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Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge [Kindle Edition]

Etienne Wenger , Richard A. McDermott , William Snyder
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Today's economy is fueled by knowledge. Every leader knows this to be true, yet few have systematic methods for converting organizational knowledge into economic value. This book argues that communities of practice--groups of individuals formed around common interests and expertise--provide the ideal vehicle for driving knowledge-management strategies and building lasting competitive advantage. Written by leading experts in the field, Cultivating Communities of Practice is the first book to outline models and methods for systematically developing these essential groups. Through compelling research and company examples, including DaimlerChrysler, McKinsey & Company, Shell, and the World Bank, authors Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder show how world-class organizations have leveraged communities of practice to drive strategy, generate new business opportunities, solve problems, transfer best practices, develop employees' professional skills, and recruit and retain top talent. Underscoring the new central role communities of practice are playing in today's knowledge economy, Cultivating Communities of Practice is the definitive guide to fostering, designing, and developing these powerful groups within and across organizations.

Editorial Reviews Review

From the time our ancestors lived in caves to that day in the late '80s when Chrysler sanctioned unofficial "tech clubs" to promote the flow of information between teams working on different vehicle platforms, bands of like-minded individuals had been gathering in a wide variety of settings to recount their experiences and share their expertise. Few paid much attention until a number of possible benefits to business were identified, but many are watching more closely now that definitive links have been established. In Cultivating Communities of Practice, consultants Etienne C. Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William Snyder take the concept to another level by describing how these groups might be purposely developed as a key driver of organizational performance in the knowledge age. Building on a 1998 book by Wenger that framed the theory for an academic audience, Cultivating Communities of Practice targets practitioners with pragmatic advice based on the accumulating track records of firms such as the World Bank, Shell Oil, and McKinsey & Company. Starting with a detailed explanation of what these groups really are and why they can prove so useful in managing knowledge within an organization, the authors discuss development from initial design through subsequent evolution. They also address the potential "dark side"--arrogance, cliquishness, rigidity, and fragmentation among participants, for example--as well as measurement issues and the challenges inherent in initiating these groups company-wide. --Howard Rothman

From Publishers Weekly

Among the myriad challenges managers in large corporations face today, one is becoming increasingly important: how to make the best use of the knowledge that a company's employees possess. The authors consultants all lift models from Xerox, DaimlerChrysler and the World Bank to show how to tap into the wisdom within, making this book helpful, in theory. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder spend much time explaining ways to organize, maintain and sustain communities of practice, which they define as groups that "share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and... deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis." Laying out a logical, step-by-step process for building one of these communities, the authors define specific roles for each member of the group. But senior managers looking, as the subtitle suggests, for "a guide to managing knowledge" may be disappointed in the scant space actually devoted to developing a system that captures and manages the learning that comes out of a "community of practice." Managers seeking the best way to obtain and use the knowledge coming out of these groups probably won't find it here. (Mar. 6)Forecast: Wenger is the biggest name in the theory of communities of practice, and those familiar with his work will want to add this book to their collection. Neophytes would do better with his 1998 primer, Communities of Practice.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 567 KB
  • Print Length: 316 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1578513308
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004OEIQ7W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,190 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A community of practice == a virtual community ? May 11, 2002
Wenger, McDermott and Snyder draw on the past to describe the usefulness of a community of practice. In the Stone Age knowledge was passed on to others while people gathered around a fire and discussed hunting strategies. A community of practice is a group of people who may be trying to solve a problem and who interact about a topic in order to deepen their knowledge. The aim is shared insight and information. The authors write that in the time of ancient Rome corporations of metalworkers, potters, masons and craftsmen formed communities with a combined business and social function. Moreover, in the Middle Ages artisans formed guilds as a way to share knowledge and experiences. Therefore, the authors argue that community as a basis for knowledge creation and management has a long historical tradition.
Wenger, McDermott and Snyder believe that knowledge management needs to become more systematic and deliberate. The authors believe in the collective nature of knowledge, which involves every person contributing their perspective of a problem. A Community of Practice (CoP) allows for the connection of isolated pockets of expertise across an organization. The CoP consists of a domain of knowledge, a community of people and the shared practice they are developing. The community environment allows for interactions, relationships, sharing of ideas and the opportunity to ask difficult questions. The purpose of the CoP is to create, expand and exchange knowledge. The authors believe that a large number of CoP members rarely participate. Instead they watch the interaction and learn from the discussions that occur, learning from them. The authors believe that the most valuable activities consist of informal discussions that occur between members to solve a particular problem.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview, implementation is up to you January 2, 2003
Writing a good book on the topic of communities of practice must a difficult task. The research challenge arises from the difficulty of finding hard data in a soft subject. The complexity of human interactions in groups defies neat categorizations and explanations. The authors of this highly readable volume do better than you might expect. Combining their deep knowledge in the subject with examples from a range of large companies (Shell Oil, Hewlett-Packard, Ben & Jerry's), they explain how this promising aspect of knowledge management and organizational culture can work. Along with stories about communities of practice at various stages of development, the authors succeed in providing a fairly well-developed scheme for these communities and their care and feeding.

