"The organic nature of communities of practice challenges us to design these elements with a light hand, with an appreciation that the idea is to create liveliness, not manufacture a predetermined outcome."(Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott & Snyder)
Discovery happens so often through open observation. This is a watching in which you are looking just to see what you can see. This is not watching for a particular, already named something, but for an unexpected something. John Stilgoe, in his book Outside Lies Magic, discusses his Harvard class in which he goes syllabus-free, and has students explore and report back. There is often a student-incited panic at first. These are, he says children of "structured learning and structured entertainment". While structure is not an evil thing, it does sometimes keep the student from possibility. The same can happen for a Community of Practice writing community. Too much predetermination, over-structuring, not allowing for breathing room, creates a stifling environment in which members cannot contribute, much less grow. "Starting a community of practice involves balancing discovery and imagination" (Cultivating Communities of Practice) This balance can be understood through the very thing that Stilgoe's students explore: landscapes.
|Outside Lies Magic|
History is intertwined with community. Each whispers the other's secrets. That's one reason seeing beyond what you know is vital. Stilgoe's exploration is generally landscaped based, and that's not so different from a writing community. We are, after all, attempting to construct something that lives, ...and lasts. Great communities, landscapes with meaning- they are built to withstand times, change, traffic, and growth. And they are always planned with an element of 'what if', the hope of a surprise, some elastic in the seams of their construction. "Because communities evolve toward their potential, rather than defining it up front, developing them involves imagining possibilities their members have not yet considered." (73) If we think in terms of landscapes and architecture, it is no surprise. The blueprints are revised, rewritten, repurposed. Certainly people need just as much wiggle room. And this requires both imagination and discovery.
This playing with ideas, with potential, with what could be, is imperative to growth. When we build a library, we don't build it to house the number of books we have. We build it to house a number we hope to have; that we imagine. If we are unable to look past the concrete of what is to what could be, we lose sight of the very vision that should lead us onward. Writing, and a writing community, provide the physical outlay of ideas. Writing communities that work use exchange of ideas as a constant. They embrace imagination.
Stilgoe says students should look around "simply because objects and even landscapes from the past have shaped their lives and shape them still."(7) As the physical landscapes shape our lives, so the architecture of our community is both a giver and taker of life force. Exploring these elements of foundation, construction , and causation lay out not only an explanation of what is, but the possible patterns of what could be. The magic of discovery plus imagination lies in the free-wheeling, catalyst-causing nature of the wonder discovered- that each exploration "sparks curiosity- encourages serendipity". It is precisely because we've discovered one thing that we can imagine something else.