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Weekend Reading (Bowling Alone)

(July 16, 2004)

Bowling Alone:
The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Robert D. Putnam
Touchstone, 2000
ISBN 0-684-83283-6

"More people watch Friends (on TV) than have them." So says Robert Putnam on his current book tour. Bowling Alone is one of those engaging treasure troves of statistics about the world we live in that should frame any plan to develop a workforce in the coming decade. Echoing arguments that have been made since the 1950s, Putnam details and documents the decline of local community and proposes a range of simple measures to restore it.

Social Capital is the value created through the interactions of people in a variety of settings. Like Human Capital, the concept is often left muddy and ill-defined. One of the great gifts in Bowling Alone is a clear description of Social Capital and its organization/implications. There are many different forms of social capital:

" Some forms involve repeated, intensive multi-stranded networks—like a group of steelworkers who meet for drinks every Friday after work and see each other at Mass on Sunday—some are episodic, single stranded and anonymous, like the familiar face you see several times a month in the supermarket checkout line. Some types of social capital, like a Parent-Teacher Organization, are formally organized with incorporation papers, regular meetings, a written constitution and a connection to a national federation whereas others. Like a pickup basketball game, are more informal. Some forms of social capital, like a volunteer ambulance squad, have explicit public-regarding purposes; some, like a bridge club, exist for the private enjoyment of the members; and some, like the Rotary club serve both public and private ends. Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps the most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive)….."

Putnam goes on to enumerate a range of powerful reasons to develop the national and local stock of Social Capital.

"Economists have developed an impressive body of research suggesting that social ties can influence who gets a job, a promotion and other employment benefits. Social networks provide people with advice, job leads, strategic information and letters of recommendation. In his pioneering work on job-searchers during the 1970s, Mark Granovetter documented the counter-intuitive notion that casual acquaintances can be more important assets than close friends and family in the search for employment…."

Bowling Alone provides statistics, support and reasoned judgment about the decline of Social Capital in our culture. It offers book club members a disciplined way of thinking about this misunderstood area of our industry and its related opportunities.

John Sumser (john at johnsumser.com)

Order a copy from Amazon.com

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
Mill Valley, CA 94941

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