Today is the official launch of Allison Fine’s new book, Matterness. We recently had a delightful email interview about some of the ideas and themes from the book. You can get your copy now by clicking here.
BK: Hi, Allison, I hear you’ve written another book. What’s Matterness about?
AF: It’s called Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media? I was trying to answer a question that has been bugging me for the last ten years, literally for the entire time we’ve known one another. Here’s the question: Why do organizations continue to work with at rather than with their own people, the ones using the most amazing megaphones in the history of mankind, all of the social media channels, to raise awareness of issues, organize protests, raise money, share stories? Organizations that work with rather than at people create a powerful force of mutual interest that I call, “Matterness.” Unfortunately, this does not happen often enough.
BK: They’re still acting like fortresses, right?
AF: Exactly, they can’t seem to unfortress themselves.
BK: Why do you think this keeps happening?
AF: In the book I discuss the myths that are keeping organizations from engaging with the world beyond their walls. It is the fear that people will be mean and greedy (which isn’t true, people are by nature kind and generous and act that way online and on land), they will lose control (they already did a decade ago), and that social media, by its very nature, makes people uncivil and cruel (yes, sometimes, and sadly online we all have to see it, but not most of us or we wouldn’t be out there on the channels sharing our stories and making the world a better place.) These fears become an excuse to stay inside the fortress.
BK: For organizations that do venture out, how will Matterness help them?
AF: Focusing on Matterness enables organizations to create a different kind of internal culture, one that is less afraid to step out into the world, more interested in engaging with people inside and outside of their walls, and more willing to listen to and learn from people. All of these constructive conversations, this collective feeling of being heard and valued. It will generate a greater sense of civility, where individuals and their ideas and efforts matter more in the world, where bullies are pulled out of the shadows and confronted, and where common purpose trumps private interests.
Focusing on Matterness also enables organizations to become more relevant to Millennials, who are the future of their efforts. When donors, volunteers and other stakeholders matter more, efforts instantly become more sustainable and successful. The organizations that make people matter more will be more relevant and less exhausting and more productive for everyone.
BK: How can organizations tap into all of this good stuff?
AF: Organizational leaders need to become fearless and re-humanize themselves. They need to ask more than tell, follow as much as they lead, and say “go” more than “stop.” This takes a lot of courage, particularly for people like us who grew up in the previous century when we were taught to put on our armor and protect ourselves from the slings and arrow of the world. And most of all, leadership of organizations need to be in constant conversation with their constituents, not constantly blasting messages at people. You can think about it as learning to facilitate crowds, with their own free will, rather than dictating to people held within databases.
BK: I was a music major, we didn’t have slings or arrows.
AF: And I was a history major!
BK: So, who does Matterness well?
AF: In the book I write about Jennifer James and her Mom Bloggers for Social Change. I just love what Jennifer has built. Jennifer created the Mom Bloggers Club in 2007 and it is hugely successful with over 19,000 members, 15,000 discussions and over 500 groups. But something was missing, Jennifer really wanted to make a difference in the world. So, about two years ago she started the Mom Bloggers for Social Change site. Jennifer is doing an amazing job of weaving together a robust ecosystem of mom bloggers and dozens of causes like Malaria No More, water.org, and Oxfam. The causes organize trips and educational opportunities for the moms to blog about. But what makes it a really rich community is that Jennifer is in constant conversation with her moms asking them what they think about a new campaign, and turning down offers if her community is opposed to it. She is doing a fantastic job of working with not at her people.
BK: What is it like to work inside organizations and companies like these?
AF: They focus on the kind of agility and constant learning that you’ve been writing about and teaching for years. The kind of iterative processes of developing good plans, but not getting stuck in analysis paralysis trying to create perfect plans, and getting out there and doing and learning in real time. Of course, this again requires leaders who have the courage to not be the smartest people in the room. I have a great story in the book about Henry Timms, now the Executive Director of the 92nd St. Y, who had to be told by his HR director when he first took the job to stop having all the answers and let other people help shape them, to become co-creators with him.
BK: What do you hope happens with this book?
AF: I hope that organizational leaders can see themselves in it and be able to put words to the bundle of fears that keep them up at night. I hope aspiring leaders can use it as guidance of how they want to lead in the future. And I hope it will spark conversations online and on land that we can all learn from.
BK: What can we do to support Matterness?
AF: I would be very grateful if folks wanted to buy the book. In addition, today we’re going to be celebrating the people and organizations that make us feel like we matter. Anyone can wants to join the celebration can post a message of thanks and gratitude for making them feel that they matter with #matterness. Thanks for asking, Beth! What are you going to do now.
BK: I’m going walking. Gotta get my 30,000 steps!
AF: OK, I’ll walk, too, but only if there’s chocolate at the end of the road.