[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

John D. Smith smithjd at teleport.com
Tue Dec 18 08:40:23 PST 2001

"Sandeep Krishnamurthy" <sandeep at u.washington.edu> shares a question
from a classroom:

> "What is the difference between a (for-profit) company and a

And there have been several interesting replies.  But it seems to me
most of them assume that it's an answerable question: I think it
depends on your position, point of view, and purpose.  In short, on
your situation.

I've observed little communities in red-in-tooth-and-claw FOR-profits
where the main purpose of the community was cultivating a little
warmth and humanity (and resistance to the dominant culture).  That's
what I was looking for at the time and it made my life easier
(actually led to a career change, where now I focus on communities of
practice).  The particular community I have in mind may have been
invisible from the outside.  From the inside it was fairly clear who
was a member and who was not.  And standing in the community depended
on being an employee of the company.

Similarly, I think a for-profit company looks different and IS
different according to your point of view.  Stockholders and
executives saw a different company than the members of that community

Beyond that, when organizing a community of practice for the purpose
of cultivating some competence (e.g., consulting skills or drilling
oil wells) one is tempted to see community or its possibility before
it's really "there."  And that's a very useful mis-perception.  Of
course as I began to read about communities of practice I began to see
them in all the company's nooks and cranies, although I think that for
the most part they were ignored as a resource.

It's a separate issue how communities manifest over the Internet, but
I think the issue of the speaker or observer's situation is much the
same.  I host an email list that discusses the subject and one of the
regularly recurring (and, to me, infuriating) assumptions is that "the
email list and the community are one and the same."  Even physical
communities have complex boundaries that look different from the
inside, the outside, at ground level or at 50,000'.


--* John D. Smith, 2025 SE Elliott Ave, Portland OR 97214
--* http://home.teleport.com/~smithjd  V: 503.963.8229
--* Winter '02 Online CoP Workshop starts Jan 28: www.ewenger.com/edu
--* "As iron sharpens iron, so one human sharpens another" -- Hebrew

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