Managing social environments is often compared to other organic or natural evolutionary systems because they are complex, emergent, and the daily details are unpredictable even if the outcomes are not. One of the things that I hear from experienced community and social media managers is that they have well developed judgment regarding when to get involved in a discussion and when to step back and wait. Sue John of British Expats talks about Knowing When to Step Back, Claire Flanagan of CSC talks about 'Return on Ignoring', and I've mentioned it before in my post Wait for it...Emergence Happens.
Why is this waiting so important? Because it creates the space for creativity and community leadership to emerge and reminds me of a recent post by Peter Bregman on Why I Returned My iPad - important things happen when you leave space for them. You lose a lot in the process of being 'efficient' and often things that require complex processes require a lot of time to develop.
For many of us - raised professionally in the age of Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, and the Theory of Constraints - stepping back, sitting around, and just waiting is extremely difficult. How the heck do you justify that to your boss? Um, "I'm waiting for the results to emerge you see..."
But sometimes, monumental things happen that reinforce why waiting is important. I recently welcomed a new baby to the world and wow, I had to wait....and ignore a lot of things that could be interpreted as problematic and/or not worth the pay off...and then accept that she did not arrive the way I would have preferred. And while doctors give you what seems to be a very definitive due date, it is up to the baby to decide when it is fully ready to enter the world. All the milestones leading up to that event can't tell you much about when, exactly, to expect it - only that it will happen. The outcome is predictable - you will get an amazing little person - but the details of how you will get to that point are quite a bit murkier and you really just need to wait and see. The better you wait, the less stress-inducing hormones you will produce and share and the more likely that both you and the baby will be calm and happy. Now that I've survived the waiting for her arrival, it's on to more incremental care and feeding - and waiting - knowing that one day it leads to a healthy and happy toddler/child/adolescent/adult but in the short term hard to predict when and how she will reach each milestone along the way. Understanding that those small surprise successes are most of the joy and pay-off is as important in managing social initiatives as they are in parenting.
One of the things that I love the most in my work as a community manager at The Community Roundtable is watching our members 'get it' and understand how social methods can be applied to their specific environments and processes. In most cases, 'getting it' is a process not a discrete event and comes from multiple interactions with peers, experts, guides, and new tools. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to account for the investment required to get those complex outcomes within the constraints of modern management and accounting structures. Protecting that development and evolutionary time is critical. It's worth thinking about when considering goals, budgets, and available resources.