Communities of Practice LO27085

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 08/01/01

Replying to At de Lange in LO27053 --

Earlier, I wrote:

> >Organizations don't learn, people do.

At replied:

>I agree with you in the sense of Ordinary Organisations (OOs).
>But I think that in the sense of LOs we have to go beyond this
>understanding. I will illustrate with a metaphor what I mean. Consider a
>person's body as the LO and the organs in that body as the members of the
>LO. Consider learning as living. Every organ of that body lives. The body
>which emerged from those organs also lives. Likewise the whole of the LO
>learns just as each memeber of the LO learns.

I understand the metaphor, At, I simply don't buy it. There is a vast
world of difference between living systems or organizations and the
lifeless, legal entities we also call organizations. My dog learns, my
cat learns, my wife and children learn and (despite what some folks on
this list might think) I learn, too. But a corporation does not learn.
It has no life, no sentience, no goals, no feelings, no dreams, no
aspirations, no nightmares. It is a legal construction, not a life form.

> >Much of the learning that people do in formal organizations
> >is done in informal, primarily social organizations known as
> >"communities of practice" (CoPs). Much of what is learned
> >there contributes greatly to improved performance -- of people
> >and of the processes they operate.
>I agree. But allow me to extend the metaphor used above to explain why I
>agree. Let us call the parts which makes up an organ its organelles.
>Consider now the learners as organelles of an organ, the organ as a CoP
>and all the CoPs (organs) as the LO (organism, body). Each CoP (organ) is
>focussed on a certain practice to the benefit of all other CoPs in the LO.

Again, I appreciate the use of metaphor and the parallelism in the
argument but I don't buy it. I could use that same underlying logic to
argue that an automobile learns. Clearly, the automobile has components
that are organized to serve individual functions and provide overall
integrated capability. But an automobile doesn't learn. Neither does a
corporation or any other form of lifeless organization.

> >If the leaders of organizations can learn to harness
> >the power of CoPs, they will greatly increase the
> >productivity and the performance of people, processes
> >and thus of the organization. It really is that simple
> >and straightforward. Implementation, however, is an
> >altogether different matter.
>I agree. The best which many leaders come up with, is to create a
>"Frankenstein" by artifically adding parts collected from mortuaries
>together rather than letting the organs emerge themselves and
>simultaneously the body from the organs. It is a process usually called
>metamorphosis ("meta-"=between, "morphe"=form) in biology. However, I
>prefer to call it "morphogenesis" ("genesis"=evolution).

On this I believe we are in full agreement.


Fred Nickols
The Distance Consulting Company
"Assistance at A Distance"
(609) 490-0095


Fred Nickols <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.