The Power of Exponential Community

Last weekend, I had the honor of being the MC for the first-ever Hive Global Leaders Program in San Francisco, California. Hive educates and connects purpose-driven leaders age 21-39. These talented changemakers are working across sectors, doing everything from empowering immigrant youth to building solar energy infrastructure, working at Google.org, winning Olympic gold medals, and creating mindfulness education programs. Co-founded by Ryan Allis and Adam Pumm, Hive has a worthy mission: to create a sustainable, abundant, and joyous world for all people by connecting 1 million leaders in 1000 cities by the year 2040.

In order to prepare for the program, I read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, which explains how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, synthetic biology, infinite computing, broadband networks, and other exponentially growing technologies will soon enable us to meet the basic needs of every single person on the planet. The book highlights technologies such as the Slingshot, which can transform polluted water or salt water into high-quality drinking water for less than one cent a liter; low-cost handheld medical devices that allow people to diagnose themselves better than a human doctor; vertical farms that use 80% less land, 90% less water, and 100% fewer pesticides than traditional agriculture (with zero transportation costs); and the impact of online learning platforms like Khan Academy which offer world-class education with the swipe of a tablet.

These advances in science and technology offer truly exciting possibilities for how we as a society can meet the needs of 7+ billion people, but what I learned this past weekend at Hive is that technology alone will not change the world. Only we can do that. Only when we surround ourselves with people who accelerate our ability to innovate, to grow, to fail, to try again, to try harder; will we move forward. Creating exponential impact requires cultivating exponential communitycommunities that empower each individual member to reach their potential, and accelerate a group’s collective ability to create the change they wish to see in the world.

Over the last two years I have seen how exponential communities like StartingBlocBold Academy, and Hive have changed my life and the lives of my peers. My goal for 2014 is to invest more time in cultivating such community on a daily basis (especially for people who don’t have the ability to attend these programs), so I outlined a few principles that all of us can use to strengthen our relationships and create positive social change in our own communities.

1. Exponential communities practice radical empathy

In an exponential community, people bond very fast. As in so fast you meet at 7:00pm, by 10:00pm you are dancing on a bus to Carly Rae Jepsen with your new best friend, and at breakfast the next day you are launching a new venture together. This is more than breaking the ice, it’s breaking down the barriers that exist between us on a day-to-day level (socioeconomic background, profession, sector, ethnicity, race, geography, etc.). It’s less “I hear you,” and more, “I am you.” In communities that practice radical empathy, everyone is celebrated for who they are. Everyone is granted the freedom not to be judged, the courage to be vulnerable, and the power to be themselves. Everyone is given the opportunity to share their story. When you celebrate your differences, when you celebrate what makes you unique, you begin to learn what binds you together.

Practicing empathy is transformational. As Hive Global Leader Joey Womack wrote of his experience last weekend, “First for the first time in my life, I felt at home among people that didn’t look like me. There was no need to assimilate. No need to change my speech pattern. My choice of words. My dress. I could just be myself. And being myself gives me the confidence I need in realizing my potential to change the world. I am a new person.”

2. Exponential communities curate experiences

The passionate people who build exponential communities do not create content, they curate experiences. Transformative experiences don’t happen when people are looking at a PowerPoint deck, they happen when people spend time together. During Hive, when participants were crafting their life purpose statements, we took everyone to the top of Bernal Heights, which overlooks the city of San Francisco. There are few better places on Earth to eat lunch and reflect on what you want to accomplish in life.

Exponential communities consider how every touch point of each member’s experience (from curriculum design to food and logistics) can enable participation and connection. “Community managers” in these situations don’t post on Facebook, they help their peers come alive.

