Famous Montreal digital entrepreneur Austin Hill is launching a new (top secret) community-based start-up, focused on philanthropy. (He’s also agreed to be on the Advisory Committee of another project I am involved with, the Atwater Digital Literacy Project). We’ve been talking a bit about a bunch of things, but generally discussing building online communities with a specific purpose - which his blog talks about a fair bit (he also did an interview with me)

He had one post a while back, about leadership, which contained some quotations from the “Tao Te Ching”, the guiding philosophical text of ancient China. Among the gems:

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

To the extent that I can be considered a “leader” of LibriVox (Christine calls me the “mayor of LibriVox”), I was surprised to see so much of my approach reflected in this and other bits of the Tao. It was a struggle in the early days, releasing LibriVox from my ego and letting it go where people wanted to take it. Of course, I still try to bend it to my will in certain directions, but in almost all cases that bending is in favour of openness: the two big controversies are “reader standards” (we have none, all are welcome to record no matter how “good” they are); and “niceness” (we don’t tolerate jerky behaviour on the forum - UPDATE: someone asked my how banning jerkyness could be considered in favour of openness … and the answer is inclusion … our forum is very welcoming, so people who do not like other internet forums like ours. Certainly it is a bit of a Nice-Police State, but the results pay off: more people enjoy the forum and contribute to the project; jerkiness would drive away many people. So it’s sort of an openness=access argument, rather than an openness=total freedom…of course this contradicts the Tao a little, but what can you do.). Other than that, things are pretty open. Though as we have evolved, we have become more complex, and more rigid in our way of doing things.

Still, as a general principle behind building communities, my experience is:
a) articulate a goal
b) follow the tao
c) if you need to check your direction, check against the goal first (objective), and the tao second (way to objective)

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