How communities of practice lie to themselves & everybody else
There are a couple of biases I see around how folk inside and outside communities of practice perceive each other. Something I’ve seen often enough that there is probably a name for it.
But I don’t know what that name is.
Some smart social psychologist, anthropologist or sociologist probably wrote about this seventy years ago. So I’m just going to ramble about it here for a bit, and hope that somebody smarter than I am can point me to that paper. So I know what to call it.
Let’s start with the people inside a community of practice. They can be managers, user researchers, developers, product managers, lawyers — it doesn’t matter.
Now in any community of practice some people are going to be awesome practitioners and some folk are going to be terrible — along with everything in-between. For the sake of simplicity let’s use Sturgeon’s Revelation usually stated as “ninety percent of everything is crap”.
If I look around at other people in my role in a company there are going to be some folk who are better and some folk who are worse.
The problem is that this picture is a lie.
Because the distribution of people in a community of practice isn’t random. Good people in a field tend to seek out other good people. They tend to hire other good people. They tend to talk more to other good people.
They also tend to either raise up the folk near them through influence and education, or push them away if they can’t / don’t want to.
Which means that the best practitioners in a community of practice get a really, really inaccurate view of the general level of ability. They see this:
Whereas most people see this:
The best people in a community experience it as 90% awesome, when the reality is 10% awesome.
But it’s worse than that. Way worse.
All the voices in a community of practice are not equally prominent. Who speaks at the conferences? Who writes the articles? Who works on the most exciting and influential projects? We hear the voices of the high performers much more frequently. They have much, much more visibility than everybody else.
The external presentation of a community is 90% awesome, when the reality is 10% awesome.
Continues in source: Sturgeon’s Biases – Quietstars – Medium