There was a time when “community” was narrowly defined as “a group of people living in the same place.” I have distant recollections of a Boy Scout merit badge that encouraged scouts to study the geography, history, government and local customs of their town. In the days before the information highway, this kind of study involved shoe leather for visits to the town hall or fire department or library. To learn about my community was to walk to brick and mortar buildings or open spaces like parks, former battlefields and cemeteries to gather facts, history, and community lore. There was a physical and social relationship between these communal resources and the constituents they served, and the walk itself underscored these relationships. The pathways between them were somehow as important as the destinations. Learning was visceral and incremental and, pardon the cliché, holistic. By the time I completed my Citizenship in the Community merit badge, I had observed and touched a great deal of my local physical world.
Sometime in the early 60’s, a marketing genius at Bell Telephone heralded the advent of the digital age with the slogan “let your fingers do the walking”, initiating a button pushing culture that has enabled us to communicate multi-dimensionally over great distances in a new kind of community that never sleeps. Using social media and business and academic networks we can now reach out with hardly any boundaries. Online communities such as LEI’s Lean Global Networkcreate “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” No longer are we bounded by distance or time. Now we let our fingers do the surfing in a sea of information shared in derivative fashion by persons most of whom we would never otherwise encounter. The Internet is essentially the Gutenberg press to the googol power, creating new ways of learning that a twelve-year old boy scout could not have dreamed of in 1960. Whether trolling on YouTube or exploring the blogosphere, I have a sense of exhilaration and acceleration. Learning online is very different. What was once a footnote in a book is now an instant and potentially endless network to the sources of ideas.
So there are two very different communities:
The bounded, finite one where we’re actually present; where we can touch, smell and feel, and where someone else does not direct our attention. The “group of people living in the same place.”
The virtual one where we can share and amplify learning in manner not possible fifty years ago. The infinite “fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
Both are important to Lean transformation, but only one is essential. Which one do you think it is?
BTW: GBMP membership provides both real and virtual opportunities to join a vibrant, learning community. Tours, workshops, videos, podcasts, conferences, simulations – there are many benefits to joining the GBMP community. Check them out here: GBMP Membership Information.