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Communities of Practice: The Next Level

Communities of Practice (COPs) bring together people with knowledge and experience in a given subject. COPs tend to emerge and grow organically. Tendrils form between people; like seeks out like, and a network forms. COPs are self-organized and self-managed.

By contrast, when organizations try to bring together a concentration of knowledge and expertise they create Centres of Excellence (COEs). These are resourced by management, which sets goals and channels the thinking of its members. COEs tend to be exclusive. COPs are inclusive. Guess which work best as catalysts for innovative ideas and for accelerating learning.

Karl Moore, Professor of Management at McGill University, is exploring a third organizational form that leaders may find more useful than Centres of Excellence; a form that embraces the feeling that the best ideas emerge from the kind of voluntary sharing that is a feature of a Community of Practice, and cannot be as effectively mandated from on high, as with Centres of Excellence.

Moore’s new idea is Accelerated Communities of Practice (ACOPS, inevitably), which are a synthesis of COPs and COEs. (Still with me?)

“ACOPs combine aspects of COPs and COEs and operate as a middle stage between the two,” claims Moore, who is working on helping global organizations identify which COPs have the potential to morph into COEs and then on how to make it happen. He feels ACOPs may be the halfway stage that will lead eventually to Centres of Excellence that have grown organically out of COPs – emerged, in other words, with a little massaging – rather than created top-down.

Since emergent change benefits from a groundswell of power whereas top-down change mostly fails, I look forward to seeing how Moore’s experiments work out.

Source: Peter Fisk, who is great at spotting emergent ideas, has, on his Marketing Genius website, an article by Stuart Crainer from Business and Strategy Review, looking at what business thought leaders are working on at the moment. It’s about a year old now but, hey, a lot of it is news to me.

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