Communities of Practice LO27100

From: John D. Smith (
Date: 08/05/01

Replying to LO27095 --

Andrew <> writes:

>Does it matter that in Fred's view "Organizations do not learn, people
>do." What is the perception of inter-est in this?

And "D P Dash" <> exploring whether
organizations are at least people-like.

I know that on this list Fred has been doing some of the heavy lifting on
this subject, but I have to take some responsibility for the intentionally
inflammatory statement about whether it's organizations or communities
that learn (in

>* One answer is that it's not organizations that learn. It's the
> communities inside them (and around them and on their borders)
> that really do the learning.

I did not intend to disparage organizations or any effort to improve their
learning capacity. I do believe that the term "Learning Organization" is
helpful in calling attention to a raft of important issues. At the same
time, I find it helpful to look one level down at the communities that
make up an organization and the relationships between those communities.

This morning I happened to be reading something that reminded me of this

"To the degree that communities of practice deepen their learning, they
inevitably create boundaries. This is a natural outcome of joint
learning. But to the degree that members get involved in a lot of
interactions with other people in an effort to overcome these boundaries,
they may loose their focus and th4 depth of their home expertise. I would
argue that the learning potential of an organization lies in this
balancing act between deep core practices and active boundary processes."
-- Etienne Wenger, "Communities of Practice: The Key to Knowledge
Strategy", Knowledge Directions: The Journal of the Institute for
Knowledge Management, 1 (Fall 1999): 48-63. (Reprinted in Eric L. Lesser,
et al., Knowledge and Communities (Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann,

I would say that it just turns out to be a *very practical* strategy to
look at the competence of communities within an organization and the
relationships between existing communities. That includes the communities
of managers who are often the target of our organizational learning
advocacy. I don't intend that focus to carry some philosophical message
about whether organizations are sentient or have an ego.


--* John D. Smith, 503.963.8229, 2025 SE Elliott Ave, Portland OR
--* ICQ: 72789757 cell: 503-975-7799
--* "With company you quicken your ascent." -- Rumi


"John D. Smith" <>

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