May 18 2007

How learning, meaning, and identity changed at the APA

Yesterday we invited all of the people we’ve interviewed in our coaching study to meet for a conference call to talk about what we’d learned from them about community leadership and coaching. As a broadcast of our “findings” it wasn’t too successful because we didn’t even get through our slide set, much less get much feedback. But as a kind of community call where we got down to an important discussion about learning and leadership it was great! I hope to more details soon. One of the people who showed up on the call was Matthew Simpson, who I met at the Coconut Grove CoP conference in 1999 and has been working at IBM helping communities function, stay connected, and stay visible all along. Hearing Matthew talk about his work always reminds me that insuring that communities are able to surprise us and invigorate our practice depends on a kind of persistence and longevity that he himself exemplifies.

As a surprising aside, Matthew mentioned a story he’d heard recently on the radio and he circulated the URL for it. It has a lot of relevance to professional associations and personal connections from a communities of practice perspective. In “81 Words” Alix Spiegel tells a story about her grandfather and his accomplishments. Gradually it becomes clear that it’s also the story of how the American Psychiatric Association decided in 1973 that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness. Listen to it here. (It was broadcast on “This American Life” on May 11, 2007 — a replay of the original broadcast from 2002.) From a CoP perspective, it’s interesting to see how the judgments (or “knowledge”) of a learned society like the APA was actually reversed, what events and conversations played a role, and just how personal it all was. The story has it all: learning, meaning and identity. And they all change.

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