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A Co-intelligent Social Change Agenda



The big difference between co-intelligent social change and so many other kinds of social change and utopian vision is that there's no arrival, not even in our dreams. The "final result" is a culture that can keep on going, a sustainable, co-evolutionary culture that can learn from its experience and adapt and create in harmony with its circumstances. Which means it will be always changing.

You may object that our culture is already changing -- and you'd be right. But those changes are not coming out of people learning and visioning together -- as a culture, as whole communties. That's what we need to change most: the amount of conscious, collective intelligence at work. And we can start doing that right now, right here, wherever we are.

This essay offers some guidelines and ideas. But even when it looks like a blueprint, it isn't. You wouldn't believe how much material never even made it into these pages. By the time you read this, I will have learned of or created possibilities I never even dreamed of when I wrote this. And you'll have your own ideas, I'm sure.

So this essay is written to serve many purposes. If you want some specific things to work on, you'll find them here. If you want a general direction to move in, you'll find that here, too. If you want something to get your creative juices flowing, I hope you can use this essay for that, as well.

Some things you could do might contribute more to building a co-intelligent culture than others. This essay contains guiding principles to help you choose. But there is no one best way, no supremely effective project. It is more important that we each do something -- as long as it is in the right direction -- than to do nothing because we don't know the "right" thing to do. Start as small or as big as you want and move on from there. There's no shortage of things to do.

One last thing: Don't get caught in that alienated, old-paradigm trap of "What can one person do?" Whatever you do -- even transforming yourself -- do it with other people. Co-intelligent transformation is not a project you can undertake alone, by definition. In fact, as Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

To begin this overview, let's consider the following

to generate a full and healthy cultural transformation towards co-intelligence.



I see five areas which, if addressed with even mediocre success, would dramatically change our culture for the better. Some things that need doing don't fit within these areas of focus, but the vast majority -- and all the truly important ones -- do.

1) WHOLENESS: We can nurture the experience of wholeness in all its manifestations -- the awareness of interconnectedness, systems thinking, the possibility of synergy, the appreciation of health, the realization of communion, and so on. We can move beyond fragmentary cultures of individualism; of reductionism (in all its materialistic, mechanistic and relativistic incarnations); of either/or thinking; of obsession with immediate gratification and problems; and of imbalanced order and chaos. Wholeness is dynamic and inclusive -- and fundamental to co-intelligence.

2) LEARNING: We can nurture lifelong learning in the form of conscious experience, seeking and using feedback, practicing information ecology (looking at the full range of factors and viewpoints and how they relate), and the ongoing pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. We can move beyond cultures of dogma, nihilistic deconstructionism, the institutionalization of education, and authoritarian expertise. Learning is as dynamic, as inclusive and as fundamental to co-intelligence as wholeness is.

3) DIALOGUE: We can nurture dialogue, story-sharing and an exploratory ethic. We can move beyond cultures of argument, advocacy, conformity and the use of communication to manipulate and dominate. Dialogue is alive, inclusive, and evolving; it cannot function in the absence of either diversity or an exploratory spirit. No one thing is more important to co-intelligent transformation than nurturing a culture of dialogue.

4) CO-CREATIVITY -- We can nurture awareness of how we're already involved in co-creating our destiny, our experience, our knowledge, our place and role in the world -- and we can start creating these more consciously. We can create more delight, meaning, and survival than we do now. We can move beyond fragmentary cultures obsessed with single causes and effects, with blame and guilt, with problems and the past -- cultures that foster obliviousness to our shared responsibility. Co-creativity involves taking a dynamic, participatory stance within the larger dynamics of the world -- a stance essential to co-intelligence.

5) SELF-ORGANIZATION: We can nurture dynamic, conscious self-organization of people, knowledge, and nature. Remember that healthy self-organization is not just a matter of self-motivation. It depends as much on a supportive, well-designed information- and feedback-rich environment and real know-how. We can move beyond fragmentary cultures of alienation, domination and all mindless, deadening preoccupations with norms and forms. Self-organization is a dynamic miracle generated by synergy and co-intelligence -- a vibrant alternative to control-based systems.



There are three things we can do in each and every one of these areas. Doing any of them helps. Doing all of them is needed. They all support each other.

1) We can learn about these things.
2) We can practice them in our lives.
3) We can help them flourish (by cultivating contexts, cultures, resources and capabilities that support them).



We can learn, practice and support wholeness, learning, dialogue, co-creativity, and self-organization

1) In our individual lives.
2) In our relationships, families and groups.
3) In our organizations and communities.
4) In our cultures, societies and political units (cities, states, countries).
5) In the world at large.



