Charles Vogl – The Art of Community

 

About Charles Vogl

An author and executive consultant, Charles Vogl helps leaders in technology, finance, media, government, and social good organizations become more effective in creating meaningful change. Using principles drawn from more than 3000 years of community and spiritual tradition, he teaches others how to inspire powerful connections in critical relationships, in order to produce the kind of change that impacts generations. A commitment to making a difference has always been a crucial part of Charles’ life. In his early 20s, he volunteered full time at a homeless shelter in Santa Ana, California, before entering the United States Peace Corps and relocating to northern Zambia. There, he witnessed inspirational community in the face of extreme poverty, as those with very little shared with those who had even less. Charles then moved to New York City to become a filmmaker, producing documentaries including the 2006 documentary film, “New Year Baby,” which chronicled the lives of Cambodian genocide survivors becoming Americans and won numerous honors including Amnesty International’s prestigious “Movies That Matter” award. At the same time, he also volunteered as a secret labor organizer, working to empower abused workers in the restaurant industry. Charles received his B.S. from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and a Master of Divinity at Yale University. A regular guest lecturer at several Yale departments, his first book The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging was recently published by Berrett-Koehler. Building on the concept that community and belonging can be developed through time-tested ideas and rituals, The Art of Community is a guide to creating and fostering meaningful communities that benefit individuals and humanity as a whole. Charles lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Socheata. He includes surviving a plane crash, a spitting cobra attack, and acute malaria (all in one year) among his life-changing experiences.

Interview Transcript of: Charles Vogl – The Art of Community

Alan
Welcome back and visiting here today with Charles Vogl. He is the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging. And Charles, welcome to today’s show.

Alan
I’m delighted to be here.

Alan
So, for the listeners, can you give the background what inspired you to do your book?

Charles
Well, a number of things when I was a younger man, my experiences and human rights, some civil rights and labor rights activism. And for several years, I was a genocide education activist, while I was an independent PBS filmmaker, telling the story of genocide survivors who journey to America. And the theme, and all of those roles that I played, is I talked a lot about very sober subjects, and I couldn’t depend on the excitement of the subject to carry conversations, and for success, and all of those efforts, I can only be successful, our work can only be successful in bringing people together around shared values to work on something that was really big, in many cases, problems are not gonna be solved in our lifetime. And so that was the cauldron if you will, that formed me through heat to get better at bringing people together. And then I went to graduate school, wanted to study philosophy, religion, ethics, and business. And while I was there, one of the things that I could study was spiritual traditions that have stayed together for millennia. And I was really inspired by the idea that these groups, even facing existential threats, could stay together in such powerful ways that you and I could leave this room right now and meet their descendants in India and China, and even here in the United States. So when I got to the Bay Area, after grad school, I sat down for lunch with a guy named Kevin Lin, who is the current CEO, and still one of the founders of Twitch TV. And for those who don’t know what Twitch TV is, it’s an online platform that brings together online gamers, largely through video. And today, they have over 100 million unique users every month. And Kevin was telling me over our lunch, how he knew that the company could still expand. But what he really wanted to do was to make stronger connections with the people who are already coming onto their platform and connecting. But they didn’t have a rubric to do that. And of course, he didn’t want to experiment willy nilly, because you don’t want to break what was already a successful company and serving people. And so over that lunch, sitting over those tostadas, my head almost exploded with ideas, because I saw in that moment that I’d spent the last several years, studying how people come together and create those strong connections, even through big challenge. And he’d been spending his time building a global tech company. And there was this way that we could come together at least in conversation and create something new for this generation. So I went home to write down some ideas for Kevin, when I was done. It was book length. And now we’re talking about the book now.

Alan
When we’re looking at communities, how do you define a community?

