“You’re only focused on the developers.” The comment stung but only for a second. I was deep in conversation with a few Mauticians when this supposed truth bomb was dropped in my lap. But rather than devastating me, or causing me to explode in a defensive nature, I let the comment soak in. I rolled it over in my head and attempted to evaluate the truthiness of the words. Here are the conclusions I came to as a result.

What am I focusing on?

I appreciated this reminder about how vitally important it is to focus on the many different type of community member. In other words, not everyone is a developer. I’ve been working in communities and developing communities for the better part of the last decade. And still, still I struggle with remembering this valuable fact.

I’m an engineer at heart. I love creating beautiful code and I love creating process. I love the ability to create order from chaos. Or create functionality from nothing. In addition to just the code I am hyper-focused on the presentation. I’ve written about the topic of UI/UX frequently on my blog (Most recently I wrote about the concept of UX writing). So, code + design are always the first and foremost on my mind.

I’m sharing things about myself in order for you to have a better understanding of what comes naturally simply by default for me. In this situation these are the things which influence my responses and my “top-of-mind” areas of focus when considering community and community growth. I would suspect you are each similar to me as well, albeit with different focus items.

This is the reason why the comment which turned it into a conversation was so important to me. The statement made me look inward and evaluate how I was doing as a Mautic community leader and how the Mautic community was growing. Were there areas in our community being neglected? Were we as a community overlooking valuable contributors and passionate volunteers simply because they didn’t look like everyone else?

And all of that brings me to my somewhat unusual blog post title. I always hesitate to share common idioms in an effort to not bore you with something I assume you already know. However I’ve found there are usually one or two who appreciate the quick response of something they remember only vaguely.

Why are we talking about fruit?

The phrase I refer to in my title says, “Like comparing apples and oranges.” This classic phrase is usually called upon when someone is attempting to compare two items which are clearly different. The point being that the person making this comparison is neglecting or overlooking the rather obvious fact that at the most basest of levels the two items are simply incomparable.

And of course the final item in the title refers to our communities we live and work in. Comparing community members or making the base assumption that every community member looks the same (aka has the same skills and talents and focus) is just as flawed as fruit comparisons.

How does a community grow?

When we reevaluate our thinking about our community and we look with a fresh focus on the diversity found in skills, talents, and abilities we see something more than differences – we see strengths.

These strengths, these unique qualities, when they are recognized and encouraged, result in community growth. And this little secret is what everyone is seeking in community growth hacking. A community typically forms around a common set of shared values (Seth Godin’s Tribe mentality). When we recognize this foundation then we can turn our focus to our differences.

Reference: Tribes and the reality of the worldview.

Why are differences so important?

The previous paragraph leads me to ask this next question. Do differences actually make us stronger and help us grow faster? Isn’t the opposite view, of a unified approach, better and more productive? The seeming contradiction however ignores the fact of a strong shared foundation of values. There is a basis of unified beliefs and a shared vision (this is the why of the community). The differences are the unique additional qualities of each person. And here’s the reason it matters, wrapped up in a biblical expression:

“If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing.”
— 1 Corinthians 12:17 (CEV)

Simply put, if everyone is the same (an eye) in a community (body) then there are all sorts of things (the act of smelling) which cannot be done. In other words, we lose out on incredible and valuable functionality. This implies therefore the inverse is an increase in functionality. Our differences make us stronger.

Mautic celebrates differences

The conclusion of my short mental journey down this path was a realization of two facts. First, Mautic is an incredibly diverse and unique community. We share a common set of beliefs and goals, but beyond that we each have unique talents and abilities. Mautic as a community embraces those differences. Second, while I was reassured after this mental exercise I was not neglecting any particular subset of our outstanding community, I was thankful for the opportunity to review my actions and motives.

If I could leave you with a word of encouragement as you are in a community (or possibly building a community) – consider your differences. Seek to support, encourage, and empower volunteers by highlighting their strengths. Do this and I guarantee you – you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to hack your community growth.