By cross-correlating the above items, I could generate a list of things to do ranging from learning about wholeness in our individual lives to cultivating resources that support self-organization around the world. You could generate the same list as well as I could, since it's quite mechanical. Such an exercise might be informative, but it would inevitably be incomplete and fragmented, as well. For most people, it would also be pretty boring.

So that's not the best use of these items. In order to get the most out of them, we need to keep in mind, first, that they are bigger than they look. Each one of these seemingly simple categories is teeming with more sub-categories, facets and variations than we could ever enumerate. There are hundreds of forms of dialogue.... endless different contexts to support co-creativity (in innumerable ways).... untold dimensions to the potential wholeness of our own lives to learn about...

Beyond that is another level of richness that a mechanical approach to these categories would obscure: All five of the above areas are related -- as are all three of the "things to do" and all five of the zones where action is needed. When we address any part of this puzzle, we do so in the context of all the others. Each is constrained, facilitated or otherwise influenced by the others. There is a limit to how far we can progress in any one of these without making progress in the others. Likewise, anything we do in any one of these categories has repercussions in the other categories. For example: Self-organization in a company requires feedback systems through which individual staff can learn together so that they can better co-create (and dialogue) in their work teams. Furthermore, what that company does impacts the health (wholeness) of the larger world, necessitating societal dialogue which can generate contexts (like consumer awareness or eco-taxes) to help such companies learn to co-create more responsibly. Etcetera.

So the above categories are not something you apply mechanically. Rather, you can use them intuitively to guide you in weighing alternatives in your own life and judging how you can best spend your time and life-energy.

Guidelines like this are useful, but not enough for most people. They want to know what to do. So, in the rest of this essay, I'll narrow the focus down more and more. We'll start at basic programs and then look at more specific things you and other people could do.



I see at least six broad programs needed at this stage to generate a more co-intelligent society.

1) Nurture a culture of dialogue -- Without a culture of dialogue, most of the needed transformations will simply not happen. With a strong culture of dialogue, co-intelligent transformation is almost inevitable. More on this later.

2) Develop co-intelligence as an integrated field of study, practice and research. The immediate task involves compiling and integrating vast amounts of existing material currently confined to compartmentalized disciplines such as psychology, organization development, sociology, conflict resolution, etc. Synergies between diverse approaches need to be discovered or developed and totally new approaches need to be researched. This new field needs to establish its legitimacy and take its proper place within schools, universities, research institutions, libraries, bookstores, professional circles, information and communication systems and the culture at large. It needs to develop networks of people who practice it and to establish eldership (co-intelligent leadership, see page xx) as a recognized and valued role in the culture. Early on, existing professionals from all fields who view their work as eldership need to connect with each other and start breaking down the artificial boundaries between disciplines so they can co-develop eldership as a coherent profession and advance co-intelligence as a coherent field.

3) Propagate story fields (psychosocial fields of influence made up of mutually-reinforcing stories) that are co-intelligent in both their form and content -- that embody partnership, participation, wholeness, wisdom, diversity, synergy, etc., in ways that we can visualize and live, that inspire us, that are meaningful, compelling and overflowing with life and possibility. These story fields will be woven out of:

Co-intelligent story fields will be created by people putting out such stories in every possible way and media (especially interactively); taking such stories into their hearts, minds and lives from all sources; sharing such stories; and trying to live them, individually and together, in play and for real, in whole and in part. As millions of people use and live thousands of these stories, the co-intelligent story fields will take on lives of their own and begin to replicate themselves and to shape the whole culture.

4) Nurture diversity, common ground and the synergy between them, and -- as an urgent corollary -- defend endangered cultures and ecosystems, all of which are major reservoirs of cultural and bio-ecological wisdom. The urgency of this corollary is dictated by the relentless efficiency of the mass-market/mass-communication assault on diverse ecosystems and cultures around the world. While those mass-forces also generate endless novel diversity (total customization) and a shallowly multi-faceted monoculture (fried rice and tacos), they are destroying unique ancient cultures that embody thousands of years -- and ancient ecosystems that embody millions of years -- of evolutionary wisdom. These non-repicable treasures constitute our common heritage. We need to be learning from them, not trashing and degrading them. Simultaneously we must find ways to enjoy our own increasing diversity and to wisely employ it in the co-creation of our shared fate.

5) Strengthen ecological, community-based economics. Economics plays such a dominant role in life that any effort to build co-intelligence must concern itself with economic matters. Economic systems

Later in this essay we'll explore just a few of the ties between economics and co-intelligence and what might be done to make things better.

