Selecting optimal group projects and roles

bycalcsam8y6th Aug 201128 comments


Related to: Designing Rationalist Projects, Committees and Leadership

As I mentioned in the above posts, Latter-day Saints communities organize committees to accomplish specific tasks, like serving the outside community or making sure new members get friends.

The question is, what tasks should rationalist communities organize committees or assign individuals to accomplish?

The easy answer: whatever its members want. But there are some collective roles and activities which are better for community-building than others.

Consider the following jury-rigged contraption, which I'll call Bhagwat’s community-building ratio:

  • group project goodness = U(project) / E(social friction),

that is, task goodness equals task utility divided by the expected amount of resulting social friction. For example:

Learning PUA:

  • U(task): medium. Many LW-goers do express a desire to improve social skills.
  • E(social friction): high. This seems to alienate many (most?), though not all, women. And LW meetups need more women, both to function better now and because it would facilitate future meme propagation.

Rejection therapy:

  • U(task): medium-to-high. This also helps to improve social skiils, especially assertiveness. More simple and widely applicable than PUA; easy to do without a mentor.
  • E(social friction): low. This is a multi-gender activity.

So rejection therapy would likely make a better group task then PUA.

What are the most high-utility, low-social-friction tasks?

The lowest-hanging fruit I know of is to make people feel welcome.[1]

Whenever someone comes to the group for the first time, the group leader should make sure to meet them personally and make them feel welcome. They should get their contact info and afterwards send them a brief e-mail/text, sincerely thanking them for coming.

As people are starting to come for the first few weeks, the group leader should get to know them personally and understand what they’re looking for and why they came. Maybe there’s a particular book or Less Wrong sequence they would like. Maybe they’re trying to improve some skills and would appreciate follow-up. Maybe there’s some skill they know that other Less Wrongians want to learn – and they could teach them!

If you’re able to personalize their experience, you will improve your score on Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works."

This task is fairly delegatable. The main requirement is good social skills – you need to be able to have a reasonable conversation with anyone, and the ability to express gratitude sincerely. Otherwise, people might come off as insincere or weird, and that would create social friction.

What are the benefits?

The first three church units I served in were mediocre at befriending new attendees and integrating new members; the last church unit was excellent. Around seventy percent more people joined this last church unit; and of those who joined, retention rates were around 80 to 90 percent, compared to 50 percent elsewhere.

Small Mini-groups

As Less Wrong meetup membership in a given area becomes reasonably dense, and meeting size expands, subgroups can form around common interests.

An Improving Social Skills group. Or an Actually Learning in College group. Or a startup where a bunch of LW people work together…wait, somebody is already doing that.

Mini-meetings would also be good for introducing people to the Less Wrong community. People coming for the first time are generally more comfortable in smaller environments. Latter-day Saint churches with 50-100 weekly attendance grow three or four times faster than churches with 200+ weekly attendance, according to a statistic I read somewhere and can't track down.

There’s a final benefit to having clearly-defined roles held by community members.

All groups, as they evolve, give individuals distinct roles. Class clown, teacher’s pet, whatever. If these roles are positive, people’s identification with and commitment to the group will increase. They will know that the group needs them.

Most people in Latter-day Saint communities have specific, definite roles because of their calling – perhaps they are teaching a class every Sunday, or are responsible to visit a particularly troubled family. This is an unambiguous way to tell them, “We need you.”

The same could be true in rationalist communities.

[1] In Latter-day Saint communities, this is primarily done by the Missionary and Fellowship committees described in my last post.