Over the recent time, the association known as the Technate, has successfully organized it's first regular inter-organizational online meeting. As our timezones differ, organizing multiple organizations from around the world to meet online in real time is more difficult than it appears. None the less, the meeting was successfully held in the classic professional style that EOS has adopted for it's own meetings, combining with the practices of other Technate member organizations has resulted in a fairly organized experience, following an agenda and with a beginning and an end, which is key to making the meeting a productive one.
One of the ideas that was prominently presented on the meetings is the desire to get organized by structuring the Technate somehow. The decision to set up a board was discussed, along with the decision to start setting up functional sequences. Some discussion was made in favor of these and some against, until ultimately it was decided to set up a message board where the different sides could put up their arguments and discuss. In this blog, I wish to point out a lesson already learned by EOS, which is not yet properly documented elsewhere and is not the kind of thing to show up in discussion on a forum.
The problem is the desire to set up empty categories. It's a lesson we have learned on multiple fronts, from the structure of the old EOS website (known as NET at the time), to the layout of the RBEF's forum right down to completely practical things like the proposed organizational scheme for the now defunct Project Umbrella.
People like to plan, we do this because it's fun. It is not difficult for people within an organization to find the motivation to start planning ahead, while implementation may be a different story altogether, it seems extremely right to discuss ideas on how things shall be. This is why people like to read marketing catalogs, imagining how they would restructure their kitchen and make grand financial plans only to change them again tomorrow. And we don't like to hear that this may be a bad thing.
The problem with this is that other people respond poorly towards being managed and either being themselves or having their work pigeonholed into categories. It is also not necessarily productive to have things categorized in a specific way. We have learned trough past experiences that setting up brilliantly structured empty space for contributions to be made into can leave many of them empty and that this appearance of emptiness demotivates people from contributing or being productive.
I would ask everybody to accept this lesson and try to avoid making the same mistake. It is not simply an issue of setting up categories and changing them later when and if they prove inefficient, the very state of having categories set up in advance harms the community's productivity.
Now I am not saying that organization of content is wrong or irrelevant, but no matter how brilliant, it is wrong to expect other people to just drop by and conform to a structure that you have defined arbitrarily:
- Be minimalistic about your categorization! If you don't know at this point how to categorize something, make a single category and then seperate it once there is already content to separate. Avoid making empty categories!
- Don't plan highly involved formal structure in advance! In fact, unless it is explicitly required at that point, don't plan it at all. I believe this is one of the primary reasons Project Umbrella did not work out -- people saw the elaborate organizational scheme and ran the other way. EOS's own articles on groups, areas and sectors are a problem in similar ways.
- Make systemic solutions! Don't plan how to categorize people, plan the means by which people will categorize themselves, if and when they feel it has become necessary.
And by this recognize that we all like to set up categories in advance. It feels right, but it can be counterproductive. Remember our goals!