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Copyright © 1998 Pegasus Communications, Inc. ( ). All rights reserved. For permission to distribute copies of this arti cl e in any form, please contact us at [email protected] 1 ou are a claims processor work- ing for a large insurance com- pany.You are good at what you do, but although you know where your paycheck comes from, the corpora- tion remains mostly an abstraction for you.The group you actually work for is a small community of people who share your working conditions. It is with this group that you learn the intricacies of your job, explore the meaning of your work, construct an image of the company, and develop a sense of yourself as a worker. You are an engineer working on two projects within your business unit.These are demanding projects, and you give them your best.You respect your teammates and are accountable to your project managers. But when you face a problem that stretches your knowledge, you turn to people like Jake, Sylvia, and Robert. Even though they work on their own projects in other business units, they are your real colleagues.You all go back many years.They understand the issues you face and will explore new ideas with you.And even Julie, who now works for one of your suppliers, is only a phone call away.These are the people with whom you can dis- cuss the latest developments in the field and troubleshoot each other’s most difficult design challenges. If only you had more time for these kinds of interactions. You are a CEO and, of course, you are responsible for the company as a whole.You take care of the “big picture.” But you have to admit that for you, too, the company is mostly an abstraction: names, numbers, processes, strategies, markets, spread- sheets. Sure, you occasionally take tours of the facilities, but on a day-to- day basis, you live among your peers—your direct reports with whom you interact in running the company, some board members, and other executives with whom you play golf and discuss a variety of issues. We frequently say that people are an organization’s most important resource.Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communi- ties through which individuals develop and share the capacity to create and use knowledge. Even when people work for large organizations, they learn through their participation in more specific communities made up of people with whom they interact on a regular basis.These “communities of practice” are mostly informal and dis- tinct from organizational units (see “Communities of Practice” on p. 1). Although we recognize knowl- edge as a key source of competitive advantage in the business world, we still have little understanding of how to create and leverage it in practice. Traditional knowledge management approaches attempt to capture exist- ing knowledge within formal systems, such as databases.Yet systematically addressing the kind of dynamic “knowing” that makes a difference in practice requires the participation of people who are fully engaged in the
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  • Spring '08
  • fatin
  • Management, Community building, Communities of Practice

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