Charles
For the purposes of my work, I define a community as a group of people who share mutual concern for one another. And that’s important, because we may be in groups where someone might call a community, or we want it to be community. But those mutual concern relationships aren’t there yet. And that’s important to know, because I almost exclusively exclusively work with people in some kind of leadership role and leadership, meaning they’re creating a future that does not yet exist, and they need other people to come on board to create it. And if we want to create groups where people are tightly connected, we need to understand what we’re doing and leadership is creating those relationships from we’re in a room together to how do we share concern for one another, so when something goes poorly, or even Well, we’re there for one another?

Alan
When did you first become interested in communities?

Charles
Oh, my goodness. Well, the reason that I’m able to be an expert on building 3d now is because I spent a long time lonely. And when I say lonely, I’m honest, when I say that, I wondered if I’d ever find a place where I thought I’d fit in. I wondered if I’d ever have the kind of friends that I would I wanted. I wondered if I’d ever find a place where I knew that I belong. So in as much as I felt lonely, and I think most people I talked to have at some point felt lonely. I’ve been really interested in the people who have a place to belong and they have community as far as being really struck that there’s a way to come together that is powerful and life changing. When I served in the US Peace Corps in northern Zambia, I lived in a village of about 150 families. And as you can imagine, it’s a really poor place and my host family and I lived in mud houses with grass roots and the way that they all feed their families is through subsistence farming. And everyone takes care of everyone else. It’s very difficult if not Not impossible to starve to death as an individual or a single family in this community because other people are going to make sure that you get enough. And they celebrate together and they mourn together. And when help is needed, people don’t even hesitate, they stand up and help one another. And it’s pretty powerful living in a place where you see people don’t have enough often, and yet, they’re willing to share and help with everyone they live with.

Alan
I visit here today with Charles Vogl, he’s the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging, Charles, I need to take a quick break. And we’ll be right back after these messages.

Alan
Welcome back. And I’m here today with Charles Vogl. He is the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging. And the first second, we talked about your interest in getting into the book, I want to delve a little bit into the role that religion plays in helping to build communities.

Charles
Well, for the purposes of my work, I discuss communities as groups of people brought together around some shared values, and they may not be all the values they share, but some values and obviously, religious communities have been bringing people together for a long time around shared values. And when people are involved with a religious tradition, and the rituals that go along with it there, they have a cadence in their life of gathering with people who they believe hopefully, accurately share their values. And you may know that we’re in a time in American history where Americans are largely running away from their home faith traditions, unfortunately, often for really good reasons. One of the things that we’re losing as a culture, because of this trend, is Americans are not gathering together with those groups that share whatever those core values were, I’m not judging whether those were good or bad values. They just continue doing that. And we’re also losing a connection with those rituals that mark the changes in our lives, our transitions that help us understand were maturing. And so religion has provided that whatever is good and bad about religious history, has provided that role, and we’re seeing less of that, or certainly a different form of it in our current American generation.

Alan
So when we look at communities, is there a methodology for how they are formed?

Charles
Well, there’s no magic formula. And there’s no one model of community that’s going to work. We talked earlier that I think of a community is people who share mutual concern for one another, that could be your family, that could be people on your block, that could people could be people in your profession, that you just want to make sure that they’re safe while they’re doing their profession. And obviously, there’s no model that’s right for your family and for your colleagues. That’s why when I wrote the book, I called them principles, um, how they’re gonna apply to your family or to my family are going to look different. But the principles that we’re looking for Sacred Spaces, I talked about the temple principle, all I mean by that is a place where we can go and know we’re going to meet people who share our values, space matters. For many people during Thanksgiving, a family home becomes a sacred space, we know it’s sacred, because things are said there that aren’t said elsewhere. And things are not said there that are said that are said elsewhere. And when we can notice the sacred spaces are important places that are set aside for special times or special things, then we can start protecting them, then we can notice, who are we inviting into these sacred spaces? And how are we keeping those places safe? So applying principles like that can be important if you want to bring a connection together, including a family and don’t yet know when I wake up in the morning, how do I invest myself to help doing that?

