The three questions every innovator must ask when building a meaningful community
Entrepreneur and creativity educator Monica Kang shares practical tips for creating connections that last, especially in a virtual world.
The first time I heard the word “community building” I was a student. I remember wondering why the word building was important. As someone who loved being part of communities and contributing to them, I tended to think more about being a valuable participant and less about actually building a community. That has shifted for me through my work with InnovatorsBox.
While I am a part of many communities, I’ve also become the leader of many, too. I’m reminded constantly how challenging and meaningful community building is as I initiate, cultivate, and support different communities of circles. But the results, when done right, are even more transformational and powerful than I can even imagine. I love it.
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about the value of community as we’re all trying to figure out how to process our complicated and heavy world. As I continue to facilitate and build my virtual global community of innovators I’ve noticed how my practices in creativity have helped me rethink how I build communities in a way that is intentional without leading to burnout and Zoom fatigue.
Whether you are starting a new community or finding new ways to harness your existing ones, I encourage you to reflect on these questions to create more meaningful connections:
1. What do your members really need? Why do they need it?
If all successful entrepreneurs solve a customer’s specific pain point, all great community leaders know how to solve their community’s pain point. When the reason for the community is unclear, members lose interest and engagement decreases. In response, many leaders look to the creation of more programs and tools that may look nice but fail to address what their people really need.
For instance, does your community really want more grant competition events or online networking? To understand what my global innovators need, I constantly ask, listen, and incorporate their feedback into my programs. When I realized that they were craving to connect, I started building intentional meetup programs instead of webinars where they will be passive participants. This led to not only attracting hundreds of participants but I even had innovators staying up until 4 a.m. in order to attend. The lesson is to do less assuming and more asking. Ask what your community wants and listen with an open mind. They will respond. As a result, your community will thrive.
2. How can I create a safe space to fill the need?
To create a safe haven that people feel heard, appreciated, valued, and can let their guard down is possible but does not happen overnight. I start by reflecting on what I loved about other communities and why they make me feel safe to show up. Then I think about the details. Every email, facilitated conversation, and marketing message is an opportunity to build trust and demonstrate why the community is the right match.
When I put together my events and gatherings, I think a lot about what my participants are experiencing. Is there a lot going on this week in the news? Perhaps I’ll start our time together acknowledging everything is not ok and that it’s an ok place to start. Even with Innovation Unscripted, a new TalkShow I started to celebrate diversity among innovators, I created a safe community to talk about innovator’s challenges by intentionally curating their experience in the messaging, email, and frequency of interaction. When we reframe our community engagement as an opportunity to build trust and understanding, we find a way to build a deep connection that is no longer transactional.
3. What can you do for them that they can’t find elsewhere?
Most community builders are givers by nature but that can lead to burnout and a loss of creativity. To manage your workload and motivation, I recommend finding clarity in what you can uniquely provide that aligns with your core strengths and mission. In my case, I recognized that I love bringing people together but did not enjoy the logistics. So to feel energized and fully present in my community events and media engagements, I created documents to answer questions, minimize duplication, and avoid confusion. This has permitted me to offer more to my community and enjoy the process of curating and creating for my community.
It’s never been more crucial to harness and grow our communities. We need each other to navigate this complicated and difficult time. I’m encouraged that these times may lead to stronger community growth and development, and to more leaders being intentional in how they curate their community space. There is always a silver lining to every community-driven moment when we choose to see it that way.
Monica is a recognized thought leader in creative leadership and education. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. She is also the author of Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.