What A Concept
On The Baldrige Winners
Teaching An Organization To Learn
NFC: Why are you interested in community?
First, research is a critical activity, discovering and testing new theories and new methods. It's going to be in more and more organizations in the future.
Capacity building is another dimension of knowledge. This has to do with people developing capabilities they didn't have before. Tools and methods are the fundamental way in which people develop new capacities. Probably the most significant consequence of new tools is they reshape the tool users. Any technology's most significant impact over the long-term is its effect on the user.
And the third dimension of any learning community is practical
know-how. So ultimately you've learned something when you can actually produce
a higher level of result. That is practical know-how. Traditionally people
have called this tacit knowledge. However, what we have now are very fragmented
communities. We have scientific communities that focus exclusively on theories
and methods and do very little in terms of developing their own fundamental
capabilities. On the other hand we have many people in organizations trying
to improve things and develop practical know-how and theory's a bad word.
They think theory; "oh that's a bunch of intellectualizing."
NFC: They look at things that interest them rather than what advance,
whatever institution they're in.
The best example of real learning communities occurs in the arts. There tends to be a much closer coupling of theory and practice. Everyone involved in visual arts, musical arts, or theater are always in an intense personal learning process, developing their own capacities. People think that art is only about producing results, but they've never read music theory. Music theory is every bit as complex as mathematics. People who write the most important musical theory contributions are often the most accomplished composers. That connection simply doesn't exist in most of the sciences. It certainly doesn't exist in the educational process.
NFC: It reminds me of a Montessori
classroom. That method attempts to marry the theory and practical know-how
in a unique way. Children learn by working with their hands as well as hearing
NFC: What are those reasons?
There really is this deep fragmentation in the western culture between the physical body and working with the hands. All learning at some level has to be anchored in our body. How can we say that you can do anything if it isn't ultimately a capacity anchored in our body? But that's a strange set of notions in the West.
NFC: Thinking about the three characteristics
that build knowledge, is there some way that you have tried to incorporate
that idea of the mind and body connection?
I remember one guy, a Ph.D. from MIT, he was very cerebral. I saw him after he attended the course. I said, "So, what have you noticed since then?" He said, "I think the single, most powerful thing that I learned in those five days, is that now I understand what happens in my belly in a tough meeting."
He was starting to be aware of cues that our bodies are giving us all the time, which we are trained to ignore and pretend like 'oh this is a headache, it's just in my way,' as opposed to seeing our bodies as instruments that are continually helping us-mediating our experience and our environment.
I believe it is the communities of organizations that learn. At some level we might say what is an organization? Is Ford Motor Company a building? The only sensible definition of an organization is the people that are its members.
I also think that it's absolutely appropriate to think of organizations as webs of community.
They've always been that and it's just our blindness that's kept us from seeing it. The people who've studied communities of practice don't think they've invented anything. They think they've just simply discovered the way knowledge has always diffused in organizations through the informal networks. Everyone knows that no work ever gets done by following rules. It gets done through the informal networks. The communities of practice idea kind of takes that notion of informal networks and makes it a little more rigorous and something you can study.
NFC: How do you see this in our current
Now, the purpose of SOL is to advance knowledge for the benefit of all management everywhere. And we make it very clear, if a company wants to be a member just to improve itself - it shouldn't join.
Everything we learn we're going to share as widely as we can. It's not saying we're trying to improve the United States competitiveness as the Japanese might have. But I think that is what always holds a community together. I believe the first principle is that there has to be a transcendent purpose beyond the self-interest of the members.
I remember years ago learning from someone who was a very experienced community organizer. She said, "you know very, very few people understand the fundamental difference in the logic of community versus the logic of a marketplace." The logic of a marketplace is that I have to get more than I give. Whatever something costs me, I better receive benefits at least equal to or greater than that. She said, "The fundamental logic of community is almost the opposite." The logic of community is for what people can contribute. Benefits don't matter. Obviously all people in an organization have to be concerned with their benefits, but it's a secondary concern. The primary concern that holds a community together is that it gives me the opportunity to contribute. The artistic community draws on this vitality. It gives people opportunities for self-expression. That's the way that we approach SOL.
NFC: Where do you see these concepts
going as we approach the dawn of a new century?
If they lose that kind of deep self-confidence then everything shifts and everybody is trying to get somebody else to bail them out.
We live in a time of extraordinary cross currents. I mean
anyone who's awake should realize that things are going to be getting better
and worse simultaneously. If there's some truth to the idea, that we've
reached the end of the road of the industrial age organization you're not
going to expect everybody to say, "okay we quit, we'll do it differently."
It's going to work based on small experiments that gradually grow. The same
way the industrial revolution started. The same way any revolution started.
The agricultural revolution didn't start because everyone said, 'let's stop
being hunters and gatherers and be agriculturists.' It occurred over hundreds
and thousands of years of small groups that gradually became more and more
influential. There's going to be innovators, creating something new, operating
at risk, demonstrating something new can really work. And there will be
people working harder and harder to prop up the traditional system. Life
is tough. And you've got to expect those two things are going