Practice makes perfect

I wrote earlier this year about “Practice, Communities and Technology“.  This post stressed the importance of the “practice”: 

For a CoP to be successful, the community must become part of the practice itself… the community needs to become part of how they do their job.

People in an organisation will just not do things that aren’t part of their job accountability and that they see no point in doing. 

Just today I hit on a really neat metaphor to illustrate this…


These days, I usually work from my home office.  This is a small study off our family room, with a north-facing window (the sunny side in this part of the planet).  One of our cats tends to like to sit with me in the study.  (Her name is “Ares” – this a long story; to do with a once-aggressive cat, and young children that watched Hercules on TV and weren’t concerned about name genders.)

This time of year, sitting on the window sill in the sun is a favourite spot, but she also likes to sit on the desk beside me (often in the way of the mouse, ironically).  Another favourite spot is on top of the PC monitor (I still have a CRT monitor). This blocks the cooling vents, of course, and she will only stay here for so long before getting too hot, so she migrates from one spot to the other.

When I am the only one in the house during the day in the cooler months, I turn down the central heating, turn on a small heater in the study, and close the door. 

The door, however, doesn’t latch properly.  So, if Ares is outside the study, she will simply push the door open, walk in and take up one of her accustomed spots. This exposes me to a draught of cold air, and I need to get up and close the door.  (She is happy enough to go to the door and wait for me to open it when she wants to leave the room.)

Here – finally – is the point of this story.  Ares is quite happy opening the door for herself, but she never closes it again.

Why not? Because it is not part of her practice.  There is no way that it will ever be in her interest to close the door, thus – even though she would be physically capable of it – there is no way that I could ever teach her to do it. She would be incapable of even comprehending a need to close the door.

If you are ever trying to encourage your community to do something, just think about what you are expecting of them, and how they would view the task you are asking them to perform.


PS: When my mother was a child living in the bush in the Otway Ranges in western Victoria, the family had a horse that had learnt to open a gate, go to a water tank, and turn on the tap to get a drink of water.  Needless to say, the horse never bothered learning to turn off the tap or shut the gate, either…


  1. Keith,

    Great post, sound advice I need to keep in mind as we think about how to encourage our community members to get on board.

    …I can also relate to the door thing, I’ve got three cats and a dog, none of whom are remotely interested in listening to my requests to shut the door!

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