A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. This book explains the potential value of CoPs, their structural elements, principles for crafting CoPs, analyzes their stages of growth, explores their downsides, investigates how to measure the value they create, and what role they play in community-based knowledge initiatives. It seems unfair to criticize this book, but more detail on how to implement CoPs would have been welcome. The authors have developed a helpful framework for understanding CoPs, illustrated by examples, but the reader will still need to think hard to implement them in a new setting.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Relevant, Insightful and Practical January 26, 2003
This is a very interesting book in explaining how to initiate communities of practice, their lifecycle and their role in the sharing and development of knowledge. Over the last ten or twenty years there has been much written about new organizational structures and the emerging importance of developing and retaining knowledge within corporations. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder approach this topic from a social perspective and apply some standard community building concepts to "communities of practice". This contrasts much of the popular thinking on these topics that tend to overemphasize the role of technology in helping to build communities or address knowledge management issues.
Cultivating Communities of Practice is and excellent handbook for anyone involved in the setup, participation or stewardship of "communities of practice" within a corporation. I would though suggest that the emphasis is on "corporation", which in some cases implies individuals having some predetermined alignment (presumably with the interests of the corporation). There is some very good discussion at the end of the book covering communities of practice outside of the corporation with and some review of supply chains and 3rd sector examples, although very limited coverage. It was noted that the focus has been on corporations as this is where there are solid examples of these practices. Hopefully a future book will address this area in more depth.
This book is identified as "A Guide to Managing Knowledge", and it does fit this description well. If you still believe that technology can be the primary component of a knowledge management strategy, then you need this book to better understand the nature of knowledge management in terms of communities of practice.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential reading for the knowlege economy June 24, 2003
This book, just published by "the three musketeers of Communities of Practice", is a practical guide to managing knowledge. What makes this book special is that it goes far beyond the simple explanation and advocacy for communities of practice, which we have all been reading about for the last five years. Through in-depth cases from firms such as DaimlerChrysler, McKinsey & Company, Shell, and the World Bank, the authors expand on many practical aspects one should have in mind when engaging in a community development: The "seven principles", the "five development steps" are presented in practical terms and with great details so that they can be used as a framework for all practitioners.
The approach to "cultivating" and nurturing communities, as opposed to "managing" them, is also explained so that managers will hopefully resist the urge to try and control them using mechanistic mental models. At last, the question of measuring value creation for organizations is addressed in convincing and, again, practical ways.
There is also some wisdom in this book. The "dark side" of communities of practice is also addressed. If unproperly managed, communities of practice can indeed create isolation, collusion, or tensions, which can be quite destructive for community members and sponsoring organizations.
This book is an essential reading for any leader in today's knowledge economy. It will undoubtedly remain as a reference for all of us practitioners who want to develop communities of practice for the benefit and long-term success of organizations and their employees.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written with ground-breaking concepts at the time of publication...
Well written with ground-breaking concepts at the time of publication. It has been used as a springboard for many research projects.
Published 20 days ago by Norma Lee-Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by Fernando Cardoso
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and grounded basics to understand and develop your community
i'm building Gaudeamus - the academic network for publishing in journals (, an online community of scholars (professor, researchers and journals’ editors). Read more
Published 10 months ago by Rafael Hernandez Barros
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Primer
For those who are tasked to develop Communities of Practice (CoP), this is a great resource AND reference. Read more
Published on December 22, 2012 by APhilpart
3.0 out of 5 stars A must-read until something better comes along
I ordered this book on a co-workers "you need to drop everything you are doing and read this book" recommendation, and I must confess, it was immediately useful the day after I... Read more
Published on October 3, 2009 by Michael Tiemann
4.0 out of 5 stars Cultivating Communities of Practice (Purchased on 07/09/2009)
Great book on utilizing principles of Community Development in managing an organization. Including all stakeholders is so very pertinent.
Published on August 9, 2009 by Dorian L. Lennon
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual guide to developing communities of practice
Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder have written an exceptionally clear and honest book. Read more
Published on February 27, 2009 by Rolf Dobelli
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work on Communities of Practice
Cultivating Communities of Practice is the second book from Wenger which is only about Communities of Practice (COP). Read more
Published on August 10, 2008 by Bas Vodde
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for those working to create learning communities
This book was recommended to me by a colleague who has years of experience in cultivating learning collaboratives. Read more
Published on June 7, 2008 by Tony
4.0 out of 5 stars Communities of Practice: Energy, Tools, and Gosh
Cultivating Communities of Practice

I really enjoyed Cultivating Communities of Practice. Read more
Published on May 27, 2008 by Greg Beatty
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More About the Author

Etienne Wenger-Trayner (formerly Wenger) is a globally recognized thought leader in the field of social learning theory, communities of practice, and their application to organizations. He has authored and co-authored seminal articles and books on the topic, including Situated Learning, where the term "community of practice" was coined; Communities of Practice: learning, meaning, and identity, where he lays out a theory of learning based on the concept; Cultivating Communities of Practice, addressed to practitioners in organizations who want to base their knowledge strategy on communities of practice; and Digital Habitats, which tackles issues of technology. Etienne's work is influencing both theory and practice in a range of disciplines, as well as a growing number of organizations in the private and public sectors. He helps organizations apply his ideas through consulting, public speaking, and workshops. He is also active in the academic sphere. He regularly speaks at conferences, conducts seminars, and is a visiting professor at the universities of Manchester and Aalborg. He recently received an honorary doctorate from the university of Brighton.


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