Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice by George Pór, in collaboration with Erik van Bekkum - PDF

Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice by George Pór, in collaboration with Erik van Bekkum Amsterdam, January 2004 Copyright 2004 by George Pór CommunityIntelligence Ltd. All rights

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Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice by George Pór, in collaboration with Erik van Bekkum Amsterdam, January 2004 Copyright 2004 by George Pór CommunityIntelligence Ltd. All rights reserved. ACKNOWLEDGMENT My ideas and views presented in this chapter were born in a network of conversations with an invisible community of practice: evolutionary and transformational thinkers and doers of the past and present, some of whom I was happy to meet in person. I give thanks for their friendship, mentoring, and inspiration to Bill Veltrop, Doug Engelbart, Etienne Wenger, Joel and Michelle Levey, and Hubert Saint-Onge. I am grateful for the many co-creative dialogues I have been having over the years with Albert Angehrn, Anthony Judge, Arian Ward, Bipin Junnarkar, Carolyn Dare, Charles Savage, David Isaacs, David Marsing, Debra Amidon, Jack Spivak, Jean-François Noubel, Joachim Döring, Juanita Brown, Lisa Kimball, Mike and Patricia Bell, Paul King, Pierre Lévy, Vivian Wright, and more recently, my colleagues in CommunityIntelligence, David Meggitt, Torben Anderson and my collaborator on this chapter, Erik van Bekkum. Special thank you goes to Barbara Benjamin, who surrounded the writing process with loving attention to words, meaning, and grammar and made it a great learning experience in itself. As Debra says in her signature, Always in Your Network! George Pór Contents Acknowledgements EVOLUTIONARY CONTEXT 5 INNOVATION AND ITS BIG WHAT-IF S: INVITATION TO A LEARNING JOURNEY 5 COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE 6 COLLECTIVE INTELLECT 6 COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE 8 CO-EVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGY 9 LIBERATING THE INNOVATION VALUE - WHAT DOES IT TAKE? 10 FOUR FUNDAMENTAL FORMS OF INNOVATION 10 RADICAL INNOVATION 10 DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION 13 INNOVATION DRIVERS, BARRIERS, AND ENABLERS 14 Innovation drivers 14 Innovation barriers 15 Innovation enablers 17 INNOVATION ARCHITECTURE 18 INNOVATING THE INNOVATION PROCESS 23 COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE 24 THE GREAT SYMPHONY PARADOX, OR HOW TO CULTIVATE DISRUPTIVE INNOVATORS 24 The innovation potential of structural holes 25 Where do disruptive innovators come from? WHY COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE? WHAT KIND OF COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE? Strategic Communities of Practice Leadership Communities of Practice 29 Innovation Communities of Practice 29 Project Communities 29 COMMUNITIES IN THE INNOVATION ECOLOGY 32 DIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS OF COMMUNITIES TO INNOVATION 33 Idea stage: knowledge confluence, trust flows, and taxonomies 33 Implementation stage: better coordination through deeper trust 34 Commercialization stage: real stories build trust and market acceptance 34 INDIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS OF COMMUNITIES TO INNOVATION 35 HOW COMMUNITIES SUPPORT RADICAL INNOVATION 36 THE MOST RADICAL INNOVATION OF ALL 37 Glossary Authors info i ii Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 4 Evolutionary Context Innovation and Its Big What-If s: Invitation to a Learning Journey Innovation means, fundamentally, change, being responsive to life in its full splendor of constant dance and fluctuation. Responsiveness to its quickening changes defines our viability. Innovation is a creative act by which we birth value and affirm our capability to evolve as people and organizations. It is also a personal faculty of each of us; the desire and capacity to innovate and make life better is present in every human. That is, until the uniformizing and numbing conditions of life in modern organizations kill it. Yet, there are companies that can be proud of their role in innovation and creating the human and technological conditions enabling it. What makes one corporate culture a hindrance and another one an awakener of the innovative spirit in their members? Whatever it is, it is also a factor that will separate the losers and winners in the game of business. The volume of public and managerial discourse about innovation is noticeably increasing year after year. It is a good thing even if it is frequently only talk. Somehow, it still reflects a gradually awakening awareness that innovation is the only alternative to stagnation and decline. The innovate or die mantra vibrates in boardrooms around the world. If you are in business, you know that staying relevant to your markets depends on the innovation capacity of your people. It is saddening and unacceptable just how small the shreds are of that capacity that most businesses can evoke and engage today. What is saddening is to think about all