Alan
With the advances in technology today? It seems that there’s an evermore increasing principle of anxiety within individuals lives. And when we when we measure this, why is this? Why do so many people feel that the loneliness in this world when?

Charles
Well, I think it’s a big subject, and I want to make sure that I don’t demonstrate gross hubris by claiming knowledge I don’t have. One of the things that we do know is that Americans are feeling more lonely than they have seemingly ever are, we know that more Americans have no one to talk to about important subjects than just two generations ago, we know that personal networks have shrunk by about a third in two generations. And we know that the number of people that Americans have to go to when they have something important talked to, has shrunk. And I have to imagine that when you see that people don’t have people to go to that there’s a sense of loneliness, we’re spending more time on screens. And you may have seen the Atlantic article this year discussing how there seems to be a correlation between screen time and depression. Of course, when we’re on a screen, we’re not connecting with other people in the real world. And so there’s been a shift in how we’re connecting. In general, my work is about helping people who want to have others they feel more connected with have ways of creating that from nothing. And so one of the principles I talked about my book has to do with the boundary principle, this idea that it’s very difficult to build connections, stronger within a community if you don’t know who’s inside. And that doesn’t mean that it needs to be a really sharp boundary. But this idea is you want to know, who am I working with to bring together and part and parcel with that it’s this idea that we need to recognize, well, who are who are we inviting in to events to conversations and to our physical space? And if we don’t know, who were we want in, and we’re not extending invitations is very difficult then to build a community of support. And so the power of invitations is something I talked about when I work with leadership. Who are you inviting? How often are you inviting? Who What are you inviting him into? And how are you articulating that that invitation so that it can be compelling? And when I work with leaders, we all know that success comes after a lot of failure. And so we just need to accept that not not only are mth is gonna get turned down, but our success rate may be in percentages, fairly small. Of I’ve invited I don’t know how many 1000 people’s to join me for dinner. I know more people have ignored the invitation or declined and said yes, I know that hundreds and hundreds have said yes, and I have hundreds of close friends with whom I shared long meal. So the important part here is he says yes, because I made the invitations, not whether my invitations are rejected.

Alan
And busy here today with that Charles Vogl, he’s the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging and I need to take another break, and we’ll be right back after these messages.

Alan
Welcome back. Today with Charles Vogl, he is the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging. And, Charles, let’s run through those principles. What are the seven principles?

Charles
Yeah, for the purposes of building leaders to be better at bringing people together, the principles are these the first is the boundary principle. It’s the line that distinguishes between members and outsiders. And this is important because leadership needs to know who’s on the inside that we’re investing in to bring them together. The initiation principles, the second one, they’re the activities that we engage in, that marks a new member. So the members know when in fact, they’re on the inside. And other people who are part of the community can know Well who else is on the inside, we all want to know at what point we really belong. The rituals principle and these are the things that we do that have meaning. They may be activities that started as practical things to do. But now they have meaning for us. And they typically mark our transitions as we grow into more mature people. The temple principle, this is the idea that there’s a place set aside, where we can find the people in our community. And even if we don’t go to the temple, we are feel more connected. If we know there is a place we can go. And there can be big temples and minor temples. The stories principle, you obviously know the story is in this context. Stories are what we share, that communicate our actual values. In my experience, very few of us care what it actually says on the website that our values are, but we do understand the values when you hear one of the stories, people not coming to our telling. And if you’re in a leadership role, and you don’t know what stories are getting shared, then you don’t know what people learning about you. And if you have stories you want people to learn and you don’t know how they can learn them. Those stories aren’t bringing people together. The symbols principle, these are things that represent In a set of ideas, or values that are important to us, obviously, we’ve all seen symbols and we use them in our lives. For the purposes of my work, we can understand that we can use symbols to give people a way to tie them together, then if we didn’t recognize their importance, and one of the most important symbols I talk about are the tokens. There are symbols that we give to people that they can take with them as a reminder of their connection to us and the values that we share together. And then the last principle, by far the most sophisticated, the inner rings principle, this idea that in a mature community, there are groups within the larger group of people who have come together. And in a really unsophisticated community, those rings are there just for older members to brag that they’re in more service, higher rings than younger members. But that’s not what I’m talking about, when I’m talking about our inner rings within the bigger group, that reflects a broadening realm of concern for those members as people mature in their concern for more people than just themselves. And what that means is, when a new member shows up and joins a community, what they find is a path to growth by entering deeper rings that will reflect their honest maturation. And those are just obviously a very, very quick summary.

