Thursday, July 28, 2005

CoPs or CoBs (Community of Bias)?

The role that intrapersonal and interpersonal biases have in the life of a person has always fascinating me a great deal.

Emily Pronin is a nice looking person that wrote some very interesting pieces of work. For example, a book chapter whose title is Understanding misunderstanding: social psychological perspective.

Among the many things, she points out how low tolerance to ambiguity makes a person go beyond the real facts and information that s/he is given. It would sound like low tolerance to exploration of ambiguity (that is, presence of more than one meaning in a word/statement) doesn't match with having a meaningful interaction (where meaningful means one that can generate meaning) either.

If men and women are, as Katz claims (1960, explained here), more rationalizing than rational, and therefore more influenced by their attitudes than by logic or evidence, and if we humans have the tendency toward accepting more easily what is congruent with our interest (Edwards & Smith, 1996; Ross & Lepper, 1980), then CoPs can be a source of bias. I am wondering if that plays a role in how a CoP has to be facilitated.

Pronin - and this is verrrry interesting - suggests that such bias fosters harsh evaluations. I would add that it might be worthy addressing this very issue when speaking about CoP facilitation.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

I'm amused!

Today, I am amused, folks.

It has been happening, more and more often, that I get amused at projection, that is "the defense mechanism whereby we transfer or project our feelings about one person onto another. " It can be better understood by thinking of how wrong we are when we suppose a person to feel they way we would feel in his/her same situation.

I'm a victim of projection, guys. Not that I do it, I am a victim of being called names from people that don't know the difference between themselves and the rest of the world that big that their Ego is (and they usually call it empathy, see some examples of empathy vs sympathy here).

So, we stumble in a person saying "it's impossible that non-parents understand parenting" because SHE is unable to understand perspective that are out of her point of views, and in another saying "you overwhelm people" because HE is easily overwhelmed. It's fine if they have those limitations, we all have limitations, even if not the same. What is NOT fine is to suppose that YOUR limitations are another's as well!

But the thing that really chockes me is that, when one of them wants to be right at all costs just puts him/herself in a situation in which s/he can't possibly be called wrong, like for example preaching the exact opposite of what one does. If I preach the joys of motherhood, how can you charge me to be egoist? If I preach selflessness how can you charge me of having an Ego as big as Texas?

It doesn't work. It just does not work. They think it does, but it doesn't. People are smart. People are kids. People see the Emperor doesn't have clothes on. Behaviours are revealing, no matter how many words you spread on top of them to hide their true meaning. And, sure, meaning depends on context, but you still can't claim donkeys can fly, bunny.

I have to admit it here, I am a b*tch. I am talented at getting a person to reveal him/herself and exposing him/her. If I weren't talented at it, I wouldn't be a facilitator. And, note, I am one, I don't call myself one. Big difference (again, how can you see the difference? BEHAVIOURS!).

But, when I facilitate dialogue, I coach a person above dysfunctional behaviours, while when I am just a plain old b*tch, I get them to expose themselves and... leave them in the lurch in front of everybody. Dear, old, shame. So essential, in order to grow up.

And yes, I am conscious that shame is part of my heritage as a Roman Catholic. But what can I say? It's better than being engaged full force into escaping any pain. Sounds like getting drunk, to me.

In fact, paraphrasing Gary Oldman's "someone once described alcoholics as egomaniacs with low self-esteem", wishing to be in heaven without having to live through the pain of life is, at least, a matter of addiction and, at worst, a nonsense.

That's how I get amused! I look around and see people thinking to be different while they are like any other (or so), thinking to be different, generalizing what they are to the whole world, forged on their image (sounds familiar? LOL), experiencing the pain of life mainly because... they just can't enjoy watching without driving!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In CoPs

Just today John D. Smith in his group wrote:

"Communities of practice are only observable by people who are IN a social web."

This statement has bounced in my mind for all the day long... What do we mean when we say "IN ..[something that has to do with CoPs]..."?
  • if by "IN" we mean an observer has to be in closeness to members' proxemics (see Hall, 1966) in order to be able, capable and aware enough to observe a CoP in action, I would say "Yes, maybe so" (supposing the term "proxemics" to also include virtual ones, and VCoPs as well) and sometimes even "No" (supposing F2F contact with persons to be so full of clues that it might overwhelm/mislead you... or supposing a person in such F2F situation to have poor social skills);
  • if by "IN" you mean an observer has to be a "part of", I would say "Not necessarily". In a VCoP, one has to be a member of it, belong to it, be subbed to it, in order to observe it. In a CoP, you can just be an observing.

Denying the role of the separate observer, means undermining the theoretical framework of Legitimate Peripheral Participation (and lurking, in VCoPs), experiential learning and action learning, that is, the very basis of CoPs.

  1. LPP works because it is by observing the active engagement of core participants without taking a part in it you learn how to BE one of them (vs how to make one of them... sounds similar, or the same thing, but they are at least ontologically different).
  2. Experiential learning works because tacit knowledge is passed by through observation of an experience and its reproduction (even when, or especially, when it's not codifiable! -- see Kolb, 1984).
  3. Action learning works because after an action, reflection is necessary for learning to happen (Argyris, Putnam & McLain Smith, 1985)

By practising we are in action, but being in action per se does not account for learning. It's reflection after action that accounts for learning from experience (at least, in action/experiential/situated learning, which is the way one learns in CoPs).

Speculating about an experience, trying to find an explanation, a model, a reason is mandatory and far from being idealistic, detached or "not into" the experience. After such "modelization", in action/experiential/situated learning, comes the moment for experiments, which as I said some times before need definitions, methods, and ways to be reproducible. And, of course, next step is.. another experience!

This is all to say, learning is not all from being INSIDE things (ie: practitioners), or all of being OUTSIDE them (ie: academics), but rather a concerted cycle of experience-theory-experiment-learning progressions (or if you prefer, an inside/outside, in-touch/detached cycle).

In this way, from this perspective, system thinking is the way to go. It gives you direction, reminding you that wherever you are at, you have to tilt your perspective before merely hoping to find any grounded solution.

So, how I mean that "IN", is the way we say to one another: "You are IN(to) CoPs aren't you?", where "IN(to)" means "having knowledge of".

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Collaborative Disagreements: Negotiating Clashes in CoPs

There is a lot of fluff over cooperation, namely how to contrast those situations "when the pursuit of self-interest by each leads to a poor outcome for all". Of course (and I say of course because some people, to my astonishment, still doubt about it), if you (generic) want to be part of a group, you have to learn to be cooperative, can't possibly expect the group to do what you want (or not to do what you don't want do).

A CoP is something more than a group. When we look at a bunch of books on a shelf, we might refer to them as a group of books, for sure not as "a CoP of books", and that is because they have no personal relationship with one another.

Some could say that a CoP isn't necessarily the best outcome for all the involved parties, however. I claim - and this is an opinion - that being able to generate meaning together with other people is always better than generating it alone, because one mind is always more limited that many minds, even when your mind (supposedly) know more.

Then the issue becomes a methodological one: is cooperation a better way to have many minds generate meaning, or is competition a more appropriate means? Again my opinion is that cooperation is always better because it harbors the possibility of a more balanced solution to a dilemma, over a one-sided black-and-white I-won-it-all one.

This being said, the focal points become:
    1. Is consensus the best way to foster a cooperative behaviour? That is: do we have to disagree first and compromise after, or try to reach an agreement as first thing in the morning?
    2. Which topics (if any) should be solved by consensus?
    3. When does consensus become groupthink?

Consensus might be dangerous, especially for a CoP, which is said to be (by many) a place where debates and innovations are possible because of a trusting climate that allows members to engage in experiential learning without fear of being corrected, discouraged or reprimanded. So if consensus is the first target, members will go for the agreement right away, rather than being themselves first, and then negotiate.

On the other hand negotiation, handled by an expert facilitator, is mandatory whenever some real problem arises.

I'll go beyond this: if you are a CoP facilitator, whenever clashes don't happen, engineer them. That is: ask controversial questions, post controversial material and let the CoP raise its wisdom above your facilitation skills to learn how solve the clash in action, in a creative way.

Lead your CoP members to:
1) treat other members the way they treat themselves
2) learn to cooperate with one another
3) crash happily
4) enjoy the process
5) be happy with whatever the outcome
6) learn something out of mistakes

They will have fun and better themselves, you will have fun and better yourself too.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005


In case anybody had any doubt, this is my Enneagram Type...


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Trust in Virtual Teams

On Duck-Grinned Nancy's group, Nancy Settle-Murphy asked to give her input about remote teams presenting special challenges, following you can find what I wrote to her.

Main challenges are:

  • attitudes
    1) what members think of the medium
    ie: do they think the medium characteristics shape the conversation or that it's the conversation to "move along" different paths within the same medium?
    THIS impacts on how you accomodate differences, because in the first case members would/might/should choose a software (or a channel or a path) that they deem appropriate, while in the second case they would adapt to whichever the media. Needless to say in the latter interaction members would get more easily to trust, because their mental attitude is an empowering one (ie: "I can shape the media --- I can shape the conversation -- we can make anything we want out of it"), while the former is a disempowering one (ie: "If I don't have the right tool I can't communicate effectively --- I am limited in my communication capabilities --- there are things that can't be achieved online").

    2) what members think of written communication
    ie: do they find it to be more clear (because it's "all written") or do they find it more obscure (because they "can't see the facial expressions")? Again, it's all a matter of an empowering vs disempowering attitude... can I understand more because it's all clear, since even when something is unclear it can be clarified ("I can choose what to make of it"), or can't I really understand people because feelings can't be conveyed in a written form ("I am limited")?

    What really matters is the ATTITUDE of the majority of members. As a general rule, persons with a disempowering attitude (feeling limited by the media, conversation, situation, whatever) tend to perceive others as limiting as well, REGARDLESS of whether they are or not. Achieving trust, in these conditions, can be VERY hard.

  • values
    3) importance of socialization
    Trust can't be acquired through rational demonstration that you have to trust colleagues. It IS acquired only by *interaction*. A person devaluing socialization could not acquire trust and would therefore be mistrustful.

    4) tendence to cooperation/collaboration
    there are moments in a team in which, for the team's sake, the individual has to be downsized and/or "quieted down". His/her compliance with such rule will generate trust in others, that will SEE how the member is willing to put the team ahead of personal convenience and individualism. People without such attitude will undermine trust, and get the whole team rebellious.

The rest (aka "barriers", such as language, culture, etc) is not that much of a big deal IF attitudes are empowering and socialization and collaboration are present and proactively fostered, because basically everything can be discussed in an atmosphere of sharing.

However, such sharing is harder to acquire in Western cultures, because of their individualism (ego vs collaboration) and management style (valuing "professionality" over socialization).

In particular, once the collaboration is broken, very often the only solution is to expel whoever provoked the breaking up, because rarely will members of a collaborative group forgive it.

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Theory vs Practice

Last night I was working on one of my incoming conference papers and I happened to read some criticisms to CoPs, namely Gourlay (2003) and Cox (2004), together with some bits and pieces of Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002).

Aside from the specifics, which will be treated in my paper (and probably in some further work), I got a sense of disillusionment beyond belief, more pronounced on the academics side, I must admit.

Basic, what I see here are two "fronts": academics and practitioners. The former too rigid to reformulate an old concept in ways that could be worthy being explored right here right now, the latter too - again - rigid to give some directions from the field on how to implement studies that might go beyond anedoctal stories.

Cox, for example, criticized Wenger et al. because -guess what?- they face the issue from a practitioner perspective... why did he, Cox, insert that book in his review of seminal works if it is so flawed at its basis, then? It's like saying: "The main drawback of the sun is that it emits light" DUH - I didn't know that!

Gourlay criticized the concept of community of practice and the fact Wenger didn't review the literature on teams and groups, entirely missing the fact that CoPs are neither team or groups.

What can I say? I'd like to read a serious critique to CoP theory, rather than a Gee-I-am-so-afraid-I-didn't-think-of-it-myself-that-I-better-destroy-it.

The main bug of the practitioner literature is the fact it doesn't suggest any design whatsoever for possible validation of anedoctes through clear definitions (even at the end of the book, if you just don't like to give them at the beginning GRIN), appropriate studies, intellectually balanced conclusions. Kind of saying "I know I am right because I saw it happening many times, and even if it's not scientific because I could very well have self-selected only the experience my mind would/could understand, I don't care, because all I really care about is my opinion" -- typical of practitioners I must say.

It sounded clear to me, however, that neither part had a clear idea of about a method, neither proposing (practitioners) or formulating one basing on observations (academics). I care to tell the latter, that yes, we are aware that CoP theory, practice and methodology is somehow different from anything in the past, but that's not enough to claim it invalid just because nobody did that before...! And, to academics again, get out of your discipline: there are others that employ other methods (action learning, story-telling, qualitative research, not just numbers).

So what am I so disillusioned about?

William Blake would call them mind-forged manacles, AKA cages produced and built by the mind ON the mind ABOUT the mind, that generate more misunderstandings, separation and pain.

All of this for what? For playing Who's More Right On The Topic.


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