Lessons about Community from Studio Ghibli

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LESSONS ABOUT COMMUNITY FROM STUDIO GHIBLI Dawn M. Foster Director of Community at Puppet Labs @geekygirldawn [email protected] (we’re hiring!) PresentaAon available at fastwonderblog.com

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Transcript of Lessons about Community from Studio Ghibli

Page 1: Lessons about Community from Studio Ghibli



Dawn M. FosterDirector  of  Community  at  Puppet  Labs

@[email protected]  

(we’re  hiring!)

PresentaAon  available  at  fastwonderblog.com

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Geek, traveler, reader

Past 13+ years doing community & open source

Read 73 books last yearI keep a list:http://fastwonderblog.com/about/reading/

Photos by Josh Bancroft, Don Park

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Not about the leaders, it’s about everyone who participates

Communities involve

real work from

many different people.

The real magic of Studio Ghibli lies with the people, both the characters in the films, and the people behind the scenes making them. While the characters in the films are what we see, the real work is in the making of the films.

Communities also take more work than what people may think to make sure that everything is running smoothly. There are people working behind the scenes to build and maintain the community infrastructure and make sure that the community is staying free of spam and dealing with any issues that might come up. Communities have leaders who determine project direction and architecture, decide which code to accept, and manage the community. These people are often very visible, but ultimately, it isn't about the leaders, it's about the many people who participate in the community by committing code, answering questions, writing documentation and so much more! A community can survive a change in leadership, just like Studio Ghibli will survive Miyazaki’s retirement, if there are still people doing the work required to make the projects successful.

Each Studio Ghibli film is filled with many strange and interesting new people. The pilot who was turned into a pig, a young witch making her way in the world by starting a delivery by broom business, a little fish girl in love with a boy, and so many more. I've met all kinds of people as a result of my participation in communities. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in open source communities that many of these community members are pretty strange, but very interesting!

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You can’t understand it until

you participate and become

part of the community.

My Neighbors the Yamadas is quite different from the rest of the Studio Ghibli films. Rather than being a single story, it contains many shorts about this interesting and quirky family. It follows them from losing their daughter in a shopping center to dad coming home drunk and everything in between. While we watch these stories, we probably see comparisons with our own families, but we can’t know exactly what it’s like to be in that particular family when we aren’t part of it. Communities are similar.

What can you really tell about a community by observing it from the outside? On the surface, you might see a few mailing lists, an IRC channel, a forum, some code repositories, etc. But until you get into the community and begin participating, you won't understand what it's really like in that community.

In this way, communities are like families. Looking in at a family or a community from the outside is very different from being a part of the family and seeing it from the inside. While families may be hard on each other, they do stick up for each other and work together to overcome obstacles. By working together, we make real connections with other people while also making the community stronger.

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Participate gently at first.

Take time to understand

the community norms.

In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s family makes a wrong turn and enters a spirit world. Her parents make an enormous mistake when they first enter and get themselves turned into real pigs after eating like pigs, and the whole family becomes trapped.

This is a little like being new in a community. When you don’t understand the norms and how people participate, you are likely to make huge mistakes that can be difficult to recover from. When I joined Puppet Labs, since I wasn’t already an active community member, I made sure that people knew that I wasn’t going to participate in the community at all during the first month. Instead, I used that time to learn how the community functioned. I spent a lot of time talking to people about the community, and started working on some things that I could do in the background, behind the scenes, while I learned.

Then I started participating more and more, but I did it very gradually. I’ve seen too many people come into a community with grand ideas that they try to impose on others or try to dump a huge pile of code into the community, and what they are doing is making the same mistake a bunch of times and annoying everyone. So, start small, understand what’s going on, learn from a couple of smaller mistakes, and grow your participation over time.

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Let issues die down

on their own and

allow others to participate.

One rainy night while Satsuko and Mei were waiting patiently by the bus stop for their father to return, they were rewarded with a visit from Totoro who gives them some seeds to plant in exchange for an umbrella. While they may want the seeds to grow into enormous trees overnight, it takes time for a seed to sprout and grow into something substantial.

Patience isn’t my strong suit, but I do force myself to be patient when it comes to dealing with the community.I can’t count how many times people have rushed over to me (in person or virtually) to talk about something happening in the community that must be dealt with right away. Maybe someone has insulted the company I work for or said something not very nice about the project. Unless it’s something serious or a violation of our guidelines, my typical response is to wait and see what happens. In most cases, someone else will defend us, which is going to count for more than us trying to defend ourselves. Or maybe the issue dies down naturally, and people recognize that someone is just trolling for a reaction. If it escalates, then maybe I will step in, but it’s not my first reaction.It also allows others to participate. If one person or a small group are jumping in on everything right away, it tends to stifle discussion and reduce contributions from other people, so be patient and see what happens before jumping in.

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Take time to cool off and

don’t participate when

you are angry.

In Nausicaä of the Valley of the wind, the ohm were blind with rage, stampeding through the valley without concern for how they might be hurting others.

