What’s Different about Community?

I’ll be the first to say that the message of strategic community investment isn’t new.

Many companies, including the large majority of publicly traded firms, have one or more individuals if not departments that interact with the companies’ community stakeholders.

These departments normally operate under the name of community affairs, corporate social responsibility (aka CSR), and/or a company-named foundation.

However, while the concept of strategic community investment isn’t new, let me offer the following two dimensions that I believe are new.

First, more than ever before, companies from the smallest-of-the-small on up in size have the ability to pinpoint and speak to the communities most important to them, through the reach of the internet, global communications, and collaborative applications, like social media.

Accompanying this global connectedness is an expectation, especially on the part of younger generations, supported by research, that companies provide work and deliver goods & services that have meaning “beyond the walls” or financial statements of the firm.

Professor Gary Hamel, who Fortune magazine has called “the world’s leading expert on business strategy” may have said it best in a Wall Street Journal column he wrote in early 2010 when he said:

“Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.”

Second, a consumer’s or user’s experience with a company has become an issue of paramount concern to the firm’s success – a critical, competitive differentiator. Experiences are produced by engaging both the left- and right-brain of the individual, i.e., the analytical and the creative, respectively.

This notion of experience is critical to our future economic success. Here’s why: As a country, the U.S. has lagged in recent years in our leadership in what are referred to as STEM curriculum classes, i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Too often, however, in the process of reinvigorating STEM learning at all levels, the creative Arts – in language, visual, textile, gifted, etc. – have been drastically reduced if not eliminated.

The result is that we risk squeezing out entirely the very elements of creative skill-building that are essential to the differentiated experiences our companies, products and services need for the future. One way to reverse this decline is to re-think the creative arts in ways that integrate architecture, drawing, and sculpture as examples that reinforce the mainstream STEM lessons to be learned.

The future core must be one where we build STEAM (with Art as an integral part of STEM) towards graduating young men and women equipped with the analytical skills AND the creative skills for future success.

These two dimensions – the equal importance of right-brain, or creative, cognition to go with left-brain and the existence of global reach even in our local actions – are, to my mind, two of the biggest new influences when conceiving one’s course for strategic community engagement. As always, your comments welcome.