The Fallacy of Building Social Capital Efficiently
This thought should have probably occurred to me many months ago, but it did not. I was hanging out with two of my friends (and fellow Ross classmates) Ina and Janelle this past Friday. We did, roughly, the quintessential day one does with people who haven't really spent time in Detroit. First we brunched at Hudson Cafe, then went for a walk on the Riverfront via Downtown, toured the Detroit Institute of Arts, and wrapped up with cocktails at the Ghost Bar.
It was a lovely day.
Later that evening, I was able to grab dinner with another friend, Wayne, and we stumbled upon the topic of what it takes to build efficacy and strong relationships to the city and across the city.
We agreed that there's some role for formal institutions and programs: like panels put on by the Gilbert family of companies or tour groups.
But I realized that the real, enduring experiences are not the mass-produced, highly efficient, forays into the community sponsored by anything ranging from a corporate conglomerate to a tech incubator. No, what really builds Detroit loyalists is when newcomers are introduced to the city, personally.
That's how I was indoctrinated, and every "success story" I've ever seen of people engaging with Detroit has been the same. It takes a personal touch and more than an hour-long panel discussion or walking tour.
This is a lesson, I think, that applies more broadly when building social capital of any sort. Efficient, "at-scale" programs may be perceived as being cost-effective or "more bang" for our collective buck, but the TLC of an intimate introduction to a community is what lasts.
And that's what I think we need in our city, connections that last - between people and the city itself and interpersonally between people across the city's niche communities.
Of course, this sort of approach is hard to make a business case for because things that are time-consuming are also expensive. This sort of approach also precludes the organizer of a scalable connection-building program, from becoming a rainmaker that holds power because of his / her place as the gatekeeper in the center of the network. Power comes from holding the keys to the castle and being the person that makes an introduction.
When building social capital, however, aren't lasting relationships that take a lot of work more important than shallower relationships that are manufactured efficiently?