In the August 2002 issue of Boss, the Australian
Financial Review magazine, Michael Cave takes a look at a new
paper in the Deakin Law Review, by Leigh Johns and Mirko Bagaric,
on the morality of "expenditure networking" – that is, for
example, buying lunch for a client. The paper apparently tells us that
there is little moral difference between bribery and buying lunch. Duh!
The paper’s authors note that some ‘incidental good consequences’
come from the practice of networking — such as, increased social
interaction. Uh, yep.
In the same issue of Boss, articles take up other ‘new issues’
for corporates; social responsibility, giving staff a feeling of ‘meaning’
in their working life, handling the increasingly blurry boundary between
work and family life, the difference between leadership and management,
and so on.
I need to get up, walk around and shake my head. New issues? What?
These may be new issues for the corporate sector, but for people in
Community Development — or at least to me — they look eerily familiar.
The questions apparently teasing the minds of our finest corporate
warriors are essentially the questions of creating community. They
are the questions of achieving creative community participation, giving
people meaningful lives, instilling moral and ethical values, providing
support for the demands of work and family life, building social capital,
bringing up the kids (a.k.a. the difference between leadership and
management), and empowerment of individuals within the community, among
The purveyors of website ‘community’ software are the world
champions at creating new types of ‘community’. They have given us ‘communities
of interest’, ‘communities of commerce’, and recently ‘alumni
communities’ (communities of people who used to live here, but now don’t,
but can be networked into here via the internet). I’d like to add a
type, one that I think needs some attention from those of us with an
(offline) community development bent: the staff community.
The news for our nation’s corporate leaders is that despite Margaret
Thatcher, there is such a thing as ‘community’, and when you
are busily ‘creating a corporate culture’ you need to think about the
same things you would think about when creating any culture or
community. You need to think about power structures and relationships (‘co-evolution’,
in the model contained in the paper I have just submitted to the
international Community Development Journal), introduction of new
talent versus use of experienced hands (‘sparse connections’ and the
EVE dilemna, in the same paper), provision of resources and information (‘nutrients
for the co-evolving agents’), corporate (and communal) goals, building
trust and ‘social capital’, that ‘vision’ thing, and so on.
You need, it is true — as another article in Boss points out
— to understand the difference between leadership and management. Which
reminds me of a story:
I was once asked by the CEO of a City Council what the attributes of a
good leader were as we entered the 21st century, and my reply
was a saying from the Tao Te Ching: "When a good leader has
finished, the people think they did it themselves." What we need, I
said, are Taoist leaders.
From the blank looks I knew I had entered consultant heaven: I was one
step ahead of the client. That Taoist classic, the Tao Te Ching,
had served me well in the past, and it had served a blinder this time.
The concepts underlying the quote — and the ideas of the Taoists —
fit exactly with the ideas contained in my more academic paper for a
community development audience: What we need to be creating is adaptive,
self-organising, self-sustaining organisations. The ‘leaders’ of such
organisations will be those who can create the appropriate structures and
‘rules’ — and then leave the game.
If you’ve done your job properly, you’re only needed to
occasionally ‘nudge’ the organisation in the appropriate direction,
then let your self-organising staff ‘community’ do the rest. Again,
the Tao Te Ching: "Manage a country as you would cook a small
Communities — real, geographic communities — are complex,
self-organising, self-sustaining, adaptive organisms. Nobody ‘manages’
the general affairs of a community (I am not talking here about council
issues, such as rates and rubbish). It is a group of peers, with no
central ‘leader’ (although there may be various civic ‘influencers’