of the unused therefore wasted capacity for innovation that dies off in offices and factories around the world, day after day, when innovators are pushed back with the don t rock the boat rule of the status quo. The economic and human cost of the lost opportunities for innovation is getting higher every day. What is unacceptable is the idea that there might be any reason to put up with the on-going waste of creativity and innovation by outdated structures and processes of organizing work and learning. What if the revolutionaries are a minority today but will be the majority as the Web-generation of kids enters the workforce and becomes the women and men who want to use their full capacity to create, innovate, and make their work more QuadE: more Effortless, Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable? What if they wanted to work only in or with organizations that have learned how to keep them interested and engaged? Will your organization succeed in attracting them if one of their demands is opportunity for meaningful work and innovation? We know that it is much easier said than done, and we do not claim in this chapter that we will tell you how to do it. Instead, we invite you to the learning journey that we are on. Our driving question is this: How can organizations realize the most powerful potential for innovation the collective intelligence of Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 5 their members? Collective Intelligence We need a collective intelligence of a kind that may not have characterized the human species in the past. 1 Reaching a higher level of collective intelligence became key to survival in organizations affected by fastmoving technologies and markets, as well as at the level of our species as whole. Collective intelligence is the capacity of human communities to enable their members to reach their highest potential and to co-evolve toward more complex integrations through collaboration and innovation in mutually supportive relationships. Where does that capacity come from? What are the dynamics by which it emerges? When does a community of learners become a community that learns? When does a collection of intelligences become a collective intelligence? Why do these questions matter? Because they focus our attention on the transition point at which more complex capabilities appear in human groups. For a community to be a social organism that learns beyond its members learning it has to have a purpose larger than the individual benefits of its members and a nervous system 2, a network of conversations supported by an enabling infrastructure. The size of the collective learner can be a team, a global organization, or even a whole business ecosystem. Their collective powers of sensing, understanding, reasoning, and problem solving their collective IQ can limit or fuel their performance and potential to evolve, depending on how low or high that IQ is. If a high collective IQ is antecedent to an organization s capacity to evolve, then what is antecedent to collective intelligence? Collective intelligence emerges from the interplay of three evolutionary trends: Collective intellect Communities of practice Co-evolutionary technology In the next sections, we will explore some issues of how they interact. By understanding them, your enterprise can turn them into a unique strategic advantage. Supported by the combinations of the three evolutionary trends, it is hard to loose. Collective Intellect 1 Seven Tomorrows, by Paul Hawken, James Ogilvy, Peter Schwartz, (Bantam, 1982), based on research done at Stanford Research Institute. 2 The concept of organizational nervous system was introduced in The Quest for Collective Intelligence chapter by George Pór in Community Building: Renewing Spirit and Learning in Business , New Leaders Press, 1995, Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 6 Collective intellect refers to the cognitive powers of people aggregated, combined, and augmented by their communities and organizations. They include collective perception, memory, and discernment, as well as collective intuition, imagination, and collaborative learning. In front of our eyes plays out a most tumultuous phase in humankind s evolution: the sudden and dramatic increase in reach and depth of our collective intellect and creativity. Their first jump became visible already to a social observer in the 19 th century: Marx suggested that at a certain point in the development of capital the creation of real wealth will come to depend not on the direct expenditure of labour time in production, but on two interrelated factors: technological expertise (or scientific labour ) and organisation (or social combination ). The crucial factor in production will become the development of the general powers of the human head ; general social knowledge ; social intellect; or, in a striking metaphor, the general productive forces of the social brain. 3 Since the first jump provoked by the transition to the industrial era, the recent birth of the Web and its associated technologies triggered a second, much larger jump in the evolution of our social brain. 