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Going Together, Page by Page

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World blog with permission. I heard the African proverb again at a retreat held by a team building a national network: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I say “again” because we put those words right at the front of our book as a signal about what the point of connecting and collaborating is: to go far, because that’s what it takes to change the world in big ways. But how does a book help people to go together? We can have thousands of readers, but they are individuals, reading solo. Except, it turns out, when they’re not. In 2005 Malcolm Gladwell wrote “The Cellular Church,” an article about the phenomenal growth of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and the record-breaking sales of Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life. At the time, the book had sold 23 million copies, making it one of the best selling nonfiction hardcover books in American history. That was impressive, of course, but what Gladwell described next caught my attention: “The Purpose-Driven Life is meant to be read in groups… The book is supposed to be supplemented by a layer of discussion and reflection and debate… This is precisely how The Purpose-Driven Life has been used. It spread along the network that [Warren] has spent his career putting together, not from person to person, but from group to group.” How cool–not just as a way of generating more sales, but as a way of generating impact. I even bought The Purpose-Driven Life to learn more about what a book for group use looks like. My coauthors and I are in networks of hundreds of people who care about the “network way of working” and want to learn more about it and help others learn about it. And we’ve tapped those networks as part of a voluntary marketing force.
Annual meeting of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. Photo courtesy Lynn Decker. Annual meeting of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. Photo courtesy Lynn Decker.

But until a few days ago, I hadn’t thought much about a group dynamic happening around the book. Then a photo arrived in my e-mail, from Lynn Decker who manages The Fire Learning Network, which we had written about. It’s just a picture of tables in a conference room, and the participants are on a break. But scattered about are copies of Connecting. “Everyone read the book ahead of time for similar grounding to start,” Lynn explained. “Everyone here responded by wanting to talk more about different network membership in a relatively new and evolving network… Lots of energetic and curious new leaders.” Perfect. Then I recalled another e-mail, this one in December” from Cori Burbach, a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, also written about in the book. “When you see a spike in your book sales this week,” she wrote, “it’s because everyone in Dubuque is reading it!  Our community foundation just bought a copy for the entire Inclusive Dubuque committee, and I literally saw a box with about 40 of them get handed out in a matter of minutes!  I even saw someone post a selfie reading it the other day.” Then this e-mail from co-author Madeleine Taylor: “I just came from a community foundation in Wisconsin where several copies are on the shelf and staff members are reading it.” When I mentioned these e-mails to our publisher, David Miller at Island Press, he suggested we write and send around a short guide for how a group can use Connecting. Good idea. Maybe it’ll start with this suggestion: “Form a group and read the book out loud.” Editor's note: Ask and ye shall receive: A reader's guide to using Connecting to Change the World on the ground is now available!