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.

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I’m a solution engineer for Shape Security, an awesome web security startup in Mountain View that defends some of the worlds largest web sites from bot attacks. I see this blog as a learning tool. It gives me a chance to collect my thoughts on topics of interest and to share with others. If you see a mistake or think I’m on the wrong track, please let me know. I appreciate comments. See my LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesdowney and follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/james_downey.

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.

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