6) Build a dynamic, highly competent social sector that fosters self-reliance, mutual aid and co-intelligence. We call government the public sector and business the private sector. A third and much neglected sector, increasingly referred to as the social sector, includes non-profit organizations, community groups, self-help and mutual aid networks, families and, generally, people doing things for themselves and each other because they care. Although co-intelligence has much to offer businesses and governments, its greatest potential lies in the social sector, where it can empower people to accomplish together (with each other and with nature) what they most care about. While the public sector uses power to generate order -- and the private sector uses innovation and efficiency to generate wealth -- the social sector uses caring to produce quality of life. All three have important roles. All three need each other. The healthiest balance, I believe, would have most needed functions done by the social sector, with all sectors answerable to co-intelligent communities.

Now let's take a closer look at economic dynamics and building a culture of dialogue.


An economic system has a profound effect on the actual and potential co-intelligence of its culture. Even as our economic system has undermined human and natural communities (usually with no evil intent), it has brought forth an abundance of co-intelligently useful technologies and tools for collective thought and action.

On the one hand free market mass-consumption industrial-era capitalism has given us pollution; ecosystem destruction; exhorbitantly wasteful energy and transportation systems; affluent alienation from ourselves and each other; cultural homogenization; one-way media; addiction to entertainment; and labor-saving methods that put us out of work or make us work even harder so we have less time and inclination for community activities.

On the other hand that same system has created the dynamic possibilities of computers and telecommunications systems; publishing; powerful group processes; a burgeoning of individual development and cultural interactivity; an almost infinite supply of information; as well as labor-saving methods that could release us from unrewarding labor so we can pursue greater creativity and community involvement.

Is it possible for us, as a culture, to get rid of most of the bad stuff and keep most of the good stuff?

As global economic activities rapidly increase in speed, scope and power, their potential for devastation and liberation, for breakdown and breakthrough, increase as well. We are in the middle of an extremely high-stakes gamble, where the stakes are the lives of our children, the health of the natural world and the very soul of civilization. As much as we like to believe someone knows where we're going and will take care of the outcome, there is no one playing that role. We are at the high point of the curve; we are deluding ourselves to think this acceleration can go on forever. Ask any recovering gambler.

It would be more than prudent -- in fact, at this point it would be truly wise -- to step back from the gaming table (or to take our foot off the accelerator, depending on our metaphor here), to cool down the free-for-all atmosphere, and to start setting things up for liberation instead of devastation, for breakthrough instead of breakdown.

Remember: our socioeconomic evolution has set the stage for our next great leap. A change of operation, a coming of age, is called for. Let's not lose our chance by overdoing the stage we're supposed to be leaving, by failing to change until it is too late.

We are extremely vulnerable to that failure because our socio-economic feedback systems can no longer keep up with the runaway operation of our increasingly powerful economic engine. I'd like to offer some vitally relevant principles here:

The collection and processing of feedback is the way a system monitors the effects of its actions and learns its way towards improved functioning and greater safety and satisfaction.

Intelligence involves a dynamic balance (or synergy) between feedback (perception and reflection) and purposeful activity. If a system deals with feedback to the exclusion of action, it fails to get needed things done. If it acts without dealing with feedback, it fails to learn needed lessons.

Any system which focuses more on the achievement of goals or predominance than on perceiving and processing feedback will self-destruct (often by undermining its support systems or resource base) with a speed and thoroughness in direct proportion to the dysfunctional imbalance between feedback and purposeful activity.

Sustainable high-volume, high-quality, high-speed, high-novelty systems cannot be constructed. They can only evolve over considerable time during which more attention is paid to creating the right feedback systems than to creating desired states or products. If attention is not paid to installing and utilizing feedback systems, increased volume, speed and novelty will prove increasingly toxic to the enterprise.

Clearly, self-balancing systems require timely feedback: Feedback gives them the information they need to balance themselves. The more volume, speed, distance and change there is in a system, the harder it is for the system to generate and utilize feedback in a timely manner. When vast effects can be created in days -- yet it takes weeks or months to gather and process statistics, for example -- and months or years to modify corporate or societal behavior -- you have a disaster waiting to happen. It is like flying a jet through the fog at 600 mph with no radar and a loose steering mechanism. The feedback and course-correction systems cannot accommodate the speed of progress. A crash is highly likely. (A few days after I wrote this 300 cars piled up in a mega-collision in Italy, killing a dozen people. The incident was blamed on high-speed driving on a major highway in the fog. News reports were oblivious to the irony and symbolism.)

Furthermore, when a system encourages, above all things, the pursuit of immediate effects, it thereby encourages an ongoing neglect of both feedback and long-term consequences. All attention is focused on the here and now, the quarterly bottom line, the next election. The results are predictable and unpleasant.