This is another case where being patient can benefit us. Most of us have said things in anger that we regretted later. Since communities are so public, your angry, inappropriate post may just live on forever. It’s a good incentive to step back and think before posting anything that you might regret later. It’s just as easy to take some time to cool off and let your anger dissipate first. Take the time you need to make sure that your response is appropriate and be mindful about how your reply might affect other people in the community.

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Assume community members

have good intentions and focus

on education and improvement.

Borrowers, like Arrietty and her family, are very little people who secretly live in hidden places in people’s homes. like behind walls and under the floorboards. They borrow small amounts of the everyday items they need to survive and take only what they need to avoid being discovered. However, when a small boy discovers Arrietty and her family, he inadvertently brings destruction to their home and almost gets them exterminated. He only wanted to help them and become friends, but upon their escape, they had to leave their home and move on to another place where they could live in secret.

Most, but sadly, not all, community members also have good intentions, but many of them don’t get things quite right either. This is a big part of why we have community guidelines. The guidelines that I write are probably a bit long, but I like to include specific tips for how to behave in different parts of the community, since the way you act on IRC is very different from a mailing list. I also include our event code of conduct and specific steps that we will take when the guidelines are violated. All of this helps people become more educated about what is and is not appropriate, which hopefully, leads to improvement.

Too much of the time, people violate guidelines and codes of conduct because they fail to think about how what they are doing impacts other people, and a gentle reminder is enough to get most people (the ones with good intentions, but inappropriate actions) back on track.

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Grow gradually and

balance resources to

manage contributions.

In Princess Mononoke and other films, like Pom Poko, expansion of human populations at the expense of the environment is a common theme.

Similarly, you want to grow your community in a way that doesn’t damage the rest of the project or existing community. While it may sound exciting to have amazing growth in your community, most communities are better off with gradual, incremental growth that allows you to get new people involved in a way that maintains at least some of the existing culture and minimizes disruption to the rest of the community.

Make sure you have enough resources to sustain your growth rate. Is the community structured in a way that can grow with the community? Do you have enough people who can help new people get started? Do you have enough people to manage the new contributions coming in?

Puppet example.

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Participation in communities

is a great excuse to

play with new technologies.

Most of us don’t have anything quite awesome as crystals that make you fly, robots and the other technology of Laputa, but communities, especially open source communities are a great excuse to play with cool, new technologies.

There are always new projects springing up to address a problem that someone has or to improve on something. The projects themselves can be based around some fun technologies. You can also use the community itself to explore new technologies that help you gather community data, improve the web experience or add some new functionality to the community. As part of building and maintaining communities over the years, I’ve learned all kinds of technologies that were new to me. I learned enough about Java to deploy new versions of our community platform when I worked at Jive software. I wrote some Ruby code at Puppet Labs to gather data about the community. Both of these were as much about improving the community as they were about playing with the technology and learning something new or new to me, anyway.

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Do good things for

others and recognize

their contributions.

In The Cat Returns, Haru saves the cat prince, and the cats from his kingdom reward her with lavish gifts of mice, catnip and marriage to the prince as way to thank her. She wasn’t impressed with the gifts (I know I wouldn’t be fond of finding a locker full of mice), but their hearts were in the right place, and they really were trying to do something nice for her as a reward for saving the prince.

Part of doing good in communities is recognizing the work of other people. Talk about how you built on the work of someone else and give them credit for their ideas or the portion of work accomplished by others. By treating each other with respect, being kind and doing things that help other people, we can all be more successful in the community.

As a community manager, I try to do what I can to thank people for helping out, and we regularly recognize top contributors by featuring them on our community page.

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Encourage young people

to participate in

your communities.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch who according to tradition must spend her 13th year away from her family to learn to live on her own. To be honest, she’s not a great witch. One of her only magical skills is flying on her broom, and she’s not particularly good at it. She even gets discouraged and manages to lose her abilities entirely for a while until a friend is in danger and she has to regain her ability to fly her broom in order to rescue him. Similarly, young people can also make significant contributions in communities and open source projects, but they may need a little encouragement to get started.

There’s a great story in Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software (page 82) about someone who had participated in the Emacs community and written great bug reports. After his first contribution, when they sent him some legal paperwork, they found out that he was 13.

Linus was only about 22 when he started Linux. At the USENIX conference last year, I saw a presentation from Keila Banks, an 11-year-old Web designer and programmer, talking about how she uses mostly open source software. SCALE in LA has a whole track dedicated to youth presentations.

We need to encourage these young people to get involved, especially in open source communities, where they can learn something and have some real examples to show prospective employers and universities.

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Open source communities

give people real-world training

to help them get work later.

Learning new skills is not just for young people, either.

In Pom Poko, all of the raccoons need to learn fighting and transformation skills to avoid extinction as their forest in Tama Hills on the outskirts of Tokyo is being demolished to build new houses for the growing human populations. Sadly, they weren’t able to save their forest, but many of them were able to learn to transform themselves to look human enough to live among us and take human jobs to support themselves. By learning to transform, they were able to save themselves.

