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Law #4: Passion is the driver of communities of practice

The success of the industrial revolution and the modern enterprise in building wealth has been based on a rational engineering approach to problem solving. Clearly documented procedures and guidelines left little place, if any, to human emotions. The notion of an untidy ecology is foreign to this thinking.

The experience of knowledge sharing is showing, however, that communities of practice only flourish when their members are passionately committed to a common purpose, whether it be the engineering design of water supply systems, the pursuit of better medical remedies, or more efficient economic techniques.

Efforts at building communities in a hierarchical or top-down fashion are at best successful on a temporary basis. Soon they come unstuck as members refuse to contribute their time to activities which have no meaningful purpose for them. Instead, they will be looking for professional interest groups which will give them a sense of professional and personal raison d’etre.

The necessity for passion in the workplace is a hard lesson for companies and executives who have spent their lives trying to keep emotion out of the work place. Nevertheless the lesson repeatedly emerges from case studies and benchmarking of knowledge sharing programs. As a result - for reasons of sheer efficiency and effectiveness - the modern workplace is finding it necessary to provide time and space for both the head and the heart..

In the process, it is discovered that communities also enrich organizations and personal lives. Nurturing communities of practice and building on positive human emotions in the workplace provide a key to creating and developing healthier forms of organizations. The limited liability company has been an invention that has helped generate immense wealth. It has also led for the most part to emotionally desiccated lives for the individuals who work in these organizations. The emergence of non-hierarchical communities of practice and the central role of passion in cementing them can lead not only to an enhanced form of organization capable of generating even greater wealth, but would also provide more meaningful lives for those who work within.

Co-authors: Michel Pommier, Lesley Shneier, Stephen Denning

Reference: See Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000.

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