Why Communities Fail

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 12 min read · May 16, 2024

Bringing back the power of the collective

Author: Nikkole Mojica Contributors: Melissa Clissold, Leen Sadder, Engin Ayaz, Ozlem Tuskan

Societies, brands, and businesses have been diffusing steadfastly into spells of rampant individualism. Amidst the realization of ever-evolving crises, reconfigured demographics, and mentalities, some are shifting focus and an undeniable truth is surfacing:

the power of community is paramount, yet often underutilized.

On the brink of a transformative shift is the urgent need for a balance where individual talents are nurtured for the greater strength of the community, heralding a resurgence of collaborative, inclusive, sustainable and regenerative communities.

Is there a place where the pendulum swings away from the two extremes and lands at a medium that honors venerable and proven methodology, communal existence, and a balance between all the I's that make up the proverbial we?

This article explores the critical juncture we face - a clash between the allure of individualism and the undeniable benefits of the collective. Can we regenerate the definition of community and the role it plays in transforming our world? Can we observe what goes wrong in communities and adapt where necessary using new and learned experiences?

Can we harness the potential of regenerative communities¹ and take collective action that allows people, places, and nature to thrive in harmony?

Why Community?

As some communities are underdelivering and failing to support and provide in the way they need to, others are reconfiguring the concept and function of community to allow it to thrive in the current state of our world.

These groups provide a reciprocal benefit where individuals both contribute to and gain from a collective, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose.

Meaningful impact is given a place to flourish when individuals and communities can engage to design the necessary solutions needed to tackle the world's complex problems.

People tend to organize at times when they need the structure and amenities of a group to achieve desires not otherwise achievable through prevailing social, economic, political, and cultural models. Community enables a more equitable distribution of resources, opportunities, and knowledge sharing. This type of open, collaborative, and curated environment facilitates needed growth and transformation, and the long-term success of the communities that are our cities, companies, and nations.

At a time of great disconnect, disheartened creativity, and disarray, enterprises will play a crucial role in restoring and regenerating the planet, through the power of relationships and community. ATÖLYE's work is to transform independent imagination into collective creativity by putting the power of community at the heart of design and innovation.

To combat pending pessimistic perspectives and general apathy, the curation, engagement, and activation of coalitions around shared purpose and action, what we call community-powered transformation, can change the course.

When gathered for a common cause, people have an uncanny ability to set aside differences and focus on a shared task or duty, even if the outcomes are married with personal and societal benefits.

If we can synthesize more with concern for our social, economic, and environmental landscapes, we could yield better outcomes for and by communities.

The status quo has shifted, and though demographics are evolving and becoming more complex, coming together is favored over falling apart. People are hungry for community.

The Resurgence of Community

Since the calm of the COVID-19 wave, leaders and programs of all types are emerging to address the loss of networks and interconnectedness realizing the role it plays in producing tangible, innovative outcomes. While organizations may disperse rhetoric of collective crises and develop solutions behind high price tags, failed promises, and unrealistic partnerships, the individual has a heavy onus to solve them. Seeking meaningful impact does come with a price, but it does not have to be paid alone³.

Reputation-linked losses at public companies have increased by 301% over the past 5 years².

The surge of economic inconsistency, social calamity, and political and environmental chaos has led trust in one another and institutions to fray. The cost of failed innovation on companies can be significant and multifaceted, impacting not just finances but also organizational culture and market position, leading them to develop a culture less conducive to innovative thinking. Simultaneously though, there is a resurgence in the wave to combat and reject the age of individualism seen in many Western and European societies.

40% of CEOs across 105 countries feel their organization will no longer be economically viable in 10 years - critically underscoring the complexity of their problems.

To stay ahead of the longer-term threats to their companies, to society, and to the planet itself, they must make drastic shifts that are not possible to achieve alone.

Community, in all of its forms, can help buffer the distress and intensity of the state of affairs, most importantly creating a difference. Ubuntu philosophy, for example, celebrates equality amongst community and encourages the interconnectedness of individuals, who according to the belief, are connected and beholden to one another and the world.

