Joe “Synchronicity“ Jaworski is not only an eloquent speaker and guru of â€œcollaborative leadership; he is also a deeply genuine person. Since I saw him at a gathering of organizational learning professionals in Bretton Woods, in the early 90’s, I kept hearing about his goodwork from many friends. Finally, I met him again on a Paris – Zürich flight, last October; no, he was not sitting next to me, I’ve only met his thoughts, as I read his guest column “ Tapping into the collective intelligence in International Herald Tribune, with which the stewardess blessed me on an otherwise boring trip.
It was a short article full of depth, love of humanity, and germinal ideas. Here are some snippets, followed by the thoughts/questions that they inspired in me. By the way, I still haven’t talked with Joe, so this blog entry is also an invitation to a conversation. Not only to him but anybody reading it and caring about its subjects. He wrote:
> [E]verything produced within the industrial system must become either a ‘technical nutrient,’ which is recycled to make new products, or a ‘natural nutrient,’ which can move harmoniously into the biosphere. For this to happen by 2010, a shift to radical innovation is needed now. Do we know how to bring about such large-scale changes that are culturally strategic and at the same time operational?
The radical and large-scale innovation that industrial ecologists and Joe are calling for is unprecedented in scope and portent. Yet, nothing else will work if we want to transform the gazillion of wasteful social and marketplace practices into sustainable ones. Do we know how to bring about such large-scale changes? No, I don’t think so, but we CAN learn it by observing, understanding, and supporting what can enable them. One of those factors, a vital and fast-evolving business and social innovation–that matches Joe’s criteria of culturally strategic and at the same time operational–is “communities of practice,” to which I dedicate another blog
[B]ehavior throughout large organizations and society as a whole is influenced by subtle fields of thought and emotion, that individual mind fields interpenetrate the mind fields of those around us, that these connect to vast fields of collective intelligence and that these fields are subject to change; indeed, they are continually unfolding.
Collective intelligence (CI) is, indeed, not a “thing” but our evolving capacity to grow and evolve through continuous differentiation and integration. That capacity depends on the quality and frequency of mutually valued connections among the nodes in the web of conversations that make up the nervous system of teams, communities, and other, purposeful social organisms.
Blogs and the emerging generation of collaboration tools are good for fostering that quality and frequency, but they’re not sufficient. What else is needed is such powerful motivation for collaborative learning (c-learning) that exists in the best communities of practice. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and to interact regularly to learn how to do it better.” (Etienne Wenger) CPs are microcosms of the larger field of collective intelligence, in which it can be discover itself. What can we learn from them?
Understanding the dynamics of differentiation and integration, participation and reification, design and emergence, in the context of CPs is a primary task of those who aspire to make a conscious contribution to the evolution of the larger context which is CI. That seems to resonate with the final conclusion of Joe Jaworski:
> The ultimate objective is to create a critical mass of thought, awareness and action so that the living examples that are created in these corporate learning communities contribute to a “tipping point” or “field shift,” inspiring similar approaches across all of society.
Those living examples and the larger, societal implications of CPs are relatively little known and deserve our sustained attention. I dedicate to them one stream of mine, by creating a “CI and CP” category in this blog, as a container for our explorations of the relationship between the two.
When I think of changes that are culturally strategic and at the same time operational, my first thoughts go to CPs becoming increasingly central to knowledge value creation in the modern enterprise, as reflected by the following quote.
“Communities of practice are gradually assuming a formal voice in organizations. It is not surprising that communities are central to successful knowledge management initiatives…, [they are] a channel for knowledge to cross boundaries created by workflow, functions, geography, and time.” (Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice, a study by APQC)
May this blog become an attractor of thought and awareness that will contribute to the tipping point. If it resonates with you, or not, please comment. If it really strikes a chord, let it be heard by spreading the word about and the URL of this entry.
If you’re interested in the “culturally strategic” dimension of the “communities of pactice” phenomenon, use this blog to share your questions and reflections.