Connection between people is a little bit of mystery smack dab in the middle of a lot of predictability. It is mostly about managing the 5 tensions of connection. The 5 tensions are driven by things that seem true and good to everyone except unconnected people.
Here's what I mean:
Connection is easiest when everyone is new.
This is why it's more effective to form new groups than to add new members to existing groups. I've said many times that once a group is 4 to 6 months old it begins to form a nearly impermeable membrane that prevents the easy connection of new members. Once that membrane forms the only new members that can break through are friends of existing members or the least self-aware and most brazen extroverts imaginable.
On the other hand, when everyone is new, no membrane exists. Barriers haven't formed. Pecking orders aren't established. It's a level playing ground.
Tension #1: It will always be easier to send new members to existing groups. It is more productive to launch new groups.
If you want to connect unconnected people you need to focus on launching new groups. See also, Top 5 Ways to Start New Groups. Lots of New Groups and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Starting New Groups.
Connection is easiest when everyone is similar.
The closer the affinity the easier it is to connect. True, there are some who are looking for an intergenerational group. Trust me, they are the exception. The easiest connections happen between people with common interests and similar life-stages.
While it is often true that greater diversity leads to a richer form of community, it is not automatic and it doesn't form quickly enough to make connection likely.
Tension #2: It is easier to connect without intentionality.
It is more work and harder work to design events and connecting opportunities that take advantage of affinity.
If you want to connect unconnected people you need to look for strategies that connect affinity, the closer the better.
Connection is easiest when the topic of study is customer-focused.
That may seem an odd way of expressing the idea, but it is never harder to connect unconnected people than when the topic of study is only interesting to the people who chose it. Just like trying to get your children to eat their vegetables, telling them to eat it because "it's good for you" is not helpful. See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
Tension #3: The loudest voices are always the already connected minority.
Unconnected people have little or no voice. Finding ways to learn their interests is a very important responsibility.
If you want to connect unconnected people you must keep their interests and concerns in mind and choose study topics that naturally appeal to them.
Connection is easiest when it's convenient.
Unconnected people are almost always the least motivated to connect. They have other priorities. We may believe they have the wrong priorities...but they are their priorities. Removing the barrier of inconvenience is essential. The day and time of your connecting event matter. The format of your event matters. Providing childcare matters. Inconvenience is in the eye of the beholder.
Tension #4: The most convenient design for unconnected people is almost always less convenient for staff and key volunteers.
If you want to connect unconnected people you need to create opportunities that are convenient to them.
Connection is easiest when it is a good value.
Remember, unconnected people are almost always the least motivated to connect. The cost must seem to be a good value to them. If you're going to subsidize anything, subsidize the cost to sign up for a first connection opportunity. Design your programs to make it easy and extra affordable for unconnected people. Their very first steps are the most difficult.
A good value is about more than the financial impact. Does it feel like a good use of their time? Does the sign up process and the event itself feel like a good use of their time?
Tension #5: Your budget will almost never drift its way into prioritizing unconnected people.
If you want to connect unconnected people you need to make connecting seem like a very good value for their money, time and effort. See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
Image by Siddharth Vishnathan