Last week, in a meeting with a customer, I was introduced as a "community guru". Although flattered, of course, the label didn't feel right to me at all. I told them that instead I consider myself more like one-eyed in the land of the blind... I kept thinking about what exactly was bugging me about the label. Here are some of my musings. I would be happy to learn what you think.
Gurus are dangerous. The term guru implies somebody who is leading the way, followed by followers. It is nice to have a guru, because it means somebody else is doing the hard thinking work for you and you can hide behind that person's authority and visibility. This may be great for religious cults, since there it's totally up to the eye of the beholder which arbitrary person to put one's faith in. It doesn't make any sense at all for communities, however.
Communities cannot be designed, predicted, or owned. Communities are unruly, living beasts, with very much a will and soul of their own. Each community is unique. No matter how hard we try to inspect, frame and classify them, they always escape capture. Each individual community has its own norms and values, practices, energy, and sense. The motley crew of community members themselves best know the essence of the community and the unpredicatable characteristics and quircks of their peers. Only they really know what could possibly work and what not.
Outside "experts" have only a very modest role to play. At the very best, they can give some heuristics and guidelines, share some lessons learnt about what happened in other communities and give some hypotheses about why it happened that particular way. It is up to the community to decide what does make sense in its own case. It is the community members who should speak, the outsider who should listen. Not the other way around. The community itself is the guru.