The most common question I get when talking to others about Cohort Alpha is: “How is this different from a Meet Up?”
The core attributes of Cohort Alpha make the differences from Meet Up more apparent:
Meet Ups serve a valuable purpose, one that Cohort Alpha cannot completely replace. In fact, Meet Ups are often a good place to cultivate members of Cohort Alpha.
If you were to think about the two as part of a ‘funnel’ (which I don’t, by the way, but it’s a useful metaphor) — Meet Ups are “top of the funnel” and Cohort Alpha is like “middle of the funnel.” Bottom of the funnel could be something like dedicated, executive-level 1:1 coaching.
So how do the two compare along these three attributes?
Consistency defines the the regularity of contact. This is important in terms of establishing and broadening the “weak ties” that are so valuable at work.
Randomly meeting someone once at a Meet Up may not establish enough connection to be an effective “weak tie.” According to Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer:
For weak ties to be useful, however, two things must be true: casual acquaintances must be able to link you into diverse networks and they must be willing to do so.
In order for someone to be willing to do so lies in having enough exposure to you.
There was someone I did, in fact, meet once about seven years ago at a Meet Up. But we hadn’t spoken since then. Recently, over LinkedIn, he asked that I refer him to an open position. I didn’t even recognize who it was at first. He followed up several times until finally I realized it was someone whom I knew and looked it up. At that point, I vaguely recognized the name. But by then, that he didn’t give context and asked specifically for a recommendation slightly put me off. I offered, nevertheless, to help him but I was constrained.
Being able to build the broad network with people who can help you takes time, and much of that time needs to begin with Consistency.
This takes more than a chance meeting at a bustling meet-up. It will take more frequent contact in a work-related context. This is where Cohort Alpha provides greater consistency since there is a higher commitment level of meeting regularly.
Intimacy is often not a term used for professional groups. But that’s actually a missed opportunity from scoping the meaning too tightly. If the word is scoped too tightly to refer only to romantic relationships, you’ll miss other benefits.
Intimacy results from sharing something that you can’t share in public or without assurance of confidentiality. It takes trust that can be hard to foster at work. It takes a level of relevance and context that’s hard at home.
It doesn’t mean sharing your innermost demons.
But it may mean talking about the overly political co-worker who can’t deliver and produce, so he’s throwing you and your team under the bus out of spite and insecurity.
Having a place to be able to share this and get meaningful guidance requires Intimacy.
Meet Ups are open and large. This increases randomness and maintains an openness that is important to sharing information and building communities.
However, they are hardly intimate.
Because a CohortAlpha meeting is closed, with shared agreement to keep discussions confidential, and has consistent members during each season, you have greater intimacy.
You benefit professionally: you are more likely to get relevant advice to challenges at work; and you get to know people better so you are more likely to help them and vice versa. These two benefits of having actually helpful advice for your specific situations, as well as people who will know you well enough to help you in the future, need a greater level of Intimacy than a typical Meet Up can offer.
The challenge is, some people don’t want to share specific challenges at work or make themselves known to others. This will not only inhibit the effectiveness of their CohortAlpha, but limits the impact of any network they develop. They aren’t the right fit for Cohort Alpha — and aren’t people members of Cohort Alpha could either help or be helped by.
As I wrote before, this trusted “third space” is hard to find at work and at home, and certainly not available at a Meet Up.
The purpose of Meet Ups differs from Cohort Alpha. Meet Ups need to build the largest possible community around a broad, shared interest. They focus mostly on a uni-directional information: a panel discussion or someone presenting a deck for an hour.
CohortAlpha’s purpose is directed towards the career and professional health of its members through interactive discussion and some uni-directional content to get the party started. For example, a short article or presentation of how to have better 1:1s or how to address office gossip might take the first 10-minutes of a session, and the rest of the time is spent interactively.
The level of intentionality doesn’t just apply to the structure of the groups. It also impacts the level of commitment and investment from other members.
The level of investment from other members is more diluted in a Meet Up than in a Cohort Alpha for two reasons. Consistency, which I shared above, contributes to part of it. The second is the shared Intent. People join Meet Ups for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons might differ from yours.
The people who join Cohort Alpha share the same intention as you, which means you will likely get reciprocal investment of time and intent.
Meet Ups will always play a valuable role in building social and work-related networks. They don’t, however, fill the growing and more important gap that Cohort Alpha does.
If you want to build effective network of people who can help you grow in your career and vice-versa, and realize that you need greater Consistency, Intimacy, and Intentionality than what can be found in a Meet Up to do so, let me know so we can put you into a San Francisco Cohort Alpha.