Alan
In the book you touch on rituals, what role does rituals play in belonging?

Charles
Well one of the rules that rituals can play in a community is there a way where others can acknowledge our change. So there are rituals of rite of passage when we pass from one way of being to another from a student, to graduate, from a follower to a leader, from a single person to a married person, right. And those transitions may happen without the rituals, the rituals give us a way to experience something where we know that people care about us. Notice that we are changing. And when I teach leadership, I always put a photograph of a wedding up on the screen. And I note that there’s elaborate dress, and there’s elaborate decorations, and there’s many people in the photograph. And I note that if we lose the people in the background of that wedding, and we keep the fancy dress, that’s a really lousy wedding. But if we keep the friends and family celebrating the couple, and we lose the fancy dress, that’s still a fantastically powerful moment in someone’s lives. In rituals, important, who shows up, who’s acknowledging this change and celebrating it or mourning it if it’s if it’s a sad kind of change. And whether we show up matters, when we provide rituals and arrange them and everyone I talked to has a moment their life where they’re invited to something, and whether it’s intentional or not, it meant something to them about being connected to that group. And I hope that we can all notice that other people did things to create that experience. And we could do the same.

Alan
What was the genesis for the inspiration for you writing this book?

Charles
All right. Well, it really came to that conversation with Kevin here in San Francisco, when he shared that even though he was connecting people around the world on an online platform, he wanted a better way to bring people together. And so I went home, thinking, well, I could write a few ideas that could help him bring people together, and presumably other people as well, if I shared it. And it turns out, I had so much to say that fill the book.

Alan
You know, Kevin, it’s Twitch TV that yeah, 100 million

Charles
Twitches over 100 million unique users a month now.

Alan
That that’s, that’s phenomenal. That technology will enable us to scale on that size. When you’re looking at a community of that size, you know, if a person sets out to say want to build $100 million 100 million member community, how difficult is that?

Charles
I can’t speak to that, because I’ve never done it. And I don’t know how many people in the history of the world have. What I understand which did and which other people are doing in their own way, is they’re providing a way for people to connect around shared values. And because of the technology available to us with the internet, and cameras, they can do that in a way that feels really intimate. And they can do it very often, despite the miles and that’s really a new thing of our era. I want to say that that I’ve spoken with a number of people in leadership, which while researching the book, and after the book came out, and one of the things I learned from them is they’re a company that has all the resources they need to find ways to connect people. They obviously are incentivized to do that by their company mission. And they’ve also discovered that technology can not sufficiently connect the people in their community as much as they wanted to. And I remember a conversation with Marcus Graham who’s known as DJ wheat. And he was very senior in leading community building at Twitch around the world. And he told me that Twitch made a choice about changing their platform. And overnight, at least 3 million Twitch users could no longer use the platform as they wanted to, because that feature had been lost. And Twitch found out about this and they went back and they were able to fix this within a matter of weeks. But the question hung in the air, how did we make a mistake that alienated over 3 million customers. And of course, when the irony is here is that the folks at Twitch are gamers, they use the platform, they’re not so disconnected, that it was a mystery to them, what’s going on platform? Well, I’ll skip to the end here, where what Mark has explained to me was they learned coach had grown so large that they couldn’t listen and understand what was going on well enough to create the tools that would serve their customers. Well, so the way they handled that is they started flying in. Certain members are called partners, to San Francisco to spend three days with them, regulate to just be in conversation, learn how they’re using the platform and learn how they want it to grow. So here’s what I want you to get Twitch, a billion dollar tech company is flying people together to sit in the same room, because they understand at the end of the day, sitting in the same room with somebody and sharing conversation is what’s important and keeping it connected and understanding what’s going on.