I'll add two more factors to this brief analysis of socio-economic systems:

Most industrial societies are based on the fragmenting, fragmented assumptions of the "Newtonian" worldview: People and groups are autonomous atoms exerting forces on each other and the world in a competitive battle for survival and dominance. An economics that pushes competition and belittles cooperation -- and that focuses on individual and corporate rights, responsibilities, success, possessions, consumption, etc., without considering the well-being, dynamics and role of the communities and larger social and ecological systems in which those individuals and corporations are contained -- creates a social environment inimical to co-intelligent initiatives. One of the most common results of this is the concentration of economic power and the fragmentation and degradation of the public life needed to review collective feedback.

When the power to create effects concentrates in one part of a social system, the rest of the system becomes little more than a resource for the creation of those effects, and those who hold the concentrated power begin to feel they can do anything. When that happens, the temptation to pursue immediate effects and ignore feedback becomes irresistable. In this atmosphere, positive thinking becomes arrogance which, in turn, becomes blindness. Those who can see what's happening have no power. Those who have the power can't see what's happening. This is how concentrated power not only corrupts , but destroys a system's capacity for collective intelligence and survival.

So we find that economic and political systems become unviable and undermine co-intelligence to the extent that

As more and more social intelligence and resources become aligned to creating immediate benefits for the few, the ability of a society to think and care for itself plummets. Does this sound familiar?


Questions and approaches for co-intelligent economic transformation

Those of us interested in our collective welfare and co-intelligence need to ask of our economic systems:

An honest assessment of our current economic system in light of these questions reveals serious shortcomings. Much could be done to improve the economic environment for the growth of co-intelligence.

An economically oriented path to restore and enhance co-intelligence might:


Individuals can support these changes by buying locally, investing ethically, voting for candidates that support this approach, creating and participating in co-operative economic ventures with their neighbors (community gardens, buying co-ops, credit unions, community-supported agriculture, barter clubs, local money systems, etc.). Companies can engage more closely with their communities -- even to the point of inviting community oversight and participation -- and they can buy supplies and services from local and socially/ecologically responsible enterprises. Governments, too, can support local and responsible businesses, not just with contracts and purchases but with policies that favor them. They can also include community self-reliance in their planning. Internationally, there could be less trade in goods and more exchange of support to help various areas develop the capacity to supply their needed goods and services locally.

The conscious, incremental transformation of our economy and the balance of socio-economic power will probably be slow (although economic or ecological collapse is always possible, and how that would unfold is entirely unpredictable). But it is too important a factor to not receive at least this cursory background exploration. With that setting in mind, let's take a look at some actions that can help create a culture of dialogue.



As I mentioned above, I consider nothing more important than creating a culture of dialogue. Even the economic issues above derive their importance (from a co-intelligence perspective) primarily from their impact on our culture of dialogue. A highly developed culture of dialogue is a prerequisite

At this stage in our evolution we need widespread, high quality dialogue to generate shared understandings in many meaningful areas, including

 Dialogue goes beyond announcing what we believe and arguing with each other about what is or isn't. It involves sharing our stories, evolving and learning together, freeing our hearts, our minds, and our creativity. It means discovering places none of us foresaw, places where we can build something better together. It means finding common ground from which we can create lives that makes more sense, once we see the bigger picture and discover what is true about ourselves and each other, once we see what is possible, the good and the bad.

To make such dialogue the rule instead of the exception, we need most importantly

In the following sections, I will discuss each of these in more detail and then mention briefly a number of other things that could be done at each of those levels (individual, group, organization/community, society) to nurture a culture of dialogue.


1) IN OUR OWN LIVES -- We can courageously ground ourselves in the realities of our internal and external worlds

Our primary task is to notice what's going on within and around us -- to look, to listen, to be curious and open, to feel deeply -- and to just BE with all that. We want to be mindful and take into account as much as we can, as we build our individual and collective lives. This requires that we deal with our obliviousness, ignorance, denial, judgmentalism, and alienation. This will enable us to live in a more vivid and complete reality where we can act with greater wisdom.

The second -- and often almost simultaneous -- task is to let what we discover teach us and move us. We need to let people's stories inform and touch us. We need to let our discoveries about ourselves -- especially our failures to live true to our visions and values -- guide us into transformation. We need to let what we discover about the world sadden, anger and excite us. To the extent we stay in touch with our caring and with each other and don't let the noisy trivia of the old, dysfunctional culture distract us, we will quite naturally move toward informed, meaningful engagement and change.