4 The growing variety of human experience, recorded as widely accessible digital memory and knowledge, is only the visible tip of our collective intellect. The work of all the successful inventors and explorers of the past lives on, and it is combined and recombined in newer and newer patterns of creation, in countless manifestations. With every new combination, we use the free gifts from humankind s collective intellect. Shared knowledge captured in vast paper-based and digital libraries, corporate knowledge ecologies, popular myths of an era, web-rings and blogs of a technical practice, etc. is a fertile soil that keeps being cultivated by various formal and self-organizing learning communities. The fastest-growing type is the community of practice (CoP). These communities and the interstices between them when supported by the right infrastructure and unfettered by bureaucracy are the most potent source of permanent innovation. Could it be that in the knowledge economy the collective intellect seems to dislodge privately owned forces of production (labor and capital) from the center of value creation? Would it be the foundation for such previously unheard possibilities as, for example, open source and other new forms of organizing work, based on distributed leadership, voluntary participation, and mutual accountability? These same features also characterize CoP. 3 Cyber-Marx, by Nick Dyer-Witheford (1999) 4 The social brain s relation to collective intelligence and systemic wisdom is outlined in Designing for the Emergence of a Global-scale Collective Intelligence: Invitation to a Research Collaboration, by George Pór, Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 7 Communities of Practice From the zillions of CoP definitions, we have chosen two as starting points that show two very different sides of the same coin that reminds us of näringsliv, the Swedish word for business, which literally means nourishment for life. We nourish life by cultivating valuable relationships, as well as by engaging in economic value creation and exchange. Communities of practice are the sweet spot of those two dimensions reflected in the two definitions that follow. 1. 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 This aspect refers to the fact that communities of practice are free associations of people who chose to improve their crafts together. As they do so, they develop new productive capabilities, individual and collective, which are sources of value creation in knowledge-based economies. 2. A group of self-governing people whose practice is aligned with strategic imperatives and are challenged to create shareholder value by generating knowledge and increasing capabilities. Hubert Saint-Onge This definition stresses an equally important aspect of CoP in business context, its alignment with the strategic objectives of the organization, of which they are a part. In best case, a CoP is characterized by both definitions, the one that emphasizes community and passion, and the other focused on shareholder value and accountability. In some cases, such as CoP organized in the context professional association, the second perspective may not be relevant. Building on Wenger s and Saint-Onge s definition, we proffer: Communities of practice are self-organizing and self-governing groups of people who share a passion for the common domain of what they do and strive to become better practitioners. They create value for their members and stakeholders through developing and spreading new knowledge, productive capabilities, and fostering innovation. A recent report by the American Productivity and Quality Center says, Communities of practice are the next step in the evolution of the modern, knowledge-based organization. If APQC is right, as we believe it is, why is it? How did communities of practice, this fast-growing socioeconomic life form become not only a potent source of value creation in today's knowledge economy, but also the model for the very future of the modern organization? It all started around the turn of this new century with the emergence of new forces of production: new technologies and new kind of aspirations of large numbers of young and not-so-young knowledge workers regarding their work and working conditions. The latter is well reflected in the following questions: Does your company waste any of your time, attention, ideas, knowledge, passion, energy, or social networks? How respectful is your company of your time and attention, and is it focused on using them Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 8 wisely and effectively? 