If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house. – Henry Minztberg
I have spent the last ten years working remotely. I have been fortunate. My interest in writing about work life has provided the opportunity to connect with a set of contributors that I only dreamed of. On the surface of things, you might think this solves every network-related issue that I would encounter. Yet, that would be a false assumption. When it comes time to hash out an idea, I often find myself in a quandary. Who might be willing to offer feedback? Who has the time?
Sadly, my living-large network begins to show signs of distress.
We’ve all heard the advice that a network is vital to work and career. Yet for most of us, the potential members of that network — and what they should bring is unclear. We all seem to have at the bare minimum, a loosely connected group of we might label as a “network”. That network may alert you to important developments in your line of work, events or even job opportunities relevant to your path. But, what if that network isn’t supplying what you need to grow and evolve as a contributor?
I believe the difference lies in the notion of a network vs. a community.
In the opening pages of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a small town in Pennsylvania which on the face of things, had defied all medical odds. The presence of heart disease was nearly absent in its population under the age of 65 — something quite unusual — and no one was able to explain this peculiarity. Examining diet, exercise and genetics of Rosetans offered no clues. They smoked heavily and ingested a fat laden diet. Family members living in other areas did not enjoy the same health outcomes. What was going on?
The identified explanation was surprising, even shocking. However, in retrospect it is an element that should have been in the forefront all along. It was the protective environment — which influenced health and well being. It was the very culture of Roseto itself. The built community that supported its residents, that made all the difference.
In light of this, you may need to re-evaluate that network, disassemble portions and include needed aspects of a community that will help you thrive.
You see a network — is not a community.
There are conditions that might alert you that your network is falling short.
Here are a just few:
- Ideas are no longer central. There should be opportunities to not only learn new things, but the opportunity to present and evaluate your own ideas. If the latter element is missing, you are essentially standing still.
- A lack of sensed commitment to your well-being. Social media might facilitate large career-focused networks. However, large networks do not guarantee a group of individuals that support you. While networks should be mutually beneficial, if the focus is exclusively “transactional”, an important quality is lost.
- A safety net. Communities should offer a sense of psychologically safety. If safety isn’t present, it isn’t likely you’ll share the problems or challenges that make or break a career path.
- A lack of honest feedback. None of us would find it easy to grow, without feedback or advice. Functioning in an echo chamber — with only our own thoughts and opinions — isn’t won’t suffice.
- The belief criterion. It is imperative that you surround yourself with those that you feel truly feel believe in you. If you sense this is missing, consider altering your line-up. If not, you may hear their lack of confidence reflected in your own thoughts.
Look to your network to also serve as a community of advocates.
As human beings we need this.
It is not an unreasonable request.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.