The final task -- and, again, it is often tangled up with the others -- is to share what we see, feel, know, and want with those around us. This can feel very risky -- and we shouldn't arbitrarily violate our sense of what's safe for us and others. And yet that sense of danger is often a door that leads out to (or closes us off from) the changes we need to make. Arny Mindell speaks of edges that we sense, that we can approach, touch, and finally go over, with significant transformative results. But even facing and admitting the need for going over such edges is itself an edge, a frightening challenge!

Our ability to do these things, individually and collectively, with caring and mindfulness, is the sine qua non of cultural transformation. So we need to develop in ourselves the willingness and skill to perform these truly mythic tasks, over and over. Clearly, this is not easy. And although we can only do these tasks by ourselves, they are best undertaken in a supportive community of people helping each other to see clearly and to feel deeply and honestly -- a safe, yet challenging place where we can share courage, stories and motivation. I will discuss that more in the next section.

Books can provide useful guidance for personal transformation. Typically they help people grow psychologically and spiritually to move towards success in the world as it is. For our task, we need books which empower us to move beyond the culture of success toward a culture of meaning and community, or books which help us find own best role in cultural transformation. Three significant efforts in this direction are Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Viking, 1992), Simplicity: Notes, Stories and Exercises for Developing Unimaginable Wealth by Mark A. Burch (New Society Publishers, 1995) and Inner Journeys: A Guide to Personal and Social Transformation Based on the Work of Jean Houston, by Jay Earley, Ph.D. (Samuel Weiser, 1990). There are, of course, hundreds of other books to ground us in our internal and external realities, as well as media that delve into the deeper, more difficult, and/or more promising dimensions of what's going on in the world.

Therapy, meditation, study, and the countless approaches that increase human potential can all serve this end. Regardless of the means we choose, the important thing is to consciously increase our ability to fully experience our inner lives and our real circumstances and to live and communicate from that place. If all we do is exercise these capacities, our cultural impact will likely be small. And yet the effort is of immense importance, because the big changes that are needed can only be built by people having and using these capacities. The more prepared we are, the better our contribution can be. There are many ways we can help each other access our personal capabilities and find our best role in life. For example, Jay Earley provides change agent coaching, classes and articles to help people find their contribution to healing the world as part of their life purpose.

Authentic, deep, wide-ranging human experience and communication is the thread out of which the new civilization will be woven. We need to continually bring forth more of it, of good quality, in a million vibrant hues.

OTHER THINGS WE CAN DO AS INDIVIDUALS TO BUILD A CULTURE OF DIALOGUE: Support transformational and co-intelligent media and networks.... Be curious about the stories of the people and things around us: find out where they're from, how they've come here, where they're going, what our role vis a vis them is or could/should be.... Courageously share our stories and dreams.... Open ourselves to alternatives and other viewpoints.... Use our values as a compass, not an anchor.... Try to look at things in both-and terms, rather than either/or terms.... Take ownership for our own perspective (such as saying "the way I see it" or "my experience has been") rather than proclaiming its absolute truth.... Realize that whenever we see something or someone as totally Other and Bad, we are fragmenting the wholeness of life and, most likely, disowning part of ourselves, as well.... View what we and everyone else has to offer as part of the whole picture that we want to bring out into the common space for shared viewing and exploration....


2) IN GROUPS -- We can create circles in which we listen, share, learn, and support each other in transforming our lives and cultures

The linear, efficient, clearly-defined world of the industrial culture is made of rows, columns and boxes. We see them all over -- from organizational charts to buildings and auditoriums. Linear patterns make it clear who is in front and on top.

I believe a co-intelligent civilization needs to be built, at its most elemental level, out of circles and spirals, just as many indigenous cultures were and are. Circles lend themselves to a sense of wholeness and balance, to an awareness of the rhythmic processes (cycles) of the world and our place in them.

Sitting in a circle lends itself to peerness, to fully seeing each other, to sharing meaning and creativity, to a sense of a common center.

So I believe the most basic unit of co-intelligent social life is people sitting in a circle deeply listening to each other as they speak from the heart. There are countless embellishments and variations to this, but I see it as the irreducible, elegantly simple fundamental: people sitting in a circle deeply listening to each other as they speak from their hearts.

What do I mean by "speaking from our hearts?" It starts with being grounded in our experience of what is, as I described in the last section -- especially being grounded in our feelings and in things that are truly important to us. It means being honest, taking risks, being real, allowing the vitality and emotion we feel to find its way into our voice when we speak. It is finding ourselves saying things we have not said before, sometimes things we didn't even realize we thought or felt. Our culture seldom welcomes this kind of openness and honesty, so most of us need a safe space in order to speak from our hearts. By "safe space" I mean a group that can truly listen as we truly speak, where we feel we won't be judged or have to deal with negative consequences as a result of our speaking our truth. Co-creating such a safe space is an important challenge for most of us. Another important challenge is speaking from our hearts even when we aren't sure how safe it is to do so. This courageous act often opens the door for others to speak from their hearts. It is immensely freeing, on both an individual and group basis, to succeed in these tasks. It is also profoundly important.

