A Volunteer Culture Powered by Ideas

Our vision for Progressive Coders Network has always been to cultivate a positive, highly collaborative, transparent culture. The tricky thing about culture is that it’s generally difficult to pinpoint. It’s really more of a byproduct of how your team operates. Our community’s continual expansion has come with a flood of new, incredible ideas with unique perspectives, philosophies, and ideals. This is a change we welcome, and it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our culture in action as we continue to grow.

One key element of our ideal culture is recognizing and respecting the power of an idea. Every significant or insignificant thing in human history has happened because of an idea. Einstein had an idea about how the universe worked; Darwin had an idea about how we got here; Ford had an idea about how industry functioned. ProgCode members have an idea of how technology can affect politics.

Of course, the consistent theme from the first three examples is that the idea had a chance to live and bloom. Only when it was allowed to develop did it have its planet-changing impact. An idea is a delicate thing. If you don’t nurture it from the beginning, it can die before it ever has a chance to bloom. And that’s the other thing about ideas: in the same way that it is impossible to look at an unknown seed and predict what it will grow into, ideas develop in often unpredictable ways.

Since we are an online community, there are a lot of challenges in communication, camaraderie, ownership, and buy-in. We have a unique ecosystem compared to offline communities.

I hope that keeping all of these in mind will set a direction towards achieving a culture that can move us forward collectively as an organization: where we see how ideas can be vessels of progress for the community.

Changing our perspective on ideas needs to happen, especially in a community as new and dynamic as ours.

Ideas as a form of ownership

We must change the way we think about ideas in a volunteer culture. Our ideas about how we move as a community give us a feeling of “ownership” towards the community. Our ideas cement our stake in the organization. It is in our best interest to cultivate such ownership in ourselves and in others, especially if we want to continue to grow.

As leaders within our community, we must be respectful of this ownership. There should be a base trust that ideas and suggestions come from a place of investment and are for the good of the group. Respecting these ideas is pivotal to members feeling ownership in the community.

Ideation as a form of community

As someone shares an idea within our community, it then becomes a part of everyone who chooses to participate in its development.

How should we relate to these thoughts, these new propositions within our community? We have covered the need for respect and trust, but at the same time, the ideator has to understand that the idea is now also a part of the larger whole.

An idea introduced into the community enters a collaborative, continually improving state, until the community has weighed in and agreed on a proposed approach. An idea is strengthened by the community collaborating on it, and in the process this also creates positive relationships and a shared sense of camaraderie. Therefore, it is critical that we approach those partaking in the brainstorming process with an open and respectful mind: the idea itself can sometimes become secondary to the strengthening relationships and increased trust it helps forge.

The idea thus becomes part of a process and a tool for strengthening our community.

This is not disregarding the fact that ideas can and may reach a premature end, we recognize that a lot of ideas will not be realized. However, the process through which these ideas reach their destination becomes a vessel to make the community stronger.

Brainstorming as a form of relationship building

In this model, brainstorming becomes a self-sustaining communal activity, through which everyone has an opportunity to put a stake in the idea. The improvement process becomes a form of relationship-building not only between the participants but also between each participant and the broader community.

It is in our best interest to cultivate a culture of ideas. Productive and healthy discussions, constructive feedback, and positive conflict offer tremendous community benefits. The process can sometimes be time-intensive, not to mention contentious,, but these conversations are what make the community and its final proposed actions so strong.

One of the twelve tenets of Progressive Coders Network is to keep the conversation going. Brainstorming allows for that tenfold.

As we grow, we will continuously encounter new ideas, and especially ideas that come from a different place than our own values and beliefs. If this experiment is to work, then we must see these differences as an opportunity to learn from each other and become a stronger community.

The process of community-building commences with conversations, and our community is amazing in that we have an endless flow of ideas to talk about. I encourage us all to see this as a central strength, and an endless provider of opportunity.