Yesterday I received my preview copy of Seth Godin’s new book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us in it he addresses a growing movement that I have been mentioning in previous posts when referring to social media. The subject of community and tribes and the role they can play in cultural growth and eventual paradigm shifts is something I have been chewing on for several decades, going back to my days in city planning. The power of the book stirred up memories, of the ‘60s and later graduate school, as I read on, I started thinking of Godin’s premise in the context of our current state of things especially the shifts I have been noticing lately. There was something familiar about it all.
So I went to my basement and dug around to find one of my favorite books from grad school…Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. While Kuhn’s focus was on science it is worth looking at how his theory applies to cultural and political change…no this is not going to be a dissertation of the nature of revolution. Re-reading Kuhn reawakened me to the process of paradigm shifts and how they might apply to our present circumstances and in turn to the notion of community, collaboration and art. Really, there is a link here…just hold on!
You see part of Kuhn’s theory was to draw parallels to the process of political (and cultural) change. This process originates with a growing sense that institutions originally created to resolve problems faced by the community can no longer function as solutions to the problems they were originally designed to solve…an old paradigm stops working. Over time alternative paradigms come and go each offering different and conflicting models of community life. Eventually, these new paradigms start to start to merge as followers of lesser paradigms are assimilated replacing the old which cannot coexist with the new. The end result is a change in world view, we in essence begin seeing the world in a completely different light. We have evolved to another level allowing us to look at the old problems differently.In doing so we also may see things we were not able to see under the previous way we looked at the world.
“Led by a new paradigm, scientists adapt new instruments and look in new places. Even more important during revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before.” – Thomas Kuhn… Revolutions as Changes of World View in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
How and what does this have to do with anything? It has been my long held belief that our “old paradigm” of top down industrial management was not long for the world and was not natural to the way we as humans prefer to live. That model it can be argued served a purpose… it brought us to where we are now ( for good or bad). The early rumblings of the paradigm shift I think began in the ’60s and led inevitably to the shake ups we are experiencing now. No we are not experiencing the “End of Days”…we are experiencing the death rattle of a dying way of life and the roughness that is being dramatically exclaimed is the shift to a new level.
Collaboration, Community and Tribes
Since the ’60s we have been moving to the music of the come close go away dance of rediscovering our socialness (is that even a word?). Those hippy dippy days started to re-expose us to the intimacy of community albeit not well developed. Most of these changes could be classified as social/cultural for example, the civil rights movement realized success as did women’s rights. What didn’t change was the fundamental organizing principle of our structure…that of top down organization. Work was still thought of as “Real” primarily in terms of industrialized definitions, i.e. anything that didn’t have to do with the mind or the ego was not taken seriously and that included self employment. Employment statistics were built around jobs as in working within an organization.
It is the internet’s fault
All of this started to change with the introduction of the internet which can arguably be considered the primary catalyst powering the current intense shifts in our lives. Like any tool newly introduced into a culture it was first seen as a novelty but not by those pesky early adaptors who live for new ways of being in the world. However, as those early adaptors started showing us the possibilities more and more of us started to see deeper and deeper. We started seeing how we were no longer limited by geography, we could reach out and find like minded souls and even unlike minded ones. We started to see that we could use this new tool to engage each other…to talk, to collaborate and to build communities that spanned vast portions of geography.
The result was that many who were itching to strike out on their own, to escape the rat race of corporate America began to do so leading to a rising number of sole proprietor small businesses, largely organized around the internet. With geography no longer an issue, collaborations have increased to a point that “freelancers” are now solo-preneurs working mostly by themselves supported by other service providers ranging from virtual assistants to programers. Collaboration has led to virtual communities able to connect and provide support to each other regardless of geography.
So you ask where are we going with this? Well basically what we are experiencing is a shift in the paradigm of business and the exciting part of the change is growing opportunities for solo businesses, like working artists. These new opportunities are there as a result of the virtual elimination of geography and the connective tools that are just beginning to emerge, the tools I talked about in previous articles on Social Media. But there is more to it…there are an almost infinite supply of market niches available as the result of the Long Tail described by Chris Anderson in his book Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More ( I’m currently writing material on that effect so hang on).
It’s the tail stupid..
Because of the Long Tail, working artists now have the ability to really focus on and develop their own unique niche to a point that has not been available to date. More importantly they are not restricted by geography. An artist here in Minnesota can not only identify her perfect follower here but can also identify similar followers wherever she chooses to market her work and she can decide if the trip to west hooterville will be worth it…if not she can still connect with her followers either online or off because she has built a community around her work.
But…there is more! The tighter focus of niche interests offered by the Long Tail provides an even easier way for you to not only connect with the right people but also to lead them. All of those people interested in what you make are looking for someone to lead them, to guide them in the marketplace, to educate them about the value of what you do. So within the niche of wood fired pottery there might be a sub-group who is really interested in the style you produce. By connecting with them and teaching them about not only the value of wood fired pottery but also the value and uniqueness your style offers you suddenly become their leader. When they feel the need to buy wood fired pottery who do you think they will buy from? You guessed it …you, because you are their leader and they trust you. You have taken time and interest in them perhaps led workshops, perhaps mentored some and because you took the risk and knew that your sharing with them would create far greater value than worrying about them competing with you. You have created a tribe…congratulations! Now you have greatly reduced the “random purchase” factor you have faced all these years at every art fair or exhibit.
Also, you don’t need to limit yourself to just one tribe …you may find people interested in large wood fired platters in your style. You will likely find them lurking in your original tribe, you can now help them and create another following based on their specific interests. As you are building your tribe and it’s communities you also have the opportunity to develop evangelists, people who will be more than happy to spread the word about your greatness.
Open Source Art
All of this focus brings us to another unique phenomenon that has surfaced recently, in fact in many ways it is driving the changes we have been talking about. Once, the interactivity of the internet became convenient and easy to use people started wanting to create their own content, they saw the satisfaction of creative work, granted at an all together different level than the masters. So, now we are seeing a rise in Consumer Generated Content (CGC), and a strong desire to learn that is going unfulfilled because there are no leaders/teachers to guide them. This is were the working artist has a plum of an opportunity! But before you say “I don’t have time to teach/lead” consider the chain of connection I mentioned above and the alternative of relying on “random purchases”.
The trend of CGC has relevancy to working artists because as you are teaching your tribe you are also teaching…Collaboration,and increasing the perceived value of art in the process.
Which ultimately leads to increasing your value and your mojo!! The power of the medicine in your art suddenly starts to increase and spread helping all who touch it. You are also creating what I have come to call Open Source Art modeled after the concept of open source software which makes the basic core of the code available for others to adapt, expand, or develop add ons for. It is basically community design. Our application of the concept to art however goes a little further because it involve inspiring and empowering in a way that gives others the permission and room they need to grow and experience what we experience when we create. You are being the ultimate master…letting those you touch see you and by seeing you they become inspired and empowered.
The power of this effect to bring change is obvious…just multiply it by the number artists at any given show. Imagine if every one had their own tribe and some tribes followed more than one leader…just imagine the cultural changes that could be possible. So the next time you feel the weight of our current inner turmoil pushing you down, the next time you start doubting yourself and your choice of path, the next time you wonder whether it is all worth it, stop and realize that you are needed. Think about what the world would be like without the beauty you create then reach out and touch your tribe they are waiting for you.
Are you an open source artist? Can you identify your tribe? Are you willing to step out and take a risk to lead, to be the force behind your tribe? Join the conversation by entering your thoughts in the comments below.