Thursday, May 18, 2006

Communities of practice: creativity and innovation

My uncle-in-law (or how do you call the uncle of your husband?) is a piano player in the Dutch Swing College Band. The fact that we have never gone to hear them play will show how much we care about jazz music... (he is the fourth from the left side). If you want to listen to their music there's a webcast from their appearance on Barend en van Dorp. The person who forced us listen to jazz was Nii Ofuso in Takoradi, who was our Fanti teacher and had an hour jazz on the radio on Monday evenings. He would often tell us to listen because he would send us greetings on the radio.

But that's a long introduction to a really great article on Creativity and improvisation in jazz and organisations (I forgot where it was posted; I printed it and took it later from the pile of papers). I'm intrigued by the power of CoPs to stimulate innovation and creativity (it may even be the only reason why I'm so attracted to CoPs). And Frank Barrett neatly unpeels some of the dimensions of creativity in jazz and translates that into very solid recommendations for organisations. His parallels are really good.

He looks at
- provocative competence
- embracing errors
- shared orientation towards minimal structures that allow maximum flexibility
- distributed task
- reliance on retrospective sense-making
- hanging out in a community of practice
- taking turns soloing and supporting
(but these terms will not tell you much unless you read the paper).

For instance, the deliberate attempt by jazz musicians to guard against reliance on habits and patterns that worked in the past is his inspiration to point at the compentency trap: the tendency to become competent as an organization and to loose the edge of experimentation. Breaking routines (and that's what some technologies can do as well!). Organisations should encourage small disruptions and incremental re-orientations to sharpen perceptions and activate thought processes.

He also notes that most studies of organizational behaviour have a rational-cognitive orientation. The experience of synergy etc. would warrant further study, for instance the role of supportive relationships in drawing out one another's latent capacities.
" To foster learning, organisations must see beyond conventional, anonical job descriptions and recognise the rich practices themselves." I thinkthis is true for so many professions today, where managers are not sufficiently in touch with the practices or fail to see them.

He provides all kind of advices for organisations like "organisations must go beyond merely inviting new voices, but must also create processes that suspend the tendency to criticize, judge, express disbelief that might kill a nascent idea"

I will definitely add this one to my favorite articles. In a meeting somebody suggested a delicious tag called top10; I could start using that to be able to trace your favourites easily over time.


hoong said...

Two days ago I met with two Danish. They just started a company that uses real actors for leadership trainings. They both have acting and acting related background. We had some very interesting discussions about globalization and leaderships etc. Unfortunately we were only able to chat for an hour or two.

However what you wrote here caught my eyes: "... I think this is true for so many professions today, where managers are not sufficiently in touch with the practices or fail to see them"

Perhaps we are asking too much from the managers? (I am never a person that is kind to my superior but I have to be fair :) )... I am not sure about the NGO world, but in the profit world, we survive in a very complex environment. The fact that we seems to pick up the American idea and feel so proud that we are 'multi-tasking' that we now become generalist AND NO LONGER specialist. As a specialist we have time to 'notice things' that deviate. As a generalist, we are jack-of-all-trades, not only master-to-none, often time we barely manage to survive. Since we are NOT EXPERT in anything, often time we might NOT even know there is a better of doing the samething!! We are stressed beyond limit to keep up with the Joneses.

We mustn't forget not all of us are born equal. Some are super-human being. Many are not. We all make choices of priority. That perhaps not because they do not see it, but perhaps they are overloaded and unable to cope with it?

Here is one very simple example I see all the time, for example: an engineer is promoted to team-leader/manager. That means this person becomes a human resource manager. He is moving from an expert to unknow territory. Often time this person does not receive additional training on human resouce development (I prefer to seperate HRM from HRD. HRM deals with functions such as salary, recruitement etc.)Moreover, a person good in engineering does not mean it is a person good for managing human being!! Engineering is fixed, human beings are not only complex but NOT constant. So, we are setting a certain expectation that this person might not be able to fulfill.

For exercise. Take sometime to observe people. Then think why this person is not doing his/her job? Is it because of laziness, uncaring, obnoxious ... or is it because this person is given tasks that is not suitable for him/her?

Joitske said...

Hi Cindy, how was the UK? I didn't mean to blame the managers, but rather see the whole system struggling (if I would be a manager I would have the same difficulty probably of understanding practice issues). I think the organising/integration issue is huge question, especially how to do that without loosing the creativity, motivation and innovative potential of workers.

hoong said...

Hello Joitske,

I did not go to London because, as you might guessed, my health situation. Too tired to do much.

NO, NO, NO ... knowing you (from your writing) definately I do not think you would put all the blames on the managers. BUT I am glad you raised the 'situation' that gave me the chance to put forth some of my observations and opinions.

My take is, we have to stop looking at what others people, BUT look at what WE HAVE, and WE CAN DO. That in itself is innovations. Innovations don't mean it has to be written in some books by some famous people. I see innovations everyday around me. We have to stop copying what don't fit in in our society (that means we should apply the same theory and let others innovate at their own space and sphere). What works in one situation/country/industry etc. don't mean it can be done the same elsewhere.

Anyway, I am sure I am repeating what many are saying.