Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Creative Destruction and CoPs

I've been thinking about creative destruction recently because of a speaker I was recruiting reminded me of the term. It's both the subtext of a series I'm organizing for my local Organization Development Network community and, by encouraging the use of a wiki for community note-taking, I think I'm engaging in it a bit. "Creative destruction" is not exactly a term that most organization development practitioners embrace with enthusiasm, however, especially when it brings up images of downsizing, mergers and acquisition or red in tooth and claw capitalism.

I think that all of us have a bit of an aversion to change, and the term creative destruction brings it right out. Despite the negative images, creative destruction is about the degree of change and people's reaction to it. Joseph Schumpeter, who proposed the term, argued that you couldn't stop it, it is a natural consequence of economic activity, and that it is beneficial in the end. Kind of like how our kids grow up: they leave behind childish ways, whether we like it or not and we can't really speed it up or slow it down too much.

Communities of practice have a developmental aspect that could be described as "creative destruction." Once they are actually working, they seem to grow in unpredictable ways -- but you can't really stop or reverse the clock. Several elements that move this process forward are:

  • New members -- as new people join a community, asking new questions, questioning old assumptions, holding different values, the membership changes but so does the collective thinking. And old members leave or die.
  • New tools -- new technologies can change the funamentals of how a community does its business, making old ways of meeting or of solving problems seem antiquated or wasteful. Old techniques or technologies are abandoned and forgotten.
  • New ideas and new problems -- as problems are solved, ideas become obsolete or outmoded and the very substance of a community's knowledge changes over time.
I think that the way Joitske has invited us in as guest bloggers is feeding creative destruction in a way -- it could push the discussion forward in certain ways and maybe even close off certain topics as a result. Creative destruction might be too grandiose a term, but I think that inviting guests into your community is a small-scale action that in the end can have large-scale consequences.

I've got some observations I'll share about how creative destruction might play out in communities of practice for development.


Dorine Ruter said...

Hi John, how nice to read a blog post from you here! I was wondering what to do without a weekly doses of Joitske's ideas and experiences, but it looks like you have some nice ideas up your sleeve. Looking forward to reading more from both you and Bill.

John Smith said...

Not exactly as practical as your post about webwhacker, but stay tuned for more... :-) I'm checking it out: