“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion.” So says Mathew Leiberman, professor and author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect and a pioneer in social cognitive neuroscience.

Leiberman’s book cites almost one thousand studies, making a strong scientific case that humans are socially motivated and hard-wired to connect. I’ve always believed that there’s a social aspect to all of us, and it’s fascinating to see that belief supported by so much research. But it makes sense when you look around you, tune into the “social network” and pay attention to what you get out of the relationships in your life, too.  We all want connection–even if it’s connection in 140 characters or less.

Community Innovation

The words community and collaboration are big buzzwords in business — from online communities to social networking strategy, to community marketing and brick-and-mortar communities within companies that focus on wellness, mentorship or shared interests. Smart businesses don’t ignore our intrinsic desire to connect as a part of a nurturing community. They’re driving innovation in their products, marketing and office cultures by tapping into our shared desire to connect, relate and be social.

But what about personal innovation? This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, talking about and trying to practice in my own life. It’s reimagining you and creating value for yourself with new and fresh perspectives, attitudes and practices. A key component of attaining and sustaining true innovation, personal or otherwise, is through healthy communities. But you can’t have community without relationships. So if you want to find a community, you need to figure out how to get people connected, and how to start developing relationships.

The relationships we enjoy in our communities help us evaluate information and make decisions in life and business. Those relationships help stretch our emotional and intellectual muscles to accommodate our expanded view of who we are. It’s not all that different from stretching your muscles to be able to move your body in new ways, as a dancer, gymnast, athlete or even a middle aged person, like me. Do you get the picture? The same type of conditioning happens with the parts of who you are that are not visible, through healthy communities. Our communities have the power to:

  • Help us expand our view of who we are or demolish and reduce our view of who we are.
  • Help us self-evaluate and affirm the beautiful parts of who we are, and examine those traits that are destructive or need improvement.

When we’re in relationships and communities that motivate us toward self reflection and expand or contrast our view of who we are, we experience personal growth. That is the heart of personal innovation (which–by the way–is directly tied to business innovation).

Community Innovation Stories

Have you been a part of a community that has rallied around a cause, perhaps to change something in a school or public space, to support a neighbor who was having a difficult time, or to solve a problem? The experience can be pretty incredible because of its ability to rally people together and effect change, but there are personal implications that are no less significant, too.

Take one community in Hamtranck, MI. Tired of complaining about all the potholes that last year’s severe winter created in the town’s roads, and sick of waiting for the strapped town to get the job done, a guerilla group of pothole patchers took action, raising money through a Gofundme site and filling potholes on a third of the city’s streets–all with a blessing from the town Mayor. That’s how one community innovated through connecting–getting support through a popular Facebook page and even raising money to innovate through a problem.

A couple of years ago, I experienced something like this first hand. A large urban high school in my town did not have any practice or game fields. Most games were played in other fields at other schools, and practices were held elsewhere too. It had been like that for almost 90 years. A small group of parents, believing in a new vision, surveyed the historic area around the school and identified a small tract of land that is overgrown with weeds. They then began to rally support for the cause and put on a public campaign, and raised funds to develop a practice field adjacent to the school. I drive by the field daily, it’s beautiful, and a testimony for how that community’s innovation! Check it out: http://www.rjreynoldshomefield.com.

There are countless stories like these, of communities turning bars into alcohol- and drug-free educational resource center for at-risk youth, promoting children’s health and strengthening their schools, and fighting crime. And we read most of them through our social network feeds, don’t we?

These communities are innovating in their approaches to the problems they face every day, innovating ways to solve those problems and work together–and they are also challenging the citizens within them to grow through these new relationships. The individuals who are involved in working together to solve problems with representatives across their communities are exposed to different perspectives, working styles, priorities, strengths and weaknesses. That sort of situation promotes personal growth–it challenges us to re-examine our own perspectives, view the situation from a new angle and consider adapting or changing to work together and produce an outcome.

What Kind of Innovation Community Are You In?

Relationships, community, and innovation go hand in hand in so many different ways, so I ask you to take some time to consider the communities you are a part of and how they are contributing to your own growth and personal innovation.

Are you in community and relationships that are helping you grow personally and expand your view of who you are? If not, what can you do to change that? Can you–yes you–step into that place of building those relationships, and create a community that can innovate and create a new future?

Who do you know, who can you ask? Are you a member of a group on Facebook or online that you can reach out to, can you attend a meeting in your town, or is there a group through your company that you might want to get involved in? Write down some ideas, and take those first steps.

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