The seeds for this post were planted back in 2011, when I first traveled to London as a Hive NYC member-participant in MozFest, Mozilla’s annual gathering where creatives, techies and geeks develop solutions to the web’s most pressing problems. That year marked my introduction to Mozilla—not as the producer of the Firefox browser—but as a company that combines traditional management structures with open, collaborative participation. As the Program Manager for Informal Learning at the Institute of Play at the time, where I was immersed in the worlds of systems-thinking and game-based learning—I was amazed by MozFest’s rules of play, and its ability to inspire people to battle jet lag and other realities to work together toward shared goals.
Come with an Idea, Leave with a Community
With one out of every three participants facilitating sessions around nine different topical themes, MozFest 2014 continued to flip the sage-on-stage conference dynamic to encourage a focus on interaction, making and doing. MozFest 2014 also welcomed participants with the new tagline—Come with an idea, Leave with a Community—to accompany its focus on the potential of the mobile web and the importance of advocating for and teaching about the web. This year in particular, I was struck by the varied and distributed displays of leadership that I saw percolating among the creative chaos. Whether it was teaching mobile app development, advising on starting a Hive or facilitating an activity at the MozFest Maker Party, all across MozFest Hive educators stepped up to shepherd ideas and help others. Whether they hailed from Pittsburgh or Pune, I saw practitioners exploring, participating and collaborating in a demonstration of an organic and community-minded leadership. See what was created at MozFest 2014. Read first-time MozFest observations from Kevin Miklasz and Armando Somoza.
Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter
It wasn’t until I was back in New York reflecting on Hive NYC’s role during MozFest, that I began to think more specifically about the ways that community and participation can fuel innovation and nurture non-traditional notions of leadership. In his seminal 1990 Harvard Business Review article, What Leaders Really Do,” John P. Kotter discusses management and leadership as two “complementary systems of action,” building a strong case for his idea that, within large organizational contexts, the simple act of envisioning something different and/or pressing for change can be seen as a leadership characteristic. Using organizational case studies to demonstrate his findings, Kotter notes that successful organizations don’t “wait for leaders to come along but instead build structures to nurture them.” In this way, Kotter’s definition of leadership is exceptional in that it makes room for a multiple, shared vision. Leadership isn’t the function of one individual but something to be co-constructed and shared.
Kotter notes that what’s “crucial about a vision is not its originality but how well it serves the interests of important constituencies”; he adds that “dozens of people can play important leadership roles within the context of one organization.” For me, acknowledging this varied, multi-player notion of leadership is key to understanding the value proposition of MozFest and other open, collaborative structures. Not only does this definition encourage people to try out the exploratory and iterative practices that innovation demands but it also makes these practices visible and accessible so more people can experience and learn from them. MozFest and it’s many hubs and nodes of interest-based and values-driven production operates as a laboratory and practice space for others to try on the roles and responsibilities of a non-traditional notion of leadership. MozFest operates like more sustained initiatives like Hive Learning Networks or Maker Party, in that it provides opportunities for participants to try new things and envision larger societal change with like-minded peers. See the Maker Party 2014 Recap and 2014 Infographic for more about this distributed community-driven initiative. See Hive Community Member badge for more details about what Hive members do.
Identifying Hive NYC Leaders
From my vantage point as Hive NYC Director, I know that leadership and effectiveness look and feel different in the context of Hive. Increasingly, Hive’s practitioners and educators are not simply applying for grants and implementing projects but enacting varied forms of collective learning and collective action—exchanging expertise, brokering relationships, and putting in long hours on top of the basic responsibilities of their job in order to build something with other community members. Hive’s community of contributors are the ideators who stand at the forefront of Hive’s goals to mobilize more individuals and organizations, create and distribute new tools and resources, and inspire cities to commit to deeper action. The individuals and organizations that who assume the mantle of responsibility to address these larger, collective visions distinguish themselves as Hive NYC’s co-conspirators, partners and leaders. And to continue to nurture and grow them, we’ll have to do a better job of identifying and celebrating their roles and responsibilities, so more people can join them. See Rafi Santo’s working model of social ties in Hive NYC, which highlights the importance of brokering, advice, and spread-oriented ties across the network.
A great illustration of how some individuals and organizations are transitioning from members to partners and leaders is Hive NYC’s ongoing work with the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness. Through the Digital Ready program, Hive NYC organizations provide expanded learning opportunities to a group of 20 NYC public schools. While the partnership was brokered by Hive NYC HQ and NYC Department of Education leadership, the hard work of co-designing with schools and building trusted environments for youth to make, learn and play is being implemented and led by Hive individuals and organizations themselves. For a specific example, see the Expanded Learning Case Study featuring Beam Center and Brooklyn International High School. For more local examples of Hive’s distributed and member-led initiatives in action, read about Hive Movable Game Jam, Emoti-Con, the Youth Trajectories Affinity Group or Hive Youth Meet-up.
This week, Hive NYC HQ launches a new Community page on its website. This is a conscious effort to address the changing nature of Hive membership and specifically identify the role of individual leadership and contribution within Hive NYC’s organizational structure. As I wrote in my earlier post, Rethinking Contribution and Membership, the updated Community page extends a wider invitation to NYC educators and organizations to get involved with Hive NYC—to explore, participate, and partner in Hive’s work. This new approach best reflects what we have seen over the years, that experiencing Hive and getting involved in the community first, is the most successful way to engage with Hive NYC’s infrastructure of programs and supports.
In moving from a focus on Hive membership to community participation and leadership, Hive NYC HQ chose to call attention to three specific people: Jocelyn Leavitt, Gina Tesorio and Juan Rubio. While these are only a few of many active contributors, their portraits represent a larger effort to better identify and illustrate how Hive NYC works and what Hive NYC members do. As we move from a start-up to a more growth-oriented model, it’s important to call attention to one of Hive’s most unique and striking innovations, its ability to develop and grow diverse leaders within a networked community of practice. While the human energy that powers an annual event like MozFest is striking, so too is the day-to-day commitment that motivates Hive’s members and leaders—whatever their contribution may be. While the work of Hive members and leaders can be hard to see, their dedication is of utmost importance. Going forward, Hive NYC HQ will make a concerted effort to identify and celebrate these voices and their accompanying visions. I encourage you to check out the new Community page, revisit Hive NYC’s growing online project portfolio or peruse our new community directory, to get to know some of the co-conspirators and partners who are helping to drive Hive NYC’s goals, vision and work.