Emergent practices need practice

“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.

7 Responses to “Emergent practices need practice”

  1. Shaun

    Simple message which is often overlooked. Many people just implement tools, think they can fire & forget, then wonder why it didn’t work

  2. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Harold!

    I’m with you on this. I was told recently by a prominent educator that communities emerge out of networks and that they (communities) were the logical progression. But it’s not as simple as that. The description seemed to be as simple as starting up a brew for some home-made beer, that given the correct ingredients, the fermentation process leading to a desirable product was inevitable.

    It is not so with CoPs. It’s not so with so-called online learning communities either, yet many educators seem to believe that by simply putting a learning network in place, it will all happen – and without waving a magic wand.

    I also concur with you that complex is confused with complicated and that they are often thought to be the same and are treated as such. If the difference between the complicated system like what’s required to put on a TV show and a complexity system such as the navigable characteristics of a flock of birds is not recognised, we have a concept problem.

    However, there is nothing really new in terms of concept though. Back 40 years or more it was believed that an ecosystem could be easily controlled, that it obeyed the behaviour of a complicated system that had the potential of achieving equilibrium, such as a chemical reaction under controlled conditions. We now know otherwise – that an ecosystem is in fact complex. It’s not simply more complicated.

    Different than that. It has a new and almost capricious quality and that it appears to have a mind of its own. In fact, that’s not far from reality.

    Political systems are similarly endowed with such complex characteristics, and these have been studied, almost exhaustively, for much longer. Similarly, living organisms and in particular their colonies, possess all these characteristics of emergence and adaptability.

    Given well over half a century of accumulation of human knowledge on complexity, in many and diverse forms, it is amazing that in 2009 some of us still fail to recognise the characteristics of complexity systems when we’re confronted with them.

    I apologise for the length of this comment – but it’s complex 🙂 .

    Catchya later


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