Communities have always been prevalent, and several examples from American history show how the USA has been sustained by them and leveraged them for its own success. Yet, during the ‘80s and ‘90s, the value of communities almost dissipated, only to return and gain massive traction again in the last decade.
What can we learn from these examples and what do they mean for businesses today?
Colonies – the enemy of my enemy is…
The USA was probably the first country where the notion of community and belonging transcended roots of origin, which religion you professed, and color of your skin. Its history is a history of ever-increasing inclusion. Arguably, it all started with the colonies, which were fertile soil for this type of camaraderie, and came purely out of necessity.
Just imagine – you are in a wild new world, along with your neighbors: German Catholics, English protestants, French, Italians, Spanish…you all mix among each other and trade every day. Suddenly, an outside threat appears and even though you have occasional disagreements, you trust each other to unite against the common enemy. The governments and priests on the other continent, across an ocean, don’t have your back – your neighbors do.
Ultimately, you realize – well, why should we weather all these storms for the benefit of monarchs, and not unite into our own country? And that’s exactly what you do.
The prevalent notion in any culture is Us vs. Them, meaning there is always a sense of belonging between certain members, and angst towards outsiders that do not share defining characteristics, or threaten to endanger your own culture.
New Deal: From nations to American Dream for all
As the dust settled and nations were born into existence after the Boston Tea Party (1773) and the French Revolution (1789), the newly formed meta-communities focused on economic growth, hence the rapid infrastructural development and industrialization era.
Work has always been a grand unifier. Whether it is within companies, classroom assignments, or simply a family having a spring cleaning – the devotion to mutually beneficial outcomes has always caused people to come together.
The pinnacle of this phenomenon is the New Deal under the Roosevelt administration, in the wake of the Great Depression. Aside from amending legislature and providing social security, the New Deal included a series of public works as a way to alleviate unemployment rate. Thousands of workers engaging, building, toiling, united around the common goal and mutual interest.
It would seem that the USA unites primarily around work – this characteristic alone makes it special in the eyes of its citizens. There was no time to rest, although over time this phenomenon was put under different labels. The 1950’s would birth what was known as the Golden era, and the employees across the USA were united in pursuing the “American Dream” – an umbrella term for having a nice house with spacious backyard, a neatly trimmed lawn and an American car, obtained through hard-work and risk-taking, regardless of the class someone belonged to.
Yet, the author of this text would argue that it was never the label that was truly great – but the communities behind it.
Everybody is special, or: There can only be so many stars
The American Dream quickly turned into a nightmare after the Vietnam war. The Cold war was still going, and the country was disillusioned – the new kind of tune was desperately needed.
And Then The MTV Era Began
The rise of the TV and particularly MTV culture brought about superstars in the ‘80s, people larger than life, projecting a glamorous way of divas and irresistible rebels. Millions of fans around the world became enchanted with the likes of Elvis, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna.
And, even though there were massive communities surrounding these people, a new era was ushered in – the one of breaking up with the norms and tradition, everybody being their own star and savior, or, as Andy Warhol put it, “everybody having their 15 minutes of fame.” Consequently, the communities were lost out of sight for the time, and the individualization era came in at full swing.
Although there is a lot to be said about the value of questioning and improving centuries-old practices – suddenly, executives became rock stars, CEOs became divas, and the corporate culture and ladder, just a means to obtaining one’s own magnanimity.
Community DOT COM
The Internet did what no conqueror or diplomat ever could – it connected the whole world in one unified global village. Primarily used for marketing purposes, it elicited another side: heavy democratization of choice. And, over time, this cyber-democracy crushed the myth of individualistic grandeur.
Which meant that it was no longer enough for a company to come from the USA or other high-profile country, with significant resources in industry, and thus leverage the origin of their product. Suddenly, customers around the world were just click away from comparing the products, sharing reviews, discussing the consequences of a company’s behavior, and ultimately voting them in or out with their wallets.
Voting Takes on a New Lease of Life
In the last few decades we’ve witnessed the sheer power of such movements – just look at vegans voting with their wallets, or environmentally aware people who do not support unsustainable businesses. And the coordination among customers around the world has never been easier and faster.
Rise of a Woke Market
Is this new trend of customers supporting responsible companies bad? Well, it is if you don’t listen.
Since the information era was ushered in, the focus switched drastically in virtually all areas: from the quality of a product/service to community support. With the democratization of offers, lowering of shipping costs, and global competition, impeccable product became non-negotiable, but not enough. Actually, it would seem that some less superior products sometimes fare better because of the social impact they bring to the table. And that is saying a lot.
We are moving from a value-based to impact-based economy, and that means that the communities will have a final say in the positioning of the product.
Is there room to wiggle?
Hopefully, so far you were convinced of two things:
- Communities always have and will be crucial – and they tend to be more inclusive as time passes
- With a minor glitch of an individualism era (think selfies), communities have always taken the center stage, and nowadays they are re-shaping global economy, their impact stronger than ever.
What does this mean for your business?
Companies need to be aware of their social and environmental impact, because in the near future those are likely to become a deal-breaker with customers.
Instead of looking at your market and employees as faceless stats, we need to see the humanity and carefully think about what we’re building. We want to build communities, support them, and be there for whatever concern they have, while being singularly unified around sustainable vision.
This extends to the employees in your business, and company culture as well. The costs of training and HR have only gone up, and if you don’t devote time to building genuine community within your business, the expenditure will skyrocket as more employees leave the ship. Costs skyrocket, profits plummet.
Obviously, there are many ways to tackle this problem and start building a community, some more efficient than the other.
We believe that for small-and-medium-sized businesses, scholarships are an untapped business model, marketing tool, and HR tool that can significantly lower the costs and start building communities in an efficient way, for the long haul. There are numerous ways and strategies to employ them, to your benefit and benefit of your employees, and even the market.
But, you may choose some other route. What’s important is that you become aware now of the significance and future leverage your company will hold if you start working on your impact and communities immediately.