3. Exponential communities set intentions that blend the professional and the personal

Most conferences or meet-ups are designed to help people hone their professional skills or accelerate their careers. The focus is on the individual learner, not the group. The intention of these events is to learn something new that will help improve one specific area of your daily life. At Hive, we believe that living a purposeful life requires blending both personal and professional goals. Ideally, social change doesn’t just happen at work, or at home, but is embedded throughout your life. This includes not just what you do for a living, but how you choose friends and partners, how you treat others, as well as how you eat, and how you take care of your mind and body.

Exponential communities set clear intentions for showing up, for being present, for practicing integrity, for working with purpose, for living with purpose. Holistic intentions help both individuals find clarity and reach their potential, but more importantly, help communities reach their collective potential for creating global impact.

4. Exponential communities offer support and accountability

Exponential communities can be groups of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, innovators, social changemakers, co-conspirators, artists, teachers, mentors, and friends united in the pursuit of self-empowerment and impact. An exponential community has your back, makes sure you’re following your dreams, and holds you accountable to your goals. It looks at your goals and says, “I think you can do better.”

The first time I learned about accountability was at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation. Usually when you go to a networking event and tell someone you’re going to do something, they say, “wow, that’s wonderful, I’m so happy for you” and they run off to get another beer. Not at Starting Bloc (which has trained 2,000 Fellows currently living in 55 different countries). At StartingBloc, when I told my friend Evan that I wanted to quit my job to find more meaningful work, he called me every single week thereafter to ask if I had had “the talk” with my boss. Because he held me accountable, I finally did quit my job and began to pursue a path that was in alignment with my purpose. That led to a job where I was able to inspire others to reach their potential. Those people have gone on to launch new companies and get new jobs at innovative organizations. Their work is now touching the lives of countless people I’ll never even meet. All because I was part of a supportive community that held me accountable to my dreams.

5. Exponential communities look inward and outward

At your typical networking event the goal is to gain as many professional contacts as possible, and hopefully land a job prospect. The goal is personal in nature (“how can I get a shit-ton of business cards in the next hour?”) In an exponential community, one has the opposite mindset: how can I help the others in this room? What am I uniquely capable of giving to this community?StartingBloc was the first time I’ve ever participated in a Needs & Gives exercise, where people share what they need help with, and what they are able to offer to others.

The power of this experience is not only to realize the collective wealth of knowledge in the room but also to begin to understand that the sum of an exponential community is infinitely greater than its parts. When you learn that the people sitting next to you can help you with everything from fundraising to web design to blogging to acro-yoga to mindfulness practice to giving massages to making the world’s best guacamole; your collective potential increases exponentially. Moreover, a community can begin to understand how it can use the sum of its parts to create change in the world at large.

6. Exponential communities are made of joy

If you’ve ever experienced being part of an exponential community, you’ve felt a magic that can’t quite be described in words. It’s a deep sensation that you are part of a family. That you are exactly where you need to be, that you are home.

I’ve felt this magic at StartingBloc, when I announced my intention to leave my job in front of standing ovation from 98 people I had never bet before. I’ve felt it at Bold Academy, dancing to Macklemore and realizing that the ceiling literally can’t hold us. I’ve felt it at Hive, when Pragya Lohani, an advocate for equality and transparency in Nepal, stood up in front of her fellow leaders and declared with tears in her eyes and zero hesitation in her voice that she would be the first female prime minister of Nepal.

If I had to choose one word that comes close to describing this magical sensation it would be joy. Exponential communities are made of joy, and exist to make the world more joyous for others. These communities share laughter and love. They dance together. They play together. They do yoga together. They eat together. They meditate together. They hug each other. They push each other. They share ideas. They share potential. The people you meet at networking events talk about work, and the people you meet at a bar talk about Instagram. Instead, exponential communities talk aboutinspiration and dreams.

As we continue to develop the technologies, the systems, and the companies to create a world where every person has what they need to thrive, let’s remember to cultivate the collective potential of the exponential communities we are part of (and the new ones we will create together). When we invest in such communities we dream together, and anything is possible.

Author's Note: This post was originally published in Medium on January 27, 2014.