Seth Godin points out that it’s the hallway impromptu meetings (and networking) at conferences that result in real value creation. In other words, the enumerated purpose of a bunch of people being in the same place — the conference, the Sunday church service, the political rally, etc. — is little more than a veneered excuse for humans to come together and socialize in real, meaningful ways.
I say “meaningful ways” because our enumerated causes are often incredibly shallow. I still have great friendships from my old days as a Christian (this was back in my teenage years) even though I am more an atheist or agnostic (whatever) today. Most Christians even within the same church body have vastly different beliefs and still manage to enjoy each other’s company. Why? Because the relationships are bigger than the beliefs. The beliefs are (mostly, or most importantly) just an excuse to get together with others.
I see this phenomenon of all the time, and I’ve often pondered the equivalent of Seth Godin’s question in his post. How do we create a central activity, like church, that ostensibly is the reason for people to gather around, but is in actuality just an excuse for us to get together, have fun, talk, share, build, etc. Religion functions fairly well in this regard but has some unfortunate side-effects (elitism, weird beliefs, dogmatism, true believers, etc.).
There are likely other solutions out there (outside of the dying corporate borg) — other ideas to build communities around — they just need to have a common purpose people can get behind that doesn’t result in too many negative consequences or take itself too seriously.
These tribes of people are arguably a more valuable creation than the fish that were caught or the physics that were learned, right?
And yet, most of the time we don’t see the obvious opportunity–if you intentionally create the connections, you’ll get more of them, and better ones too. If the hallway conversations at a convention are worth more than the sessions, why not have more and better hallways?
What would happen if trade shows devoted half a day to ‘projects’? Put multi-disciplinary teams of ten people together and give them three hours to create something of value. The esprit de corps created by a bunch of strangers under time pressure in a public competition would last for decades. The community is worth more than the project.
The challenge is to look at the rituals and events in your organization (freshman orientation or weekly status meetings or online forums) and figure out how amplify the real reason they exist even if it means abandoning some of the time-honored tasks you’ve embraced. Going around in a circle saying everyone’s name doesn’t build a tribe. But neither does sitting through a boring powerpoint. Working side by side doing something that matters under adverse conditions… that’s what we need.