There’s been an explosion of interest in communities, fandoms, audiences, networks, and the tools that allow us to do it all. With all of this increased interest comes an explosion of innovation (and investment dollars) as well.

Innovation in an industry is not inherently good or bad, but rather presents an opportunity for change. In times like this, the stage is set for knowledge sharing, discussion, and opportunities for new voices to emerge.

Evolution and innovation is a messy, sometimes merciless process. We lose track of intentions, bad actors and opportunists enter the space, and folks can sacrifice their craft in favor of growth.

In order to ensure not only the stability of industries experiencing rapid growth but also the stability of the individuals who planted the seeds for this growth – we must be precise in the language and terminology in how we gather.

It can be easy to overlook how language is being used. Especially for those of us who have been building communities before it was even a trend. It seems rudimentary to reflect and look back on the words that we use day in and day out, and often not think twice about what this means. This is even more of a reason and intention to write these definitions down.

Defining the language, terminology and even unwritten actions or behaviors is merely the groundwork towards building an even playing field in which those who currently work, may one day work, and want to learn, invest, grow or hire in a specific industry must do.

Consider this my humble call to action for all folks working, building, hiring, or even investing in communities, fandoms, audiences, and networks to make sure that we’re protecting the integrity of our craft through using the proper terminology.

Shared lingo increases trust, trust increases knowledge transfer

When we create content, we start to assume some common knowledge.  Based on my web traffic trends — I assume that many folks reading this post are largely located in the western world, speak English, and are a more online-than-the-average individual sort of person.

As the saying goes, assumptions tend to make both an ass out of you and me by leaving conversations left unsaid, and knowledge yet to be transferred.

I know that I’ve found myself yelling at the internet about semantics (ahem, community ≠ marketing, among other misconceptions) but is my yelling even helpful?

One of the largest barriers to knowledge sharing and successful knowledge transfer is the language and terminology barrier. Simply put, not having the same agreement upon which what words mean what, we put ourselves at risk for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

These miscommunications and misunderstandings can cost us social capital and trust —  especially in asynchronous, pseudonymous forums. (How many times have we seen Twitter pop off because of a simple misunderstanding or sweeping generalization made worse by a lack of nuance?)

As we have an explosion of interest and newcomers arriving on the scene, this only increases the difficulty of the knowledge transfer. No one shares the same lingo, terminology, or even has the same background experience to pull from, costing entire industries and individuals trust.

There are no qualifications, certifications, accredited programs — heck even a consistent school of thought — in the industry world of community or gathering thus far. Yes, we’re starting to get there with programs, and educational resources starting to be crafted, but we’re not there yet.

Quite frankly — I don’t know that this industry is quite ready for any certifications or accreditations yet, we’re still defining, conceptualizing, and cataloging the existing terms and frameworks that exist.

I’d argue maybe before seeking accreditation in a nascent, rapidly growing industry, we should establish some common veins of thoughts and work to prioritize a shared language across these industries in order to properly facilitate knowledge transfer and sharing.

And in order to understand what that language is, we must consult and reference not only early adopters in this own field of professional development, but also look towards other industries and historic evidence — and embrace ignorance and the unknown in our own world.

Facilitating a symmetry of ignorance to define the future

With so many new players or new ideas happening all at once, it’s hard to determine who is the most “qualified” or who is a subject-matter expert when it comes to these ideals. Yes, there are early pioneers and leaders — but oftentimes in movements, these early leaders don’t always last throughout the years.

Additionally, at this point in the hype cycle of the trend, some of the loudest or most vocal voices are backed by individuals not entering the industry for the sake of the industry, but rather to make a quick buck. Personally, I’m not interested in these voices defining the future.

Maybe we should quit looking or seeking qualifications to define and develop a nascent industry, but rather lean into a symmetry of ignorance type of situation.

A symmetry of ignorance is where two (or more) subjects, disciplines, ideas, or even individuals come together to create a new idea or field of interest.

At this intersection, no party is a subject-matter expert and all parties must work collaboratively with one another in order to facilitate the conversations and habits that are about to happen.

“The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures ought to produce creative chaos.” — C.P. Snow

Now, this doesn’t mean that we should throw all expertise out as a whole — but rather admit that no one person or industry can claim the ultimate answer in these worlds.

Interestingly enough — this concept is one that embraces what folks who facilitate gatherings in the first place might already embrace. As researcher Gerhard Fischer theorized, embracing a community of those afflicted by a problem, these individuals become stakeholders that define their own solutions.

This sort of communal approach removes us from a traditional, top-down method that we see in a classroom with a teacher/student relationship and embraces peer-to-peer conversations and cross-industry collaboration in order to understand the different sites of the problem.

The problem arises in this more communal approach that there are no externalities that force one to execute and continue to perpetuate the knowledge transfer and make this knowledge shareable to others. Cocreated knowledge transfer is great — but more importantly, it needs to be documented and shared in order to make this an accessible means.

Put simply, (and to quote the great Toby Keith), “We’ll need a little less talk and a lot more action.”

Action becomes tough — it requires quite a bit of human capital to co-create. For community builders who already have full plates and loaded schedules, this can be the final straw on the camel’s back.

“To make social creativity a reality, we need new forms of knowledge creation, integration, and dissemination. The scarce resource in the information age is not information, but human resources to attend to this information.”
- Fischer

We must create an active practice of building in public as we go — through content, conversations, tweets, articles, and forums. We must comment and critique on these items, not out of malicious intent, but to understand. Most importantly: we must develop a shared language that is easily accessible and understood to all.

Once we’ve moved past the semantics of how we gather and the different words that we use — we can then start to progress as an industry towards further growth and understanding, using a shared communally-developed language.