Participation in open source communities gives people real experience working on projects with groups of people, and because the work is out in the open, they can use it as real-life examples when they want to get a job in technology. Having this experience and having your work out in the open is way better than a resume. As a bonus, most of the companies that I’ve worked for have recruited people out of their communities, so it’s also a great way to get a foot in the door of a company that you want to work for. It always helps when you know a few employees because of your work in the community, and those people can be your advocates when the right job comes up. At Puppet Labs, we’ve hired a lot of people out of the community over the past couple of years, and we’re still hiring them on a regular basis.

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Get new ideas and insights

from other people and

other communities.

In The Wind Rises, Jiro Horikoshi begins dreaming of building planes at a very young age, and he spends a lot of time learning from other people. He starts by studying an English aviation magazine with the help of a dictionary before eventually studying engineering at a university. Throughout his life, he has recurring dreams where he get insights about building planes from an Italian plane designer named Caproni. His company also sent him to Germany to learn from their techniques in building planes made from metal, instead of wood.

You can learn a lot from other people and other communities. Since each community is a little different, it can help if you have participated in a variety of communities to bring what you’ve learned along with you into new communities. I’ve managed open source communities for an ERP system, an XMPP chat server, mobile operating systems and automation software. Each community was very different, but there were also similarities that carried across multiple communities. Spend some time talking to people in other communities about what they do and what works for them. New people and new ideas are what keep communities strong.

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Train the next generation and

help others succeed.

In Tales from Earthsea, the Archmage Sparrowhawk finds young Arren in the desert being hunted by wolves. Sparrowhawk takes him under his wing and provides him with advice, life lessons and help to save Arren from himself and some pretty ferocious enemies.

Luckily, most of us aren’t focused on skills that help us fight for our lives or save the world, but it is still important for us to train the next generation to eventually take our place. Those of us who have been working in communities for ages have probably made plenty of mistakes, I certainly have, and by mentoring others we can help them learn from our mistakes and help them succeed as productive members and leaders of various communities, hopefully with a little less pain than it took us to get there.

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Focus on the ideas and

work together with people

from diverse backgrounds.

Ponyo, a little fish girl with a ham obsession, and Sosuke, an ordinary human boy, become fast friends. The friendship between Ponyo and Sōsuke shows how people from different backgrounds can work together, like people in communities work together, to accomplish more than they could have alone.

People from different backgrounds bring different ideas and ways of thinking into your community. While our differences can create tension and misunderstandings, they also make the community stronger over time. This is one reason that it is so important to make sure that we always focus on the ideas when we are working through these differences. We can debate these ideas without attacking the person making them. By taking people’s ideas seriously and making everyone feel welcome when participating, we can build more diverse communities over time.

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MORE WOMENEncourage women in our field and get

more women speaking at our events.


Studio Ghibli films are filled strong women who can do anything: build a plane, fight the bad guys, or save the world. We need more strong role models in technology, and you can start by encouraging young women to get involved in technical communities and help then get started by mentoring them. If you haven’t read Rikki’s article in USENIX last year, To My Daughter's High School Programming Teacher*, you should. This is a good example of how not to encourage young women, and it shows how a bunch of things come together to crush someone’s enthusiasm at a young age.

We also need to get more women speaking at technology events. This is incredibly difficult, and I know that I haven’t always succeeded here, but we need to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make women successful in our technical communities.


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Community management is

not all parties and fun travel.

It’s also a lot of real work.

In Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku decides to spend 2 months writing a story as way to test herself while Seiji is in Italy studying violin-making. In order to complete her story, she has to neglect her schoolwork and her grades suffer. She realizes that writing is a lot of work, so she decides to go to high school to learn more about writing.

Community management is also not as easy as it seems at first glance. I often see people underestimating how challenging it is. These are the people who think community management is mostly about traveling to conferences, buying people beer, and getting to hang out with people. I’ll admit that yes, I get to do those things, and it’s pretty awesome! But, I’m also the one who has to kick someone out of the community when their behavior is inappropriate, and I’m the one that people escalate problems to regardless of where the problem is happening across the project. I’m also the public face of the project when something goes terribly wrong. Fortunately, I’ve developed a think skin, and I still love it despite the challenges.

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Most things will work out

if you have smart, helpful

people in your community.

Things got pretty difficult for the residents of Howl’s Moving Castle for a while, but by working together, they were able to make everything right in the end. Turnip Head, the scarecrow saved everyone from falling off of the cliff, and a thank you kiss from Sophie lifted his curse to reveal that he was the missing prince who could put an end to the war. Sophie convinces the Witch of the Waste to return Howl’s heart, which restores Howl back to a healthy human form while freeing Calcifer to all live happily ever after.

If your community is full of smart, helpful, nice people, things will often work out just fine in the end. Last Thanksgiving when I was on vacation ...At Puppet Camp London in November ...

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Travel to new places

and meet all kinds of

fascinating people!

While I don’t have anything as awesome as a Catbus as my mode of transportation, my work as a community manager has given me opportunities to travel around the world. By working on projects with people around the world, I can travel to most locations and find someone I know to meet up with while I’m there. And I get to travel to amazing places, like Japan, and talk about some of my favorite movies as part of a presentation about community.

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THANK YOUContact  info:  Dawn  Foster

@[email protected]

Puppet Labs is Hiring :)