Why You Need a Community: Opportunity Exposure and the Internet Echo Chamber
To be successful, you need to maximize your exposure to opportunity, and internet communities aren't going to cut it.
If you don’t have a community, you need to find one. Success is all about preparing for opportunity, and then seizing opportunities when they appear. Communities help with both.
Want to hone your skills? Join a community.
Want to maximize your exposure to opportunity? Join a community
Still not convinced? Fine, lets keep going
No man is an island
We are social creatures, and we rely on the encouragement of our peers more than we like to admit. Surrounding yourself with the right group of people will free up emotional energy that you can put towards other areas. It's like having the wind at your back instead of in your face.
This is why revolutionary ideas so often come from communities. We can encourage each other to keep going, and go faster. I inspire you and you inspire me. It builds off itself, like a positive feedback loop.
Not only do we move faster, we also benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of the group. They can help you from getting stuck. They can give you feedback.
The result? Your peers will push you to build your skills up to MUCH higher levels than you could on your own.
This will build up your hard skills. You need these skills, they’re like a prerequisite. They are required to be able to seize opportunities, but opportunities will not appear on their own. From the outside, opportunities may seem like random occurrences, but that's not quite true. They may appear sporadically, but we can still maximize our exposure to them.
The random thing that changed your life
This brings us to the second benefit of communities, serendipity.
Communities provide randomness. Whenever you interact with your community, there’s a chance that you’ll be exposed to a person or idea outside of your normal sphere. Life creates these random occurrences for us. Someone or something from outside your community will find its way inside. Sometimes that means you will be in the right place at the right time (or, sometimes the opposite).
I believe that opportunity is fundamentally tied to how comfortable we are with allowing randomness in our lives. If we embrace the unknown and the uncomfortable, one day we might get lucky and strike gold.
Just meeting the right person can change your life. In my experience, this is by far the greatest generator of opportunity. You never know what people are up to. If you’re prepared for it, the opportunity will present itself.
Up until now I have been referring to in-person communities. Online communities have many of the same benefits, but with some serious limitations.
There’s tons of successful online communities: Ribbon Farm, Lesswrong, The WELL, subreddits, etc. These are excellent examples of experimental communities. There is a massive opportunity for online skill building and idea creation. The internet allows some of the most talented people in any field to gather in one space. But there’s a big problem.
Online communities lack serendipity.
You see, the internet is great for creating flourishing communities. You are no longer limited to the people around you. You can find an online community that satisfies any interest you could possibly have.
This, however, has its downsides. For every belief that you have, there are people online who agree with you.
This makes the internet a minefield of confirmation bias.
There’s little incentive to be challenged. Being challenged is uncomfortable, and it's so easy to find people who agree with you instead. Random interaction between different communities is what drives serendipity, but in an online format, it’s too easy to avoid the discomfort of new ideas. Real life does a great job of forcing new ideas down our throat.
In the academic literature, these experimental communities are often referred to as the “underground” (gotta get people to read those sociology papers somehow) . In order to bring these online communities out of isolation so they can interact with other communities, we need this thing called the “middleground”.
The internet lacks a coherent middleground.
The middleground can be thought of as a combination of people, places, and events that provide a way of getting the underground communities to interact with each other. It can be a place where people gather, like a bar or a cafe. Influential people, like investors, are good at bringing different communities together. At events, you never know who you could run into. This is where real life communities have an advantage.
For instance, say I’m browsing Twitter. I see a link with a description about how there’s a lot of money in the junk removal industry. Hmm, seems interesting. But, there’s another tweet about the latest XKCD comic. I like XKCD, it’s familiar to me and easier for my pea-brain to understand. I’m gonna click on that instead.
Now let's move on to real life. My friend and I are going to this event for entrepreneurs. I’m mostly going because he asked me, but I’m interested to see what's there. When we arrive, he starts running around trying to “network”. I’m just standing around, and now it's just me and some other dude. Eventually, the awkwardness is unbearable and I decide to introduce myself. Ends up being a nice guy.
He tells me about how he's got a wife and two kids
yap yap yap
he’s just down this weekend for the conference
yap yap yap
he’s got a trash hauling company that makes 7 figures a year
Awkward feelings have passed, now I’m interested. We discuss more, and I’m hooked. Eventually, I decided to give up on my dreams to make keto cereal and get into the trash business.
Maybe my new trash company makes me rich, or maybe I miss a killer opportunity to sell protein flakes to a bunch of people who have nightmares about carbs. Who knows. Point is, I wouldn't have given trash hauling a second thought unless I knew to look.
Well, sounds like in-person communities have the upper hand for now, but what are we supposed to do with COVID in the way? We’ll be stuck in our houses for the next 6 months. Well, the internet may not have a middleground now, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.
There are many people out there who are skilled at finding completely novel things online, it's just something you have to seek out. Maybe someone could build something to provide that necessary element of randomness, some kind of esoteric online community. Maybe real life will always trump in opportunity creation. The internet is still very young, and has lots of growing to do. I may investigate this further, and write about it in a future post.
Regardless, the point is, find a community. More importantly, find the right community. It may be tempting to join a group because their image and status are appealing. However, getting involved in the wrong community can be more damaging than not joining a community at all. Take the time to consider if you’re joining a group for the right reasons. Their goals and values should align with yours, and you should feel comfortable acting like yourself around them.
If you haven't found one yet, keep looking. If you can get it right, it will make a world of difference.