A 2020 Belong report from SidLee found that "if a brand is connected to an individual's community, a majority (79%) of members would participate in an initiative by that brand, and 90% would try to get others to join."⁴

Sustaining that connectivity is vital to maintaining an impact-driven community.

In a recent publication, former ATÖLYE Innovation Consultant, Yiğit Gökçe, talks about an increased awareness among the industry of the limitations of traditional innovation models. 'Community-Powered Innovation' he says, however, is a transformative alternative that can leverage the collective intelligence of a diverse, interconnected community to drive impactful and lasting change. The dual imperative facing today's CEO is a challenge of the first order, but it's also an opportunity to lead with purpose and help business play the role needed so desperately by society

- a catalyst of innovation and a community of solvers that plays for the long haul."⁵

The resurgence of community is evident alongside the shifts in paradigms and mindsets across geographies, sectors, and demographics. The decentralization of structures and decision-making is a prime example of what efficacy can derive from community. Facilitating novel spaces for individuals from across the globe to collaborate, create, and redefine problem-solving innovatively, these models create transparency and trust through user-centric platforms providing people with ownership, governance, and empowerment while fostering community. These shifts are reshaping business landscapes moving primary focuses away from profit and toward shared purpose, equity, and sustainability.

Why do Communities Fail?

Often when the minds of our leaders and cohorts are consumed with power, distracting concepts of hierarchy, and the corrosiveness of profit-centricity, the good of the collective is overlooked, leaving members with difficulty recalling their connection with the shared goal, ideology, or perspective.

In "Why Nations Fail", Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson explore the concept that nations thrive when they develop inclusive political and economic institutions, as opposed to extractive ones which concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few. If we extract this idea and apply it to the state of community, we can see differences in how the individual is viewed concerning the whole, and how it intricately connects to the importance of inclusion.

There is an 'I' in Team

Contrary to popular belief, true belonging in a community cannot be achieved without acknowledging and valuing the individuality and vulnerability of its members. Various aspects of neuroscience research support the idea that authenticity in individuals can contribute to stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities.⁶

When missions dominate the 'we', communities fail to make one feel uniquely valuable, and that shared 'we', which should be at the service of shared values and shared purpose, is lost.

Communities fail when their behavioral dynamics like the value placed on individual self-worth are ignored, and members no longer align with its purpose, leading the community structure to weaken. The authentic self needs to still thrive within so that individuals not only feel like they matter but are reminded. It is not for a community to benefit from the collective power alone, but a mutually beneficial, active, oscillating energy that grows together.

When individuals engage in authentic self-expression, brain regions associated with reward and positive emotion are activated. Having the space to do this legitimizes group context, and allows a community to be truly diverse and inclusive because of the inherently rewarding act of maintaining self-identity and using it to catapult positive social engagement within.

Broken Bonds and Fragmented Foundations

Communities fail when they silo their demographics from within, failing to satiate the ineradicable human need to share and belong. When motivations become unclear or shift too frequently, and the focus is solely on the success of leadership, purpose, hope, and the sight of the mission are lost.

Research in cross-cultural contexts and a close look at the fabric of our societies show that within an individualistic society, those with a firm adherence to individualistic principles are likely to have less access to social support networks, have reduced emotional intelligence and undermined health, and show less inclination to seek assistance from diverse resources.

Traditional business models that operate in tactics are not alone equipped to activate and engage communities.

Instead, they must shift to operating in ideals that matter to those tasked with owning and embodying a goal and driving change from within, those outside of leadership circles.

Collaborative ecosystems that foster open dialogue, knowledge exchange, and shared goals, help leverage the collective expertise and resources of the community. Inclusive community-building involves creating an environment where every member feels valued and empowered to contribute. This inclusivity extends beyond mere participation; it fosters a sense of ownership and belonging among employees. Thought leaders in organizational behavior, such as Simon Sinek and Brené Brown, emphasize the power of such inclusive communities in driving innovation, loyalty, and productivity.

