The Benefits of Community

Angela Chen of the Wall Street Journal interviewed Joshua Wolf Shenk (see the WSJ blog The Secret to Finding a Good Business Partner for original post), author of the book “Powers of Two: The Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.” Shenk’s premise suggests that all types of partnerships, even if adversarial, spur innovation. Shenk debunks the myth of the “lone genius,” and cites Steve Jobs as a case-in-point. Although Jobs was a considered tyrannical by some, the reality is that he selected carefully and developed creative connections with those whom he collaborated.

That collaborative process, according to Shenk, is effective because the “conversation of the mind” is externalized when shared with others. Shenk also argues that dyads are preferred over larger groups because the dynamics differ. Groups are effective in establishing norms, shared values and a productive organizational culture; however, they also offer stability and rigidity. With dyads, partners “…switch roles, can play off each other and create this fundamental tension” (Chen, 2014, para 9). Shenk offered the metaphor that “Two legs are for running, three legs make a table” (Chen, 2014, para. 9).

Whether striving to run or make a table, most people benefit from belonging to a community. In my August 22, 2014 blog post, I discuss benefits persistence toward academic degree among students engaged in college and university communities. Much research supports the benefits of teams as well. A recent study by Wang, Hsu, Lin, and Hung (2014) found that individual knowledge is integrated into collective knowledge through teamwork. Using the knowledge each member brings to the team enhances creativity and increases exposure to more ideas. Added to the mix is the importance of policies to support creativity. For example, rewarding creative employee initiatives and seeking to screen new hires for their creative potential are policies that foster creativity.

My research into avid HIIT athletes who are also organizational leaders, detailed in my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training, highlights benefits of community at the intersection of athletics and management. One theme concerning community that emerged is the perception of support. That support helps these athletes persist when times are tough. Here are a few emblematic quotes:

  • It put me in a class with other people and I see them working out and I see myself and my own progress and I have something to look forward to a goal to try to achieve.

  • I think that having a sense of accomplishment and having an open mind to what my limits are, discovering new limits, being able to share that experience with a group as opposed to having a personal trainer one-on-one type thing.

  • But I also think it means being part of a supportive community. To me that’s been a big difference in other sports. Runners are collaborative and supportive but it is an individual sport. I think [HIIT], although it’s an individual sport, means you get to be a part of a great community. The people are fun and interesting and they want you to do well and they’re willing to help. Everyone wants to do better in their own respective ways but it is really collaborative so I think that’s been a lot of fun.

  • I started [HIIT] way back, eight or nine years ago when it first started. It was kind of like we’re going to do this and you know a gang of people come and gather and cheer for one another, a lot of camaraderie.

  • There is support. Everybody is hard and everybody is working at it.

  • So for me, it is always good to have that extra people looking at you when you’re struggling and give you, “Hey, you can do it.” And you know what I can; I’ve been here before and I’ve done this before. It gives you that little extra support you need. So that is really important.

  • So finding the place where you have that type of support is really important for me to keep going. Because at one time, I used to be 200 pounds heavier than I am now. Science was my whole life but nothing else was. I was a heart attack waiting to happen and I could have died at any minute. And so you can just be gone like that and now your passion is gone because you’re gone. Finding a way you can get physical fitness, get the support and get the motivation. For me losing all that weight, it was tremendously hard but I had all these people behind me saying, “You can do it.” And so it was great.

  • With the exception and understanding that I think throughout the workout you find parts and times and ways to encourage other people. Whether it is just a simple, “You can do it. Keep going. Good job.” You know whether you pass each other on a run or other things. I always find that very helpful as well but I would say that is relatively small and sort of limited. You want to be supportive.

  • I love it when people say something to me when I’m struggling. It gives me the extra boost I need. The trainers are great for that. They’ll see I’m struggling and then they’ll say, “Come on, you can do it.”   And I just get this extra boost; it is hard to explain why all of a sudden if someone sees you struggling and you get it. So the interaction, for me, I love when people talk to me when I’m doing things to give me encouragement. … if someone is cheering for you, you’re not going to do worse; you’re going to do better. “Cheer more” I say, “Cheer on.”

These leaders also found a connection between their athletic training and their perceived approaches to leadership. They learned to persist, and developed the belief that they can tackle extreme challenges both in the gym and in their organizations. My personal preference is to work in a supportive environment. Although creativity can emerge from adversarial relationships, I know I function at my best when I feel supported. Transformational leadership theory advocates for supportive and encouraging behavior in leaders. It is also important to step outside one’s comfort zone to reach a breakthrough and accomplish challenging tasks. A supportive community can help individuals endure the discomfort that is sometimes required to reach their goals.


Chen, A. (2014). The secret to finding a good business partner: ‘It’s not necessarily fun.’ Retrieved from

Wang, S. Y., Hsu, J. S. C., Lin, T. C., & Hung, Y. W. (2014). Promoting uncommon knowledge use within IS department: Human resource management perspective. PACIS 2014 Proceedings Paper 159.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.