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Using Group Theory To Create Communitas Among Groups of Strangers

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

I’ve been trying a few live experiments.

As some of you know, my wife and I are travelling around the world (without flying).

I’m writing this in Istanbul. By the time you read this, we’ll be in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).

My goal is to create a momentary sense of communitas. When a group of people are within a confined space, I try to initiate a group discussion.

How quickly you can develop a momentary sense of communitas among strangers?

I’ve performed a similar routine in hotel lobbies, elevators, cafes, Turkish bathhouses, trains, and buses.

The answer is really quickly.

My approach follows basic group theory.

1) Wait until you’re in a confined space with less than 10 people. This usually means there are less than 10 people to begin with. You can’t build a sense of communitas among big groups very quickly.

2) You have to begin small and gradually bring more people in. Turn to the person closest to you and ask a question/make a remark they’re likely to agree with. It has to be based upon the context. You need to have one or two follow up remarks to continue the discussion. Don’t try to address the entire group at once.

3) You have to evolve the group beyond initial politeness. Be aware of who else is paying attention, ask them a question too. Disclose some information about yourself and see who reciprocates, continue the discussion. As two other people are talking, split the group discussion by initiating another parallel discussion with the person next to you.

4) Co-create quick value. Solicit knowledge that allows the group to feel they’ve co-created value. This is easy while travelling. You can ask for advice on any topic and collate that as the discussion evolves. Everyone feels they created knowledge for the group.

5) Organize the next step. On three occaisions, we’ve subsequently met up with people from these groups. We’ve had food, drinks, and visited places with people from this group. But we always had to organize the next step first.

This exercise has made our trip significantly more enjoyable.

The key lesson here is the power of the initiator. These are groups all around us which never come together because no-one took the minor social risk of trying to unite them. It can be socially awkward trying to initiate a discussion (or bring people into an online community) and failing.

However, the risk is low and the rewards are high. I believe that there could be so many terrific groups forming everywhere is we had more initiators, more people like you, willing to take that minor social risk at every opportunity to form these groups.

Here’s a simple task. Reach out to the 7 most powerful people in your field that live nearby. Invite them to attend a social drinks or interesting food gathering. No sales, no sponsors, no tickets. Just an invite for them to attend. Key lesson – only invite the 7 top people in your field to attend.

Make the activity itself fun. Make the food especially interesting (exotic, organic, unique service).  It’s easier for people to justify their attendance if the activity seems fun. Then host it again the next month.

Most of the time, the only thing missing is that spart; your spark, to get the group going.

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