Sinek argues that organizations that succeed in creating a strong sense of community can inspire their members to contribute not just their skills, but also their passion and creativity.

When Missions Miss the Mark

Consider companies and businesses as communities; when leaders attempt to build community superficially, it can be likened to extractive institutions, serving a small fraction of the organization. This approach creates a disconnect between the company's stated values and the experience of its employees and stakeholders, leading to disillusionment and disengagement. Such efforts often prioritize appearances and fallacies over genuine engagement and change, leading to a culture that sells an idealized vision of community to the public and employees but lacks depth and sincerity.

Companies are attempting to build company culture and growth around the concept of community but are missing elements to make this earnest, honest, and sustainable, and not just a pretense that is sold to the public, or the very same employees upon hiring. Strong communities within organizations can sustain communities for employees as well as those outside of the organizational walls. Within communities, if the behavioral dynamics and value imposed on the self are ignored by leadership, it becomes more challenging to strengthen that community.

"The new normal will include a greater awareness of systemic dependencies and the need for social goods...Linear thinking and highly individualistic, reductionist approaches to society and the planet will shift towards communitarianism."
- Greg Sherwin, Vice President of Engineering at Singularity University.

Community-Powered

Jana Bacevic, a social and political theorist writes: "Being open to other perspectives is not enough to make thinking together possible."⁸ When considering why communities are failing, it's important to note that organizations and leaders hoping to host, build, and engage communities cannot just rely on the promise of providing spaces for brainstorming or incubators for different perspectives. For communities to serve their purpose, these spaces require reciprocity, equality, and an openness to new paths of thought that will pave the road toward innovation.

According to Gallup's State of the Workforce 2022 report, 79% of the global workforce feels disengaged, making re-engagement a key priority for companies as they rethink their HR strategies, especially post-pandemic.

In Designing Regenerative Cultures, Daniel C. Wahl explains that "What matters urgently is that we do come together to have conversations about what future we want for humanity....We need a collective narrative about who we are and why we are worth sustaining, a shared story powerful enough to keep us all innovative, creative and collaborative as we question into the what, how, when and where."⁹

The mission, as is ATÖLYE's, is to work with impact-focused leaders and organizations to identify binding elements that result in engagement, yielding community-powered transformation that is not centered on crisis or urgent need. Community-powered transformation that helps create leaders, platforms, and eco-systems for mutual support, intellectual growth, and social cohesion, fostering a resilient and adaptive society capable of facing challenges through collective effort and shared wisdom.

ATÖLYE is designing for and mobilizing a 'collective movement' that activates purpose-bound communities to create tangible outcomes and transformation. By transforming skillsets and mindsets through tangible outputs of change, we can enable the relational potential of leaders and teams, catalyzing communities and growing impact.

The value given to the community is no longer immeasurable or ethereal.

It is now that we give becoming a priority over being. The antithesis to collapsing systems is a collective shift inspired by values of alliance and decentralization.

The research, testimonials, and implementation failures and successes have been spoken for, so how can we act on the awareness of that value instead of just speaking about it?


What does Community-Powered mean to you? How do you see Community-Powered Transformation unfolding in your business landscape?

Reach out to one of our team members to learn more about our methodology and products, and how we can transform together.


References

  1. Regenerative community: A regenerative community is a coalition of people with shared purpose and values, attuned to the needs of living ecosystems and social structures and takes collective action that allows people, places and nature to thrive in harmony. - ATÖLYE
  2. ATÖLYE research
  3. ATÖLYE research
  4. https://sidlee.com/en/work/the-belong-effect/2021/belong-effect
  5. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/c-suite-insights/ceo-survey-2023.html
  6. Moisseron-Baudé M, Bernaud J-L, Sovet L. Relationships between Sense of Community, Authenticity, and Meaning in Life in Four Social Communities in France. Sustainability. 2022; 14(2):1018. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14021018
  7. https://www.lsnglobal.com/article/view/28000
  8. https://www.thephilosopher1923.org/post/what-does-it-mean-to-think-together
  9. Designing Regenerative Cultures, Daniel C. Wahl