Communities across the chasm

How do you get ideas to spread, especially in organizational communities of practice (often behind the firewall) to encourage innovation?

In Connecting Ideas with Communities, I figured that if you want to foster large-scale change in an organization or even a network, then you would:

  1. Connect the right Mavens with the potential Innovators,
  2. target the Early Adopters via the Connectors, and then
  3. find the Salespeople who will influence the Early Majority.

The oft-quoted 90-9-1 rule, would infer that you only need 1% Creators (Mavens):

User participation in an online community more or less follows the following 90-9-1 ratios:

  • 90% of users are Lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users are Commenters. They edit or rate content but don’t create content of their own.
  • 1% of users create content and are Creators.

This article goes on to disprove 90-9-1, as do others, indicating that as more people get used to sharing online, the figure rises to 10% or more Creators in active communities. This is further reinforced by research that shows that a 10% level of commitment is necessary to spread ideas:

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

One percent just doesn’t give you the necessary critical mass. Going back to my original premise from two years ago, I would think that a good rule of thumb would be to nurture communities of practice from a kernel of Mavens & Innovators plus Early Adopters & Connectors, aiming to engage enough to compose 10% of what will be the actual community. Inside organizations, this is relatively easy to calculate. Let’s say you have 100 nuclear scientists in R&D. These professionals already feel an affinity to their field but they are spread across the world. Some of them get together once a year while others may seldom travel. Knowledge is often kept in silos or sits on a hard drive or in some lost shared-drive folder. How would a newly-minted community manager help this community of 100 share its knowledge?

Ignoring technology selection (which is usually the easiest aspect), I would start to identify the Mavens; those who are respected by their peers for their knowledge and experience. Then I would find the Innovators. Now comes the hard part, getting these two groups to dance. This requires a lot of listening and preparation in order to see and seize opportunities for collaboration. Once something innovative is identified that interests the Mavens, such as sharing conference notes and views on the Intranet with the greater community, then it’s time to get the Connectors to help spread the word, but not to everyone, just the Early Adopters who don’t take all that much convincing. Once this group becomes about 10% of the desired size it’s ready for an open launch. Given the gentle hand of the community manager, a bit of publicity and easy ways for Lurkers to drop in, you may have the roots of a community of practice.

A major difference with this approach is that you don’t try to convince the Majority from the onset. You cross the chasm once you have a bridge, not before.


4 Responses to “Communities across the chasm”

  1. Richard Merrick


    As ever, a valuable and thought provoking post. One of the threads I think also applies is one of shared purpose, or passion. i’m finding that these threads and connections are as, if not more powerful as connection points as those of functional interest.

    Keep these posts going – I value them.

    • Harold Jarche

      Definitely agree, Richard. You cannot create a community where there is no shared passion. I advise my clients to start by identifying existing communities and then find out how to better serve them.


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