Arrive as Strangers; Leave as Friends

Community is an overloaded term.

Every business talks about “building a community” of customers. Every technical platform talks about its vibrant “community of developers.” But what does this even mean? Often “building community” means the company takes time to engage with users in 1:1 or 1: many kind of way (green sticky note)


But when you think of other “communities” you belong to: neighborhoods, religious affiliations, school, work, volunteer groups, etc, you’re not just there because of your relationship to one person or individual. Rather you’re there because of the relationships between all of the people. A community is that feeling of having a common thing with everyone in that circle. That feeling of they’ve got my back and I belong here.

I am on a mission to redefine this idea of community in the tech world. I want to close the triangle and make it much more about the relationships between the members of the community (pink sticky note)IMG_3151

I experienced the magic of this first-hand during my work on the Microsoft HoloLens team. On May 20, 2016, the Seattle VR meetup group and the WinHUGR meetup group teamed up with the HoloLens team at Microsoft to organize the world’s first hackathon to build holographic apps: #HoloHacks.

We invited 100 people in the Seattle area (and some who insisted on coming in from Atlanta, NY and California!) to come together and spend 48 hours building holographic apps. We chose a wide variety of AR/VR/MR experts developers, designers, artists, 3D experts, architects, sound designers and storytellers. 75 of the people identified themselves as being an independent and not having a pre-built team for the event.

One of the big narratives for the event was “arrive as strangers; leave as friends”.

The first evening we introduced everyone to the basics of building for HoloLens and we did a team formation exercise where people pitched ideas and built teams to make the dream a reality.  Over the course of the next 40 hours, these newly formed teams got to know each other and their skill-sets, came up with storyboards for their ideas and built apps. At the end of the weekend, we had 17 new apps that a hundred plus new friends.

The video is a 360 one so rotate it to get the full effect!

100 people arrived, mostly as strangers. 100 people left as friends and colleagues. Lots of laughter and memories.  We all learned from each other. There was no one who only talked to just one individual. It was truly a “community” event.  And we consider every person who attended to now be a part of the HoloLens family.

So here’s my goal going forward: no matter what kind of event I’m hosting, I don’t want it to be a 1:1 or 1:many conversation between me and the audience. I want to take advantage of this gathering of people to use two things: relationships and knowledge.  I want to make sure to connect people who should know each other so they can become friends and I want to make sure people are able to teach each other things that will benefit everyone.  It’s time to stop talking “to” an audience and expecting to build community, but rather let people get to know and learn from.

I’ve learned in this way the community feels much more like a team, or even better, a family.

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