There is the edge and the long tail.
From the work of Chris Anderson, the idea of the long tail is that the world of “hits” (television shows, Top 40 music, etc.) is gone and the world of “niches” (Twitter users, YouTube video consumers, etc.) is here and is growing exponentially, year-on-year, as the cost of creating, developing, or doing, in general, drops to almost $0.
For peace builders looking to make money, get attention, gain credibility, or grow a practice, the “hits” are jobs in academia, working with NGO’s, or becoming lawyers who do peace building (i.e. mediation, negotiation, arbitration) on the side. The “niches” are where I am with this blog, launching a new podcast, or even trying to leap into live video streaming of mediation, negotiation, or arbitration sessions.
So why are peace builders chasing the chunky head (“hits), rather than heading out on the exponentially longer long tail (“niches”)?
There are two answers to this question:
The long tail is a lonely place. Peace builders by nature, temperament, and training are communal people, longing to connect clients with solutions and to resolve sticky problems. It’s lonely to go out to the long tail, because professional colleagues may tell you that you’re “wrong” in your approach. Or they may not let you into the world of conferences, associations, membership groups, or other places where business gets transacted. And when you’re a peace builder looking for work that matters, it’s easier to struggle to get into the chunky head and make noise there, than to take a professional risk to venture out on the long tail.
The edges of peace building are about the unknowable and unpredictable. Resolution is the reduction, or elimination, of tension between people. Engagement is about seeking out the tension, appreciating it, and not seeking to resolve it. At the edges of peace building lie technologies and technological developments, that have made the world of communication outside of peace building more striated, more differentiated (thus the long tail) and more separated. The tension has increased with social media saturation, 24/7/365 marketing messaging, and people increasingly choosing to opt-out rather than to opt-in. These changes are creating an atmosphere that is ripe for peace builders of all backgrounds to step in and show the way to reduce tension—or at the minimum get parties to engage with it in healthier ways—using stories that resonate with the language people in conflict at the edges are using right now.
Doing work at the edges that matters, requires going to the spot on the long-tail that matches your temperament as a peace builder and then to mine that spot ruthlessly. It also requires making peace with the tension of the unpredictable, and the unknowable.
But peace builders ask their clients to do this all the time, from the mediation table to the negotiation table.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org