The Art of Community by Charles Vogl


🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. What distinguishes a "group of people" from a "community" is that members of a community genuinely care about advancing the well-being of other members of the community - with no expectation of self-gain.
  2. Explicitly stating the intention of the community and its values ensure that members are aligned - this should be the responsibility for community leaders.
  3. Communities are dynamic and evolve over time - it's important for communities to constantly reassess the rituals and activities to make sure the community is still enriching the welfare of the community members.

🎨 Impressions

I was a bit disappointed by the lack of actionable advice in "The Art of Community." It was a good overview and primer of the 7 pillars of what constitutes a community and how it differs from a group.

Some of the most useful advice was at the beginning and end of the book. The beginning contained Vogl's path to finding/founding communities that aligned with his values. The ending contained some helpful advice on growing online communities.

The concept of "inner rings" of a community was something new for me and helped me think through how to implement that into a community, but also to be cognizant of alienating members.

Overall, this book is probably most helpful as an introduction to communities, though lacking in specific tactics for community leaders.

How I Discovered It

Through a list of "Best Books to Read for Community Building" on Quora.

Who Should Read It?

Someone who is looking for an introduction to what constitutes a community. Community leaders that already manage a community should look elsewhere for actionable advice.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • Focus on Stories: The primary thing you can do as a community leader is to highlight stories. The origin story for the community helps display the values of the community and the intention. Member stories help strengthen bonds between members and the group.
  • Everyone Wants to Learn/Teach: Providing opportunities for community members to learn (either through other members or from experts) is an important pillar of any professionally focused community. Similarly, many community members also want to teach what they know. Community leaders should provide opportunities for both types of learning/teaching.
  • Inner Rings - A Double-Edged Sword: Inner rings (i.e., more exclusive levels of community membership) can be an important part of helping members progress through their journey. Typically this includes a smaller subset of member and could be attained through completing certain activities or posting a certain amount of comments/articles. While helpful, community leaders should also be cognizant that too many rings or walling off certain members could be alienating, especially when the group is still small.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • "communities function best and are most durable when they’re helping members to be more successful in some way in a connected and dynamic world"
  • "Stories are the most powerful way we humans learn. Every community, like every person, is full of stories. Sharing certain stories deepens a community’s connections."
  • "Community origin stories communicate who the community serves, why it serves, and often how it serves. More important, stories also share values. Stories do this far more effectively than a mission or values statement ever can."

📒 Summary, Highlights, and Notes

Kindle Highlights

communities function best and are most durable when they’re helping members to be more successful in some way in a connected and dynamic world.

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In this book, I define a community as a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.

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Your success in growing a community will depend on how well you can understand and articulate the following features: Shared values Membership identity Moral proscriptions Insider understanding

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No matter what the explicit values are, the implicit values will reveal the real deal.

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Understanding the shared values that attract and keep members in a community is important for leaders. For continued success, leaders must both clearly share and personally represent the values so others can recognize what they want to join.

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Because members share values, the community helps answer three important questions for members in some way: Who am I? How should I act? What do I believe? I call this membership identity.

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A group may share interests and values, but a community has connections so that members care for the welfare of one another. Second, you’re simply not recognizing the membership identity. Consider why someone would seek you out and what that person hopes to gain as a member. Consider what that person expects of members and leadership, both formal and informal.

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If you don’t know the values, you may not know who’s seeking you.

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for members, while there may be early interest, behavior often comes first, and adopting values can come later with experience.

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The critical lesson here is that prospective members must have a way to behave like the current community members (participate) before we require them to believe in and value the same things we do (no matter how trivial or significant). When we understand this, we can find a way to both respect our community values and acknowledge that newcomers may need time to grow into full membership.

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One of the great pleasures of being part of a community is that we don’t have to explain ourselves.

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Part of our comfort comes with technical or “external” understanding. This is how insiders understand the external world. We don’t want to explain terms or recap history and the fundamentals of our field. We want to come together and share our values and skills.

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The principles we will explore in detail are: 1. Boundary: The line between members and outsiders. 2. Initiation: The activities that mark a new member. 3. Rituals: The things we do that have meaning. 4. Temple: A place set aside to find our community. 5. Stories: What we share that allows others and ourselves to know our values. 6. Symbols: The things that represent ideas that are important to us. 7. Inner Rings: A path to growth as we participate.

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To ensure that the community is welcoming to new members, there must be a clear route across the boundary for outsiders with shared values who want to join the community.

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Gatekeepers are important for helping visitors across the boundary. They’re the people who can give newcomers access to the community. Whether officially or unofficially, gatekeepers evaluate whether an interested newcomer should be welcomed across the boundary and into the community. They may be the same as or different from those who can exclude.

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An initiation is any activity that’s understood as official recognition and welcome into the community. The initiation helps members understand clearly who’s part of the community. It marks the completed journey over the boundary and into the inner ring.

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An initiation is a kind of ritual, and the best rituals come with symbols and tokens.

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Invitations resolve the crisis of belonging and as a solution they are so simple as to be almost unbelievable. The invitations can be to social gatherings, insider events, or one-on-one time.

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First, when we extend invitations, we establish ourselves as having the power to invite, no matter what formal role or title, if any, we might have.

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Second, when those who are trapped in a crisis of belonging receive an invitation from any insider or community leader, the invitation itself becomes evidence of their belonging.