5 These questions are rarely raised in the workplace. Once they are, we will have an indication of the coming end of the person as cog-in-the-machine era. People who resonate with those questions already are likely innovators and early adapters of new trends. Among them we will find natural attractors and promoters of communities of practice. Smart leaders do not turn CoP into yet another corporate program to roll-out but encourage HR and KM to discover them and power them up with supportive policies and enabling technologies. Co-Evolutionary Technology Since the dawn of humankind, our capacities to sense, learn, develop mental models, and remember have always been co-evolving with the tools available to support them. That process can be envisioned as two interconnected, dynamic spirals, the human and the tool systems, driving and being driven by one another's spin. The human systems include our needs and aspirations, language, and our various methods to discover, organize, and use what we know. The tool system includes hardware, software, and communications protocols. The needs defined by the human systems drive the evolution of the tool system. The new capabilities offered by new and better tools enable and pull the evolution of the human systems. The move of CoPs into the center of value-creation opens the possibility for the move from their blind evolution to conscious, intentional co-evolution. We will know whether we are there already when the infrastructure needs of self-organizing knowledge communities will successfully inform the product development agenda of a growing number of toolmakers. That path will be densely packed with barriers; the old habits of command-and-control will not die fast. However, higher value and complexity tend to get produced by the best combination of the available, advanced forces of production, such as Web-enabled CoPs. The interplay of communities of practice, global-scale collective intellect, and co-evolutionary technologies has the potential to liberate the innovation value currently trapped by obsolete forms of organizing productive capabilities. To realize that potential, evolutionary leadership needs to commit to liberating the innovation value of CoPs in all four dimensions: social, business, knowledge, and technology innovation. It also needs to learn mastering the arts of two particular forms of innovation: radical and disruptive. 5 Work 2.0: Rewriting the Contract, by Bill Jensen, Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 9 Liberating the Innovation Value - What Does It Take? Four Fundamental Forms of Innovation The word innovation covers a wide variety: Incremental innovation Ideas implemented to achieve gradual improvements in existing products and/or processes. Its development path is continuous and managed by a linear, phase-gate process. It is carried out, typically, by (cross-functional) project teams within business units. Breakthrough innovation Combines strengths of existing products and/or processes into offerings presented to adjacent markets serviced frequently by an adjacent line of business. Its management hinges on the balance of autonomy and coordination. Radical innovation A product, service, or process that alters a social or business practice to an unprecedented one. Its development is nonlinear, surrounded by uncertainty, and requires discovery learning. Its driving actors are, typically, executive sponsors and/or cross-functional individuals and networks. Disruptive innovation A form of radical innovation that inherits most of that innovation type s characteristics. Its uniqueness is in its capacity to redefine the rules by: Altering the basis for competition Changing the economics of an entire industry Making obsolete more expensive products or processes Each of the four forms of innovation has an associated set of conditions in which they perform the best. Given our space limitation in this chapter, we will examine only radical and disruptive innovation. Their relationship with communities of practice, a key source of all innovation, is the least explored in both practice and theory. Understanding the crucial link between them and CoPs may open surprising opportunities. Radical Innovation We defined radical innovation as a product or service that alters some social or business practice to an unprecedented one. There is no sustainable high performance in the radical innovation of products and services that manifests in a high level of market acceptance, unless it is coupled with process innovation of how work is organized in the company. When discussing radical innovation in this chapter, we mean both the internal and market-facing types. As it can be expected in any emergent field, there are several descriptions of the same phenomenon, each one emphasizing a different aspect. The following aspects of radical innovation seem particularly pertinent to crafting an agenda for liberating the innovation value of CoPs. Liberating the Innovation Value of Communities of Practice 10 Jump in improvement results Radical innovation exceedsthe 5 percent or 10 % year-on-year improvements gained from sharing existing knowledge. It provides 10-fold and even 100-fold breakthroughs. 6 Figure 1. Comparative impact curve of radical vs. incremental innovation Crossing boundaries For radical innovation to occur, it is frequently necessary to meld knowledge coming from different disciplines, professional communities, business units, and functions. How well a company is geared up for radical innovation can be gaug
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