I am lurker of sorts, I read your blog post but I don’t comment. I scan your tweets and go back to work without replying. I read the words of many a WordPress dev/biz owner espouse their commitment to the community and how what they do is for the betterment of such. I get it. I drank the kool-aid too. I felt kool, dammit I was kool. I wrote something regarding this before, and something else before that. Community rules! Right?

Today I read an article about Shaun White, the snowboarding phenom. This is the guy that pisses excellence in the morning. He was younger, better, and didn’t play the social game by the established rules. What rules do I mean?

The story that White tells himself is that he never clicked with the other snowboarders because nobody likes the kid who always wins. Many riders see it differently. They resented White for snubbing them, not even pretending they were all friends, an attitude that is central to snowboarding’s self-concept. “He didn’t hang out with them,” Finger says. “He didn’t show any of that camaraderie, stoking each other out, knuckle-bumping and high-fiving. He’d just show up and then win and then leave.”

This kid is the best there is in his chosen field. He showed up, won, and bounced. For whatever reason he did not hang out and socialize with the snowboarding ‘community’. The guy had shit to do, like get back to training for the next competition. According to this article he was not well liked because he did not play the social game.

But perhaps the main reason White is not a leader inside the snowboarding community is that he’s barely even in that community at all. “Physically and mentally, he’s one of the most incredible athletes,” says Jayson Hale, a snowboarder who was on the 2006 Olympic team. “But the truth is he has few friends on the snow. He’s able to put that aside. He has the gnarliest black cloud I’ve seen at the top of the halfpipe of all these dudes who hate him and who are talking behind his back. Yet he still comes out first.”

The best the sport has ever seen, is not a ‘leader inside the community’. Why? Cause he plays to win. He does not play to have friends, or create the appearance of winning, he just fucking wins.

So how does this relate to the WordPress community? It is pretty obvious to me. I see folks playing the social game, tweeting back and forth cheerleading for WordPress. I also know of folks that barely make a social media peep and are never seen at community events, yet are absolutely crushing it. I ventured to ask someone in the WordPress community what the backchannel on “Josh” was. He replied simply that “you come across as really confident, and that intimidates people”. He later expanded on his answer and left me the sense that was his polite way of saying I’m an asshole. Okay, I’ll work on that.

Is Community involvement paramount to the success of a WordPress focused business?

I don’t know is it? For the last two years, my company Pagely has taken the time and expense to host an event called PressNomics for other business owners in the WordPress Community. By all accounts the events have been a huge success in terms of everyone that attends gushed about it. Relationships were made, new ventures were formed. We even covered our costs and had some left over to donate to charity (St. Judes Children’s research Hospital). Where other companies we know may invite you to dinner and lay on the hard sell to use their service, we host PressNomics as an altruistic act, only asking attendees to enjoy themselves and help support St Judes. Matt Medeiros picked up on it.

Earlier is the life our company we sponsored WordCamps and I have spoke at a dozen or so. We saw after the first one the ROI on sponsorship dollars was nearly zero, but “we did it for the community” became the rationalization that I and many I know have used to explain the spend (One reason why we try really hard to deliver value for PressNomics sponsors). Hell there is even social pressure for successful companies to sponsor WordCamps as heaven forbid if you don’t you clearly don’t support the Community.

We played the social media game, buddy buddy with all the players. We host a unique and well respected annual event for the community. We sponsored and participated in other community events. Was it all vital to our success? I think it played an important part but I am skeptical on whether it was a make or break decision. 60 million WordPress sites, with millions added every year. Relationships drive business, there is probably no way to escape that fact so some involvement is surely needed.

Win and get back to work.

I am trying to get at a simple point, a take-away from the article on Shaun White. Win, and the get back to work training to win some more. The folks in the community that are your “friends” are the same people in most cases you have to beat to win (Matt Mederios nails it). Does friendly competition exist? They are playing to win, so you better be as well. They will give you high-fives at the top of the half-pipe and cheer for you on camera when you win gold, but to keep winning, you need to get back to work. Say thank you, walk away, and get the fuck back to work.

You are the only one responsible for your success.  Just don’t take yourself too seriously.

White is aware that his life has a tendency to make him self-centered. He also knows this is a problem — not one large enough to scuttle the documentary he’s financing about himself but enough to think he should work on empathy. “All of today was about me, and that’s a bummer,” he said once we moved down the street to a cafe on Rodeo Drive.

Photo: Mark Duncan / Associated Press

2 thoughts on “The black cloud of [C]ommunity”

  1. Thanks for the mention and having me at your great event.

    The community is great, but like you mention, it can get you drinking the wrong koolaid. It’s important to be part of the community, or important to build your own. I’m doing a bit of both, which isn’t easy and I do get some haters myself. I still love giving back to those in need of help and boosting others that are doing great things.

    As they say, no one wins a race looking sideways.

  2. After experiencing WordCamp over the weekend, and having this post in mind — I agree. Community is great, but being in certain circles of other socially awkward people, doesn’t always help you acquire clients, create great work, create happy clients, successful projects and ultimately keep your lights on.

    Disclaimer: I can be pretty socially awkward.

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