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Foundational Form Elements: Opening 1. Welcome 2. Intention 3. Reference a tradition 4. Explain events and instructions Body 1. Share wisdom 2. Invite participation Closing 1. Acknowledgment 2. Sending

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State the Intention. The intention of the gathering is stated explicitly. This can be a single intention or several.

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Share Wisdom. Read aloud, quote from memory, or summarize wisdom from anyone important to your community or this event.

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Invite Participation. Rituals are much more fun when all are invited to participate (instead of simply watching).

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Acknowledgment. The acknowledgment states what’s complete or changed after the ritual.

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Sending. The sending is a way to mark the close of the ritual. In words that are either metaphoric or literal, a leader “sends” participants out into the world to continue life.

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A dynamic community needs dynamic growth in its rituals. All symbols and rituals serve their purpose for a time. They shape people, communities, even nations. And time moves on.

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A temple is simply a place where people with shared values enact their community’s rituals. Members know that it’s where they’ll find their community.

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the most powerful thing an online community can do is create offline friendships.

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Stories are the most powerful way we humans learn. Every community, like every person, is full of stories. Sharing certain stories deepens a community’s connections.

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Stories are how members, future members, and outsiders learn the values and the value of the community. The stories must be shared so that members can understand the community’s authentic values and identity.

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Among the most important stories are origin stories. By definition, these stories explain how something started, i.e., its origin.

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there must be a single origin story about how the founders were inspired to form the community.

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Community origin stories communicate who the community serves, why it serves, and often how it serves. More important, stories also share values. Stories do this far more effectively than a mission or values statement ever can.

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Strong communities share stories in which leadership, members, or even the overall organization was vulnerable.

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Symbols are powerful tools in building community because they quickly remind us of our values, identity, and commitment in a community.

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symbols represent their communities and a set of values.

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The members of each progressive ring, I believed, could teach me more, have better wisdom, have access to more power, better understand how to accomplish goals, and maybe even have more fun.

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It’s not important that each member pursue inner rings. Not all members in our dinner series aspired to be a dinner leader. It’s perfectly fine for a member to find a preferred level and remain there. Success in life or in the community should never be defined only by progression into increasingly exclusive rings.

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Strong communities offer a journey (progression) into successive inner rings. While some members may choose to stay at a particular level, mature communities provide opportunities to progress in their series of inner rings.

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the best inner-ring journeys teach us to care for increasingly wider circles of people, advanced inner rings must give members an opportunity to teach others—to share not just skills but values and beliefs that help us mature internally as people.

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On our journey, we want to be taught, and we also want to teach. This is why creating opportunities to both mentor and be mentored are powerful.

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Because an even more inner ring will always exist, our aspirations can never be satisfied. Without awareness and conscious effort on our part, we will fall into the self-created trap of striving to be somewhere that we are not.

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Remember our definition of community? A community is a group of individuals who share mutual concern for each other’s welfare.

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The first goal is to belong, to be welcomed somewhere and to connect with others.

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The second goal is to contribute to someone or something.

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One of your jobs as a tribal leader who wants to serve and enrich others is to find and reward leadership that’s truly committed to community success.

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Like offline communities, online communities must have a vision for their existence. This includes what values draw members. The vision must be clearly shared by the managers in some way. Make sure your members and visitors know why you created or manage your community.

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Boundary. Members need to commit in some way to join. Often a paywall is an effective boundary because members know that other members paid something to participate. The lowest barrier is sharing your name and e-mail address.

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Initiation. There should be a welcome routine for new members. This routine encourages them to get involved as quickly as possible and build relationships with other members. This can include an announcement to current members and a specific welcome from an elder

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Rituals. Rituals are more challenging online than offline. However, they’re no less important. Celebrating milestones in someone’s life is important. I learned of a community of entrepreneurs that announces and celebrates six- and seven-figure sales milestones.

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Stories. Online members want to know the stories of the community and the stories of one another. Give them ways to learn those stories and to share their own, like with supplementing blog posts, videos, and interviews. Managers can highlight and feature stories that connect with the aspirational community values.

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Inner rings are fairly easy to create online. Members can be invited to more exclusive groups separated by experience, location, or achievement.

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Elinor Ostrom’s work.

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Features of a sustainable community:

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First, there’s a clear group identity with understood boundaries and purpose. Members know who is in or out and why they’re together. Second, benefits and costs are proportional. Members have a system that rewards contribution. Getting more benefits than others must be earned, or the group will collapse. Third, decisions are made together. Members make decisions in a way they recognize is fair. This doesn’t necessarily mean by consensus or simply by voting. It does mean that there’s group participation. Fourth, there’s effective monitoring of violators or free riders. If members don’t trust others to obey the rules, then they’ll lose faith in the community.

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Fifth, there are graduated sanctions for those who disrespect community rules. Small violations get small sanctions. Large violations get serious punishment. Sixth, conflict-resolution mechanisms are inexpensive and easy to access. Conflicts can be handled quickly and in ways that members think is fair. Seventh, there’s recognition of some sort of rights to organize (for example, by the government). People must be allowed to organize for their own reasons. If they’re forbidden to do so, that limits the third principle (making decisions together). Eighth, for groups that are parts of bigger groups and networks, there must be coordination for relevant groups. Some activities are best handled in small groups, and some may require the involvement of many people. It’s important that the right-size group—neither too big nor too small—handle whatever is at hand.

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You can reach both me and my team, find worksheets and other leader resources at

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