by Kosha Anja Joubert
7 Steps to Collective Intelligence
The concept of collective intelligence is based on the insight that we are no longer, and have never been able to grasp the complexity of our reality through our individual neurological capacities. This further implies that there are no experts wise enough to deliver the ‘one and only’ solution to the questions we face on a global scale. Instead, we are each called upon to deliver our piece of the puzzle and to give our best in whatever we are doing. The complexity of the internet is one expression of an intense connecting up of human diversity from which new possibilities of communal intelligence and creativity are growing in unanticipated and unpredictable ways.
There are no absolute answers, only responses that are healthily anchored in time and space: responsibility within context. Healthy structures shift and change, emerging anew every moment from presence and connectedness.
Similarly, healthy communities are never static. They continuously change their structures of organisation, decision-making and information-flow and their outer expressions of action, communication and projects, even though their identity as
‘Auroville’ or ‘Sieben Linden’ might continue. The process of autopoiesis as defined by Maturana and Varela, two biologists, for all living systems, applies to our communities as well: forms, content, processes shift (the cells in our body constantly die and are recreated), yet identity prevails. As soon as we try to freeze what we have built, life starts to pass by instead of flowing through what we might treasure most.
In our communities and organisations there is no satisfaction in meeting around the lowest common denominator. Instead we long for the experience of the whole becoming more than the sum of the parts. We need win-win solutions if we want life to continue for our children – the longing is strong to take a seemingly impossible step and weave magic together. The creativity and playful flow that can arise are the seasoning in the soup, the greatest joy, and offer the deepest moments of satisfaction in our everyday community life.
The following guidelines are an invitation to align our selves with the possibility of stepping into this collective intelligence:
1. Hold a higher intention
To unfold a communal power, our projects and communities need to emerge from a common vision, a dream that is worth investing in. The setting of a clear focus functions like a laser, cutting through unnecessary diversions, concentrating energy and magnetically attracting what is being aimed at. We easily get lost in a thousand small distractions that life offers us: labyrinths of duties, thoughts and feelings. We need a daily practice of connecting to a higher intention in order not to get lost. Of course, the vision is alive, never static -not something we can pin down, but a moving part of consciousness that needs to be co-created again and yet again.
2. Refine individuality
When the nest of certain kinds of ants is destroyed and they lose this central point
of focus, they retreat to their most primal survival instinct, namely “follow the ant
in front of you”. Doing this can get them caught up in an enormous cycle of movement, which may stretch out over an area with a diameter of several miles in which every ant follows the ant in front. No escape is possible: in the end they all die of sheer exhaustion.
This is a powerful image of ‘collective stupidity’ and it is born out of conformity.
There is so much similarity to the business-as-usual attitude that prevails in the face of peak oil and climate change.
We need mature, autonomous individuals with a healthy sense of self-worth if we want to build strong communities. Collective intelligence builds upon a brave and wild freedom of individual thought, emotion, speech and action. At the same time, this freedom needs to be deeply rooted in compassion and willingness to embrace the wellbeing of the whole.
3. Embrace diversity
A healthy sense of self-worth generates generosity towards others. Once we are able to embrace our own inner diversity and love what we are, we can start fully enjoying the diversity surrounding us.
Try the following exercise to find out where you stand:
Visit a public space with a high intensity of human traffic, maybe the central station of a larger town, and notice your unconscious reactions to those passing. Become aware of your basic attitude of trust or distrust in people’s potential. Do you believe that their intrinsic longing for healthy relationships with self, others and the natural worlds is strong enough to create a sustainable culture together? Starhawk, an earth activist from the US, remarked years ago that one of the great weaknesses of the green movement is that it does not have much sympathy for human beings. As long as we make jokes about the disease of Homo Sapiens being inflicted on planet earth and doubt the integral worth of our species, how can we engage for survival in a straightforward way?
