Communities of practice: from innovation in practice to the practice of innovation

Edward Elgar
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Handbook of Organizational and Managerial Innovation, 2012, 1st, pp. 256 - 274
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Emmanuel Josserand and Florence Villesèche INTRODUCTION In the quest to explain competitive advantage, the knowledge view of the firm appears to be one of the most topical alternatives to transaction costs economics. The ability to share and generate knowledge is thus considered a key capability (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998; Merali, 2000). Beyond the initial fads around technology and ITdriven knowledge management projects (Swan et al., 1999), research points to the importance of cultural (McDermott, 1999; Ndlela and du Toit, 2001) and structural change (Grant, 1996; Buckley and Carter, 2002) to favour openness to learning and sharing. This openness is deemed hard to achieve in bureaucratic organizations (Gupta and Govindarajan, 2000; Ravasi and Verona, 2001). How do organizations deal with the apparent contradiction between a necessary order that could lead to bureaucracy and the strategic importance of an innovative openness that could lead to chaos? According to Wenger and Snyder: todays economy runs on knowledge, and most companies work assiduously to capitalize on that fact. They use cross-functional teams, customer- or productfocused business units, and work groups to name just a few organizational forms to capture and spread ideas and know-how. In many cases, these ways of organizing are very effective and no one would argue for their demise. (Wenger and Snyder, 2000, p. 139) However, these forms are usually formal groups often driven by shortterm objectives. Communities of practice (CoPs) a new name for an old practice have been theorized since the early 1990s
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