|The perfect number of Pages to Order
Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice HBSWK Pub. Date: Mar 25, 2002 Although communities of practice develop organically, a carefully crafted design can drive their evolution. In this excerpt from a new book, the authors detail seven design principles. The payoff? Knowledge management that works.
by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder
Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice In Silicon Valley, a community of circuit designers meets for a lively debate about the merits of two different designs developed by one of the participants. Huddling together over the circuit diagrams, they analyze possible faults, discuss issues of efficiency, propose alternatives, tease out each other’s assumptions, and make the case for their view. In Boston, a group of social workers who staff a help line meet to discuss knotty client problems, express sympathy as they discuss difficulties, probe to understand each other’s feelings, and gently offer suggestions. Their meetings are often deeply challenging and sometimes highly emotional. The fact-driven, sometimes argumentative, meetings of the Silicon Valley circuit designers are extremely different from the compassionate meetings of the social workers in Boston. But despite their
differences, the circuit designers’ and social workers’ communities are both vibrant and full of life. Their energy is palpable to both the regular participants and visitors.
Because communities of practice are voluntary, what makes them successful over time is their ability to generate enough excitement, relevance, and value to attract and engage members. Although many factors, such as management support or an urgent problem, can inspire a community, nothing can substitute for this sense of
How do you design for aliveness? Certainly you cannot contrive or dictate it. You cannot design it in the traditional sense of specifying a structure or process and then implementing it. Still, aliveness does not always happen automatically. Many natural communities never grow beyond a network of friends because they fail to attract enough participants. Many intentional communities fall apart soon after their initial launch because they don’t have enough energy to sustain themselves. Communities, unlike teams and other structures, need to invite the interaction that makes them alive. For example, a park is more appealing to use if its location provides a short cut between destinations. It invites people to sit for lunch or chat if it has benches set slightly off the main path, visible, but just out of earshot,
next to something interesting like a flower bed or a patch of sunlight.