Alan
Now I’m going to address how a business should go about building a community?

Charles
Well, I think the answer is different for every business. And the people who know the people they want to bring together and how they want to bring together is the most important part. One of the things to look at is how are people recognized and for who they are? And how do they know that they’re being recognized? And one of the easiest things you can look at is what rituals are there to acknowledge how people are growing in the organization? And how are their successes and or how they’re handling failures are acknowledged in some kind of some way. And I’m often there are things going on there that members are just longing to be acknowledged. And that’s gonna be the beginning of connecting in new ways.

Alan
So when when people are setting out to build their communities, are there common mistakes that are often made?

Charles
Yeah, I think one of the biggest common mistake is just thinking that if you declare a group of people in a room, a community, that it’s the community, and just assuming that it’ll work itself out, we’ve already spoken today that we’re in the loneliest generation American history, and Americans seem to be getting lonelier, just assuming that not investing in bring people together, not giving them some kind of leadership or structure is going to work is a real failings there. And also believing that telling people that you’re really motivated by only making money. And you really want them to connect as people is somehow going to work, because I think that most employees are smart enough to see through false intentions. And if you want to create a organization where when something’s on fire, other people stand up to go put it out, instead of standing up and talking about what’s on fire, then you actually want people to be connected, you want to invest in that.

Alan
So in the in the final minutes, we just have a minute or so left, the person wants to contact you to engage in leadership discussions or training within the organization, how would they go and do that?

Charles
Right? Well, the book is on Amazon, and they can get that and that can be shared on the leadership team. And then in the book, you will find my website, it’s Charles vogel.com, Charles V O G l.com. And there you can find an online course where it’s we live, once we get together in leadership and go deeper into these ideas that we can apply them, and then contact me for speaking with leadership about creating culture of belonging in any organization.

Alan
I’ve been busy here today with Charles Vogl, the author of the book, The Art of community, the seven principles of belonging and for belonging and, and Charles, we’re out of time today, but I like to thank you for being on today’s show. And, and also for the listeners out there. Thanks for being here on American dream today. Join us next week, right here on this station. Have a good week.

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This transcript was generated by software and may not accurately reflect exactly what was said.

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Charles Vogl on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Charles Vogl

An author and executive consultant, Charles Vogl helps leaders in technology, finance, media, government, and social good organizations become more effective in creating meaningful change. Using principles drawn from more than 3000 years of community and spiritual tradition, he teaches others how to inspire powerful connections in critical relationships, in order to produce the kind of change that impacts generations. A commitment to making a difference has always been a crucial part of Charles’ life. In his early 20s, he volunteered full time at a homeless shelter in Santa Ana, California, before entering the United States Peace Corps and relocating to northern Zambia. There, he witnessed inspirational community in the face of extreme poverty, as those with very little shared with those who had even less. Charles then moved to New York City to become a filmmaker, producing documentaries including the 2006 documentary film, “New Year Baby,” which chronicled the lives of Cambodian genocide survivors becoming Americans and won numerous honors including Amnesty International’s prestigious “Movies That Matter” award. At the same time, he also volunteered as a secret labor organizer, working to empower abused workers in the restaurant industry. Charles received his B.S. from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and a Master of Divinity at Yale University. A regular guest lecturer at several Yale departments, his first book The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging was recently published by Berrett-Koehler. Building on the concept that community and belonging can be developed through time-tested ideas and rituals, The Art of Community is a guide to creating and fostering meaningful communities that benefit individuals and humanity as a whole. Charles lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Socheata. He includes surviving a plane crash, a spitting cobra attack, and acute malaria (all in one year) among his life-changing experiences.

Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Alan Olsen

Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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