Communities of Exploration

As a consultant, I earn a living in part because clients believe that I deliver best practices, but I cringe every time I hear the phrase. It strikes me as pretentious. Rarely is there just one best way to achieve an objective. Rarely does one size fit all organizations. The phrase best practice, if taken too seriously, stands in the way of questioning, experimentation, and innovation. How can we improve upon what is already best?

I’m also suspicious of Centers of Excellence. Again, the phrase sounds pretentious, like an exclusive club. Such centers can function as bully pulpits from which anointed experts seek to impose their preferences, the so-called best practices, on the laity. How can we question or improve upon what is already excellent?

Excellence, a worthy objective, demands a journey, a process of questioning, exploration, experimentation, and learning; and it is this journey for which we ought prepare.

So as an alternative to Centers of Excellence, I propose Communities of Exploration, where employees (and partners, vendors, customers, external stakeholders) congregate around questions of common interest, try out ideas, test assumptions, explore, experiment, share failures, and learn together.

Let me know your thoughts on how a Community of Exploration might differ from a Center of Excellence. And please share your suggestions for how to create vibrant Centers of Exploration.

I'm the Director of Threat Solutions at Shape Security, a top 50 startup defending the world's leading websites and mobile apps against malicious automation. Request our 2017 Credential Spill Report at to get the big picture of the threats we all face. See my LinkedIn profile at and follow me on Twitter at

Posted in Innovation
One comment on “Communities of Exploration
  1. Philipp says:

    Hi James,
    I like the idea of a Community of Exploration. It somehow utilizes the paradigm of “Open Innovation” when companies open their innovation process for non company members to get new ideas.
    With a Community of Exploration instead of a Center of Excellence you will extend your perspectives on problems and probably get better and more reliable solutions for them. As a member of the “Center of Excellence” your view on a process and its problems is limited by the fact, that your not envolved and your focus is on other things.
    Envolving the key actors in a problem solving or innovation process broads your view and gives you new insights on things you can’t guess. Also your suggestions or solutions will be more reliable because decisions are made with those who propably will execute and run them.

    I think to create vibrant Centers of Exploration depends on the task they have to do, but you should keep it open for all who want to contribute and bring in positive thoughts. Give yourself goals for meetings and collect positive and negative feedback in the end to create a self-learning process, which gives everyone the feeling they are heard and envolved.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: