I think that one of the larger problems of our time, is that we we don’t even know how to think about many of today’s problems. We think that our reason or our effort will be enough to solve them. When in fact, these problems are of a different nature to the ones that we used to have. They are different because, we are so much more interconnected today that there can be no simple cause and effect.
From Why we are lost? – How we can find ourselves, Rob Paterson explains the Cynefin framework, with a link to a concise explanatory video from Anecdote, and goes on to show the problem in our workplaces:
In short – some problems are Simple and are subject to simple cause and effect. I do this and that always happens. Some problems are Complicated and I need to know a lot to find the answer, say design a jet engine or put on a TV show, but once I have the body of knowledge again results are going to be there. The laws of Newtonian Physics apply.
But many of the problems we face today are COMPLEX, and methods to solve simple and complicated problems will not work with complex ones. One of the ways we addressed simple & complicated problems was through training. Training works well when you have clear and measurable objectives. However, there are no clear objectives with complex problems. Learning as we probe the problem, we gain insight and our practices are emergent (emerging from our interaction with the changing environment and the problem). Training looks backwards, at what worked in the past (good & best practices), and creates a controlled environment to develop knowledge and skills.
To deal with increasing complexity, organizations need to support emergent work practices, in addition to their training efforts. They must support collaboration, communication, synthesis, pattern recognition and creative tension, all within a trusting environment in order to be effective. One method of supporting emergent work is the fostering of communities of practice (CoP).
I read today that communication does not equal collaboration, and that is a challenge in “building” communities of practice. Just because the communication tools are in place does not mean that people will automatically collaborate. You can’t really build a CoP, it has to emerge through practice; but you can put in systems and processes to support CoP’s. As I learned this week, you know you’re in a real community of practice when it changes your practice.
So if you wonder what all the hype over web social media is about, in my mind it’s the potential to support emergent work practices. Twitter, blogs, wikis and social networks are tools for communities of practice. They can be used effectively or not. How these tools get used is itself an emergent practice, but if you don’t practice, nothing will emerge.