Emergent Strategy for Community Builders
4 min read

Emergent Strategy for Community Builders

Finding inspiration in the work of adrienne maree brown.
Emergent Strategy for Community Builders

In the last couple of weeks, here in the US, the systems that supposedly keep our society together, have made it clear that it is not their job to protect our bodies, our kids or our environment.

If you’re like many of the people in my life (within or outside the US), for many reasons, you may be finding this a hard time to stay motivated and to keep showing up in your communities. Why does it matter anyway?

If you’re feeling this way, I offer you this reminder:

The work of bringing people together joyfully, no matter how or why you do it, is a tiny but powerful rebellion against the systems that work everyday to take away that joy.

Nowhere is this message clearer than in the work of adrienne maree brown. So this weekend, as a gift to myself, I went back through Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism.

I’d love to share with you my reflections on 3 of my favorite amb quotes.

  1. You are the smallest unit of the community you’re building.
“In a fractal conception, I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making. Each day should be lived on purpose.” — adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy

I use natural imagery a lot because I think connection is one of our most natural tendencies and we can learn a lot from observing nature. To me, fractals are one of the most interesting and useful natural structures to get inspiration from. A fractal is “infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales.” Meaning that the smallest unit of a fractal echos the whole thing. It’s like nature’s minimum viable product.

If your community is a fractal, you are the smallest unit of it. This means that however you want your members to feel, is how you should want yourself to feel as the community leader. If you’re feeling anxious, and making decisions out of fear, whether you want it to or not, that vibe will reverberate through your community.

Prioritizing your own needs is not selfish, it is the only way to contribute positively to the vision you’re co-creating with your people.

2. Community is about co-creating a new future.

“I believe that all organizing is science fiction - that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced.” ― adrienne maree brown in Pleasure Activism

I love this quote. I get butterflies when I read it. The community you’re building is not about the content you create, it’s not about the community platform you choose, it’s not even really about the individual people in it. It’s about the vision of the world you imagine and co-create together.

The organizing amb talks about most often is about directly advocating for and working towards a new future via political action and community organizing. The organizations cited are working on issues like racial justice, climate change, and prison reform.

So what if your community is about teaching people how to use Excel? Or collecting rocks? Or playing video games? Is there still room for this type of future ideation? YES. And it is a huge opportunity.

In addition to direct action, what moves the needle on the big problems the world is facing… war, inequality, white supremacy… is connection. And I don’t think it matters the context that connection happens in.

A community that plays video games together might have a vision for more joyful, less confrontational online spaces. That vision helps us all. A community of Excel users might care about creating a future where being smart and nerdy is accepted and celebrated. That vision helps us all. A community of rock collectors may want to imagine a world where everyone appreciates and celebrates the earth. That vision helps us all.

What’s the vision of the future your community can imagine together?

3. Prioritize joy and ease.

“What is easy is sustainable. Birds coast when they can.” — adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy

The hottest topic in community building is burnout. As community leaders there’s often anxious thoughts in the back of our minds that boil down to, “am I doing enough?” Those thoughts lead us to go way beyond our capacity, dishonor our own boundaries and make things happen with force.

Community does take hard work. And it also requires a level of surrender, especially from the community leader. I love that amb makes the case here for taking the easy way. You have to be able to access your own joy and ease first, in order to bring that to others.

You cannot be burned out and overworked and lead a community where people feel ease and connection. At least not for long.

Prioritizing joy and ease starts with you and you can bring that to the programming you put together in the community. Even if you lead a super serious and professional community, everyone wants to laugh and connect over silly things once in a while. It is what makes connection sustainable so that you can get closer and closer to your vision.

What do you make space for in the community when you take time to rest and do less?

So this is the vision I want to present to you: a world where community builders are well-resourced so they can do the work of making the world more connected, more just and more joyful.

Because your work really matters. Now and always.

Tomorrow is our workshop on planning a thoughtful and non-stressful community launch. We’ll go through things to prioritize in the 8 weeks leading up to launch. And then, if you want to go deeper, you’ll hear all about BACB and how to join us for extra support and connection as you build your own community.

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