinks that communities of shared values can be built in
logical ways. However, he considers the uniformity of a U.S. Army base and
of McDonald's franchises  the results of "communities of values."  Other
groups that manifest this are Harley-Davidson customers and Brigham Young
University. I shudder to think of those as communities. Institutional
members may show loyalty, much as hamburger lovers stick with certain
brands. Harley-Davidson certainly has a brand identity that is important,
and BYU's strength is tied to the LDS church, but it takes more to be a

The only essay that really does not fit is "Opportunities in the Global
Economy" by the head of the International Chamber of Commerce. 
"Globalization is unstoppable." he claims and then spends  several pages
talking about the benefits of globalization and how the Internet is its
prime manifestation.  The editors should have had him re-read the assignment
or dropped this one. It goes against the many profound and subtle essays
that precede and follow it.

Frances Hesselbein, the head of the Drucker Foundation, and the lead editor,
writes that "we <must> find leaders who believe that the community is as
much their business as is the business of their enterprise."  This is good
advice for both the business person and for the community that draws her
attention. Examples I can think of are Mario Morino in Washington, DC and
John Morgridge in  East Palo Alto, California. However, even many dedicated
executives realize that the needs of the corporation, when the pressure is
on, can run counter to those of the community. To stay competitive, we have
consolidations, movement offshore, and other shifts to keep the analysts and
stockholders appeased, at least for one quarter.

Suzanne Morse says that next century's successful communities will have five
key elements: "mechanisms for deciding, organization of community work,
accessible community life, creation of broad avenues for civic leadership,
and action for the next generation."I would agree, but would recommend we
look at other communities from the present and the past. Some, like the
Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania, have these components, even if they are
apart from mainstream America.

A Filipino, Jaime Zobel de Ayala II, seems to sum up the contradictions that
pop up in all the preceding chapters. "It is paradoxical that at a time when
the world is narrowing into one global economy and the borders between
nation-states are becoming porous, I am anticipating a surge of communal
feeling among citizens around the world." He thinks that, globalization not
withstanding, people will want to group in relatively homogeneous
surroundings. Each of the chapters held up a mirror to reflect my own
thoughts about community, about the effects of the online environment. In
the end, I found this author's views a close match to my  own:  aware of the
trends, the dangers but optimistic about people's ability to and need to
build communities and maintain them in places, organizations, and even

It would be great if the Drucker Foundation would eventually post a number
of the chapters (or the whole book) on their web site  <>. 
Individual ones would form excellent discussion topics, and none are very

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