We need to find our way back to a basic sense of trust if we are to build the kind of team spirit needed to unleash collective creativity. The richness that lies within cultural and genetic diversity and within our widely different approaches to reality is waiting to lead us to deeper levels of understanding. Embracing diversity and collaborating across borders does not prevent a healthy sense of competition and mutual challenge. On the contrary, evolutionary growth is grounded in an intertwining process of competition and collaboration that spirals up to meet each new challenge on the path.
4. Not Knowing – Open up to Intuitive insights
Our knowledge of reality is very limited. Even that part of reality, which we know that we know nothing about, is quite limited. The largest part of reality is simply unfathomable – we don’t even know we don’t know… We cannot answer the questions of our times through what we already know. Expanding beyond our limits and venturing into this unknown territory, requires a sense of boldness and of humility at the same time.
We create our shared sense of reality constantly by telling our selves and each other stories – about our lives and the world. We can hardly help but prefer to have these stories confirmed rather than questioned by others. In this way a tension is created, since our stories never embrace the whole truth. The easiest way to overcome our own limits is to open up to the strange – that which flirts with our attention at the edge of our consciousness.
Practice holding seemingly unsolvable paradoxes in your awareness until awareness widens enough to dissolve the contradictions (instead of stepping into false compromise or power struggle). New possibilities emerge at a higher level of complexity, they are not solved at the same level of complexity that created them. (Einstein’s famous quote)
5. Acknowledge Connectedness
The membrane between the individual and the surrounding world is permeable and not as easily definable as we often tend to think. Take a moment to ask yourself where you end and the world around you starts by following your breath carefully. When does the air become a part of you instead of being part of the world around you? As it enters your nostrils, flows down your throat, expands your lungs, crosses into your bloodstream or is absorbed by your cells? There is no absolute boundary – we all breathe the same air. All matter that our body is composed off has been part of many other beings, plants, minerals, atmospheres, stars…
The practice of consciousness of this ultimate oneness leads to new worldviews and can ultimately create a new reality. The cultivation of refined perception to bring presence and awareness into ’edges’ and ‘boundaries’ can be quite challenging – true intimacy is something that most of us are afraid of. It has the power to transform us forever. Whilst being with different groups of people, stretch your imagination in order to embrace the whole group and allow yourself to be surprised by the difference it makes.
It is also important to notice those edges that cannot be crossed at the moment.
Boundaries may limit but they also protect. A lot of energy can be lost in pushing the limits before the time is ripe.
6. Step into practice – serve the whole
There are many methods, and communities, that are exceptionally good at generating a vast range of possibilities, dreams and anticipated futures. There are not so many that are sufficiently proficient in boiling these down to the essential steps that need to be taken to manifest what will best meet the challenges and opportunities of the time. There needs to be a healthy balance between doing and being, and between process and strategy.
Translating our dreams into clear strategies and priorities is essential if we want to avoid being overwhelmed. Again, a strategy cannot be carved into stone, but needs to remain flexible enough to respond to impulses along the path. Breaking free from both bewildered passivity (being at a loss) and headless activism liberates us for collaboration with the forces of life itself.
Many of us have a tendency to identify being in service with self-denial. Here, however, we are concerned with a service flowing from an overflowing heart, from love for life and an inner impulse that comes naturally. Marshall Rosenberg (the architect of Non-Violent Communication) has found that what makes us most happy is the knowledge that we are making a difference to others. Humans naturally wish to bring joy not pain. We long to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. For Collective Intelligence to arise and unfold, we are asked to step joyfully and creatively into full responsibility.
7. Welcome feedback
Totalitarian systems depend on forcefully suppressing the feedback of their members. Natural systems, on the contrary, allow for an open flow of information in all directions. Through the existence of constant feedback loops, positive effects can be supported, while negative effects may be curbed. Processes of collective and individual reflection lead to progressive refinement. Every so-called ‘mistake’ becomes a precious opportunity for learning.
As long as we laugh together and ground ourselves in a stance of playful curiosity, all of this is fun. Please feel free to use what inspires you most and add to it what is true for you in your place and time.