Collaboration and Community: Hold On Loosely
March 13, 2011
From SXSW Interactive in Austin, second-year student Russ Maschmeyer tells a lie, then issues an open call.
Yesterday I had an epiphany, and it all started with a lie.
Saturday morning I attended what I thought was a SXSW presentation on community building. It turned out to be less of a presentation, more of a sharing and discussion group about the communities we were building. Uh oh. I suddenly realized there were forty eager over-sharers between me and the exit doors. It was too late. I hadn’t come prepared to talk about the community I was building. I wasn’t even building a community! So when it came time for me to share… I told a little lie.
“Well I’m a graduate student, building a new kind of expressive instrument, so I’m trying to build a community of musicians to play with it and help build it, together, into something really valuable.”
It was a little white lie—until I heard myself say it.
Then I realized how ridiculous it was that it wasn’t the truth. It immediately dawned on me how transformative turning full-force to a community could be. The idea is nothing revolutionary, but if you’re like me, it may be revelatory.
OpenFrameworks artist and developer Zach Lieberman talks consistently about DIWO, Do It With Others. It’s the central tenet behind the open source movement—not mention our democracy—but we often take those bodies (politic or otherwise) for granted. Of course you would need to get together with others to manage a country. Of course you would need to open source your code on a project that large. But here’s the kicker: those projects didn’t start out that large. They started as some person’s hobby, somebody’s pet project. You can’t build to that scale, or sustain it, without asking for some serious help.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous. How do you steer your project when there are eight (or three thousand) chefs in the kitchen? Wanting to retain control over your pet project isn’t a selfish desire. You had an idea, and you believe in it enough to see it become real. So how do you hold on to the reigns?
I think the answer is surprisingly simple: be the person with the vision. See a future, a world in which your thing—whatever it is—exists and affects the lives of real people, and then start telling others about it. Put that vision out there in the world. Keep putting it out there in the world. The people who get a contact high off of it are the people you want to work with. The community you build could be the people you’re building for. It could be people who share your skills or people who have complementary skills. What they’ll all be looking for is vision. If you give a damn about what you’re making, you’ve got to be the person supplying it.
Community is about collaboration, not control. If you enjoy being a directorial tyrant, turn back. Come no further. You need to have a vision, but you also need to be ready to be wrong. Get flexible. In the immortal words of .38 Special, “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.”
As creative people we’re constantly taking part in or reaping the benefits of creative community. It’s time to stop keeping out cards so close to our vest. It’s time we opened ourself up to the community.
Say it out loud with me (no, really!):
“I’ve been playing around with this idea about __________, so I’m trying to build a community of ___________ to play with it and help build it into something valuable.”
Doesn’t that sound exciting?
Yesterday I issued an open call on meetup.com to musicians and developers alike. I want to build a community to play, and develop my thesis prototype, MOTIV, into an intuitive, powerful, and expressive musical tool. If you’re interested. Let’s collaborate!
Join the meet-up group:
Motiv Musicians & Developers MEETUP.COM Page
Share it on Twitter by using this link:
–Russ Maschmeyer Class of 2011