Tom Jepson Creative

Growing With Our Communities


I recently joined Anne-Laure Le Cunff's 'Ness Labs' community: a thriving group of people who think about thinking; life-long learners who want to engage with and learn from like minds.

I took the leap and parted with my hard-earned not only because I am continually inspired by Anne-Laure's writing (she is one of those folks who seems to share something at exactly the right moment) but because of the group's nature: slow, deliberate communication and conversation around topics which genuinely interest me. Thinking and learning; sharing and educating.

I believed that I would not only benefit from the insights of the individuals in the group (not so much 'the wisdom of the crowd') but also be able to contribute in ways which would inspire my own growth.

Having made an attempt earlier in 2020 to build a community, my action got me thinking: how do you really know where your tribe is?

Social Media 'Communities'

In our culture of always-on instant gratification and infinity pools of 'content', finding a meaningful place to spend our time - and our energy - is becoming harder.

You might say that you get all you need from Twitter and Instagram. You've carefully curated lists of people you follow; you only post the things that represent 'your brand' or that you are into. This isn't community; it's not challenging you or supporting you. You're consuming. You're posting content which - in the seas of a million users - could be as useful as shouting into the wind.

Separating your consumption from your conversation, your learning and, at the end of the day, your personal growth takes gargantuan effort. What have you really put into it or committed to which cannot be let go in the blink of an eye?

When it comes down to it, the only beneficiary of your input in this way is the free platform. The 'open door' which welcomes you to become another of it's valued creators, the backbone of 'the community'; spending your hard-earned time and energy, two of our most highly prized commodities when it comes to consumerism and content consumption.

So what?

I believe we need to simplify our agendas; take a step back and allow ourselves to be 'off' more than we are 'on', all the while growing in a network where we are valued and valuable.

There's a psychological connection to 'money spent' vs 'value received' - the value exchange of investing into something makes it feel both worthwhile and something which you want to stick with. Free-to-engage stuff can become valueless and throwaway because there is no firm commitment needed to contribute or take away.

I believe we have to want to benefit from and grow with our communities; we have to commit something of value to us to receive the real value in return. It takes time. We must do a little soul-searching and self-reflection to really understand ourselves and what matters to us. After this, though, we're equipped to place ourselves into the right worlds with the right people, growing and engaging on our terms.

It might not be the easy road like joining yet another 10,000-strong Facebook group for UX designers, but it is worthwhile nevertheless.


A brief aside: When I was building the Design Sprint group 'VDS Collective' with two friends I had met whilst taking part in another community event in late 2019, we spoke a lot about the value exchange and desire to benefit from truly valuable communities.

As a community founder, you have to 'suck it up' and decide what this group - this space; the facility for bringing people together - is worth and put a price on it. You want to create something into which you can pour your own expertise and engage people enough for them to commit their time, energy, knowledge, and eventually money.

Putting a price on knowledge-based niches, you'll likely put off a whole bunch of people. But, you'll then leave open the door to those who know that it is the right place for them to spend their money, time, and energy.