Collabrative Circles

I read Collaborative Circles : Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work a month or two ago and I’ve wanted to write up my thoughts since then. Clearly that’s not coming together. So let me highly recommend it, and dribble out a few thoughts.

It’s a very rare book about how groups form, what their dynamics are, the stages they move through, what roles emerge during those various stages. The groups he writes about are creative groups, artistic movements mostly. The participants are typically young and the output of the groups are tend to be significant.

The author has an overarching model with a nice narrative arc.

  • The groups form.
  • Settle in on a problem, as they do so they rebel against the existing order.
  • They go through a quest to create a new way of dealing with that problem and this is when the group is the most creative.
  • Having found a possible solution to the problem they enter into a phase of collective action.
  • Later the groups tend to dissipate and their members follow their own paths.
  • And then finally, in a epilogue, they often come together for a reunion.

It’s not hard to make fun of this model since once you strip it down to it’s raw form there’s almost nothing there: get together for beers, rant about problem, plan solution, execute plan, move on. But making fun of the framework isn’t as much fun as decorating the framework with more details.

For example there are some very nice descriptions of various roles that emerge as the groups evolve.

  • Gatekeepers are the connectors who drawn people into the groups who will fit and add value.
  • Corks are members who go with flow adding value by condensing and reinforcing the ideas.
  • Scapegoats are peripheral members used as exemplars of behaviors what the core group is attempting to move away from.
  • Peacemakers are members who labor to temper the stress that emerges as groups fight out the details of collective action or ideas.
  • Lightning rods are members who take latent consensus, pull it out of the air and verbalize it.
  • Collaborative pairs, he argues, are a key creative engine in these groups.
  • Executive managers are the members that emerge as the group attempts to execute their solution, they are a means to solving the coordination problems that arise at that stage.

That list is an example of why this book is so useful. It provides vocabulary, stories, and a framework for thinking about group dynamics. Real groups remake themselves continuously, moving through all the stages simultaneously. It is healthy for a group to be moving at least some on all these fronts at once.

It’s a great book. Let me thank Clay Shirky for recommending it.

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