Keeping the puppies in the box

August 26, 2009

I spent most of my career working for a company that was full of smart, independent thinkers who were difficult to manage when put into cross-organizational groups. Ideas came from all sides and angles, making it difficult to stay on one course; one of my colleagues described the process as one of “trying to keep the puppies in the box.” I love this metaphor; it occurs to me often when I think of the difficulty of managing networks toward outcomes. […]

When outcomes are not required, but the goal is a shared experience of learning and co-creating, we are talking about the role of community management. I had the pleasure, about a week ago, to participate in a Community Roundtable #crlive event hosted in Cambridge (MA, USA). Rachel Happe started a thread about the role of the “manager” of online communities when asked a question about what happens when a small subset of the community has a surge in participation and overwhelms the rest of the community.

We agreed that the best course was to see if that subset should be split off into a community of its own, or gently (probably offline) reminded that the community was in place for a larger shared interest. The notion of a piece of a network emerging into dominance, and how that works out in complexity terms reminded me of how the role of the community manager is very much about providing a set of attractors and then watching the behaviors. Reinforcing the positive behaviors and channeling elsewhere the behaviors that disrupt or threaten the community. I shared cadets managing the playground story badly, I thought, but with sufficient verity that it was appreciated. Here’s a good synopsis:

…a group of leading West Point graduates were given the task of organizing a playground schedule in a Bronx elementary school. Arriving with meticulously calculated schedules and optimal calculations for playground equipment allotment, the graduates were disappointed to find that their efforts served only to turn the playground into a disaster area with unhappy children and general anarchy and chaos. Greatly chastened, the west point wizards later watched how the teachers, who patrolled the playground, managed to keep things from getting out of hand. What they discovered was that the teachers would watch what patterns emerged in the children’s behavior, and then build on that to create a system that worked on the ground. (from http://tinyurl.com/ls8ppw)

I later went over to the CogEdge site and found the link to the Socrates/Glaucon version and sent this on to Rachel, who was very amused by the Socratic question, “Have you asked the women?”

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