Intentional communities and designing for emergence

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 10, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

A couple of years ago we helped the Australian Army establish three communities of practice around these domains: doctrine, urban warfare and air manoeuvre. In the process of intentionally helping these communities get established we created the conditions for an unexpected community to arise: a community of spatial modellers.

The spatial modellers created massive simulations of combat forces and were a group of people distributed around Australia. It was difficult to share their models however because of restrictions places on the Defence email system. So when we made available a Lotus-based collaboration environment available they discovered they could use it to share their models. It started with model sharing and then online discussions started and before we knew it they were an active community of practice.

I was reminded of this experience reading Clay’s book and his story of how Meetup (something I have been using for a number of years) works to create new Meetup groups. Members can search for a topic, such as storytelling, and express an interest in joining a group when it exists. When enough members show an interest someone might be inspired to create a new group.

Organisations should take a similar approach. Yes, keep developing intentional communities of practice and use them to also create the conditions for new communities to emerge on their own. You might be surprised to find that the emergent ones being more successful, but of course in a complex space there is no way of knowing which ones will succeed of fail. Just don’t kill off the opportunity of good things happening under their own steam.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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