Many people who specialize in this form of communication (inspired by Native American councils and called talking stick circles, listening circles, wisdom circles, heart circles, or simply council) insist that people speak in turns going around the circle in a clockwise direction (as seen from above). Participants engage in no cross-talk or conversation in the usual sense. Throughout a speaker's turn he or she holds an object (a ceremonial "talking stick," stone, or something else with sacred or special significance to the group), then passes it on to the next person. Many people who use this method feel that the object grounds the attention of the whole group in their collective center or "the heart of the world." To the extent group members honor the object and its role, they don't need chairpersons and facilitators; the object, itself, shapes the structure and quality of their dialogue. The only leadership that may be needed is someone to set the tone and get things started, and someone to signal the end.

Often doing a ritual at the beginning helps participants step out of their ordinary life rhythms into the special "heart space" or "spirit space" that makes these circles so profound. Any ritual done for this purpose should be agreeable to all participants; it can be as simple as a minute of silence or taking a few deep breaths together; it can also be a gong-sound, music or something more elaborate.

It helps to remember that the essence of these circles is listening and speaking from the heart. Head-tripping pronouncements, chatter, posturing and run-on monologues of the sort that make up so much of ordinary conversation only serve to disrupt the atmosphere of the circle. On the other hand, silence -- so avoided in ordinary conversation -- often helps deepen the atmosphere.

We can learn a lot about silence from Quakers. Their meetings for worship have little or no ritual, leadership, or conversation, nor do they take turns around a circle. Rather, they sit in a silence which they perceive as being filled with Spirit. From time to time a member who feels "called" (moved from within by Spirit, by their "inner light") rises and speaks and, when finished, simply sits down. No one responds. The pregnant silence settles once more among and within the congregation. Many circles try to nurture this spirit in their midst, at least occasionally, with or without the formal hour of silence or the religious beliefs the Quakers bring to it. In a formal circle, anyone can create silence in their turn simply by holding the object and not speaking. (A person can also skip their turn, passing on the object after only a moment.)

As the center of the group's attention moves around and around the circle, it spirals down into deeper shared understandings, richer shared meaning. Although many groups go around only once, I've found that the best circles go around at least several times, with people speaking briefly if necessary in order to accomplish more rounds.

Sometimes a profound shift of consciousness takes place and one or more participants sense the group as an entity speaking to itself through them, using their unique perspectives to clarify, deepen and evolve in its understanding. The distinction between individual and group may blur even as both grow more wise and articulate.

And yet, as special as I think such circles are, I don't think they are the only kind of circle that qualifies as co-intelligent. What is necessary, as I said above, is simply for people to sit in a circle deeply listening to each other as they speak from the heart. They don't have to take turns going around the circle. If they use a significant object, it can be returned to the center after each turn and picked up by anyone who wishes to speak next. If the focus of the circle is personal (as in story-sharing or collective personal problem-solving), it may be useful, after each person takes their turn, for others in the circle to question them a while before the group goes on to the next person.

Many circles I've been part of have dispensed with object-passing altogether. They've used open dialogue (no formal turns), with two modifications that allow them to have some of the benefits of more formal circles without the restrictions. In the center they have a chime (or a gong) and a stone (or other talking-circle object). If at any time one of the participants feels the group needs to center itself or move to a "heart space," they'll reach into the middle and strike the chime or gong. All talking stops immediately until the sound fades. When conversation begins again, it usually has a more centered, reflective quality. The purpose of the stone is different. When someone picks it up, they get the next turn after whoever is talking at the time. This allows less dominant people who don't think as fast or have the same ability to "dive in" to be able to participate. (Another way to deal with this last problem is to give everyone an equal number of pennies -- say four -- one of which they put into a bowl in the middle whenever they speak. When they run out of pennies, they can't speak again until everyone else has run out.)

An open dialogue can also succeed with facilitation (by one or more -- or all -- participants) to ensure that all involved have a chance to speak and that the meeting starts and ends on time. To the extent all participants are brief, mindful, and curious about what each other has to say, little formal facilitation or gimmicks are necessary to ensure healthy participation.

A key facet of circle dialogue is maintaining a shared center. When just a few people are talking -- especially when they are engaged in a back-and-forth discussion rather than being fully present in the group space and speaking from their hearts -- the shared center tends to get lost and the group fragments. Other group members find themselves drifting off or withdrawing, becoming spectators instead of participants. Many groups encourage anyone who notices this dynamic in themselves or each other to call it to the group's attention so the whole group can take a moment to re-orient to its shared center. In co-intelligent circles, maintaining the shared center is usually at least as important as whatever subject is being considered. The shared center and "heart space" can also be evoked by a single participant who listens especially deeply or who speaks eloquently "from the group's heart" rather than from their isolated individuality or in response to someone else's isolated individuality. This is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it happen; it is powerful.

Clearly, much skill, consciousness, and experience can be developed in all this. And yet the basics are incredibly simple. All of us can promote the basic circle format and spirit wherever we are, in our families, spiritual communities, schools, workplaces. Even the simplist, most unsophisticated circles are experienced as revolutionary by people who've known little more than the hectic, banal, adversarial or repressed communication modes typical of our mainstream culture. You don't have to do anything fancy to use the circle process -- just get together with some friends or associates and take turns speaking from the heart as best as you can; use a stapler as a talking-stick, if you want. The important thing is to just do it. You will be amazed at how powerful it is.

As one of the four most important things we can do to build a culture of dialogue, gathering in circles is something to do every chance we get. Even before we learn how to do them "well," in nine out of ten circles the rewards we get will pay back our efforts a thousandfold.

If we use our circles to explore any of the subjects listed at the beginning of this section, and if we support each other in actually trying to live lives consistent with what we discover -- and if we try to help foster environments that encourage others to live such lives -- we will end up having an even more profound and positive impact on this culture.

Two organizations that can be useful in this are:

Wisdom Circles, 3756 Grand Ave., Suite 405, Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 272-9540 or FAX (510) 272-9184. email: A network of spiritually and transformationally oriented circles who advocate use of "Ten Constants," excellent guidelines for powerful circles.

Study Circle Resource Center, PO Box 203, Pomfret, CT 06258. (860) 928-2616 or FAX (860) 928-3713. email: Provide resources for planning and carrying out adult study circles of all kinds and sizes, from small groups to entire communities.

OTHER THINGS WE CAN DO AS GROUPS TO BUILD A CULTURE OF DIALOGUE: Get to know each other well.... Become a transformational learning community (tlc), committed to learning how to transform our lives and our world, and to each other.... Connect up with other circles to share experiences, support each other, and get more circles going.... Introduce others to circles; grow and divide; send out circle-seeds (circle members who start new circles); or otherwise help new circles form.... Do things for our local communities (or organizations, or countries, or the world) that enhance their self-reliance, self-knowledge, self-organization, fellowship, and co-intelligence....


3. IN ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES -- We can call for collective reflection about our shared circumstances and establish forums where that can happen.

Traditionally, a parent who had concerns about their child's education would take it up with their child's principal or teacher, join the PTA, or vote for new school board members. A parent who wanted to promote a co-intelligent culture might do any of those things and call for an Open Space Conference on "What We Want Out of Our School" and invite any teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members who were interested.

In a town facing the departure of a major industry, a council member or citizens' group might call for a broad-participation Future Search Conference to figure out how the town could creatively respond to this challenge.

A church in a racially tense neighborhood might call for a program that included study circles on racism, racism workshops like Arny Mindell's "process worldwork," special computer conferences, and peer counselling -- all followed by a Future Search Conference to get some substantive change happening.

A co-intelligent executive in a large, fast-paced company could establish fortnightly dialogue circles (like the ones in the previous section) where staff could slow down and talk about how they, their department and the company were doing. She might encourage other departments to hold such circles, and then pick a few people at random from each circle to participate in a monthly circle with people from the whole company. These circles might have no power -- and might not even have executives attending -- but they could have a profound influence if people really spoke from their hearts.

A newspaper or broadcast station could establish an on-line conference for each and every news story -- plus a conference for "other news" -- where people from widely different perspectives could share their views and information on current events and, especially, the media's coverage of those events. Readers, listeners and viewers could call for such a forum.

A city could establish an annual review of the state of the city by a panel of randomly selected residents. This approach, which I'll discuss further in the next section, could be applied to and by any community or organization, not just nationally as I'll propose in the following pages.

Such reflective forums are the nascent collective minds of these institutions, organizations and communities. There are hundreds of ways to go about collective self-reflection, with the town meeting being our American prototype. From a democratic perspective, we want people to participate in thinking through and influencing the decisions that will shape their lives. From a co-intelligence perspective, we want whole systems -- whether they are small companies or large cities -- to reflect on their circumstances and make informed, wise decisions about what they are going to do, even to the extent of transforming themselves.

This is not an American habit, unfortunately. To the extent Americans are good at making decisions about their lives, they make these decisions privately. Few participate in real collective reflection. The candle of our democratic culture has burned down until there's little left beyond the voting booth and the corporate-controlled media. A sense of collective power and wisdom is largely lacking, and most people don't apply democratic ideals outside of politics (e.g., in business, technology, health care, education, etc.). Co-intelligence requires that we build a ubiquitous civic culture, a culture of dialogue in every institution, organization and community in America and the world, so that collective reflection is the norm. People should expect to be involved together in exploring what's happening to their company or town and what they should do together about that.

The entire intention of this section is to recruit the builders of that culture and that expectation.

OTHER THINGS WE CAN DO AS ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES TO BUILD A CULTURE OF DIALOGUE: Validate and empower participation in dialogue. If people experience dialogue as safe and find that their conversations actually have an impact, they will participate more.... Educate and train citizens/staff for co-intelligent dialogue.... Provide resources for dialogue -- spaces, chartpads, facilitators, audio-visual and telecommunications equipment and computers, networks, etc. In particular, buildings like schools can use used in off-hours for civic dialogue.... Encourage people to address problems in the context of opportunities, possibilities and shared visions and responsibility, since undue focus on problems can suppress people's energy and encourage blame and despair.... Support the creative use of conflict and diversity and programs to bridge polarities in your domain. With other organizations and communities, generate shared resources for these purposes.... Increase and improve all feedback systems -- from standards of success to statistical indicators, from focus groups to forums for dissenters, from reward systems to surveying outsiders.... Connect up with other co-intelligent communities and organizations to share experiences, support each other, and spread the practice of collective self-reflection.... Introduce other organizations and communities to these forms of collective self-reflection.... Do things for the communities around us (or our country, or the world) to enhance their self-reliance, self-knowledge, self-organization, fellowship, and co-intelligence....


4. AS A NATION -- We can establish an annual, provisional, weeks-long wisdom council to periodically give an evolving, coherent voice and impetus to the ongoing dialogue of our whole society.

One of the most powerful potential tools we have, I believe, is The Wisdom Council. I first heard about it from its orginator, organizational consultant Jim Rough, who proposed a "Wisdom Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution:

"The Wisdom Amendment calls for an annual gathering of twenty-four randomly selected voters to com-prise a microcosm of the People of the United States. This small group of citizens meets for a short period (from three days to a month) to create a unanimous, constitutionally sanctioned statement of the Wisdom of the People. As with a jury, members serve only a short time and speak only for themselves. Unlike a jury, each Wisdom Council determines the issues they consider and is facilitated to ensure creative dialogue. The final statements offer leadership but no power of law.... {The Wisdom Council] establishes a collaborative presence at the pinnacle of society, a way to facilitate consensus among all people and a way to voice that consensus. This amendment would establish an annual 'family meeting' for the nation."

The Wisdom Council is an effective way to unearth and articulate the will of the people. Although our electoral process gives us ("we, the people") explicit power -- at least theoretically -- it does not give us an authoritative voice that states our collective interests and perceptions in a form that we can use to guide ourselves, our dialogue and our elected representatives. Without this, our democracy is unduly influenced by powerholders and academics who profess to know what our will is. Their conflicting statements about what "the American people want" confuse us. Our culture offers us only problematic, shallow glimpses of our collective will -- through elections, public opinion polls, talk show debates and letters to the editor.

Let us look at each of these.

In fact, no current form of vox populi is coherent or wise enough to command the respect of either the public or our under-the-influence representatives.

But few would ignore a constitutionally convened council of citizens using state-of-the-art methods to clarify public concerns. People would listen to deep, thoughtful statements of the common good and public will that such an annual council discovered through intelligent exploration of both their differences and their shared sensibilities and interests.

I see three things that are needed for the Wisdom Council to succeed:

1) The Wisdom Council needs top-quality group process and facilitation. Today this condition can be readily satisfied. Few people realize the scope and power of group processes available and the many highly skilled facilitators that abound. Diverse processes could be integrated into customized sequences designed to ensure exceptionally productive Wisdom Council deliberations. This is true despite the depressing history of committees and congresses that has made so many people cynical about the inevitability of collective stupidity. That cynicism is a shell people erect around their deep, but thoroughly abused, faith that participatory democracy can work. Any Wisdom Council success would not only serve as the people's voice, but could also rekindle popular hope, spreading awareness of effective group processes throughout our culture, further deepening the culture of dialogue.

2) The Wisdom Council needs to be respected and officially recognized as the pre-eminent voice of the people. That's the reason to establish it through a Constitutional amendment. The people are the source of all legitimate authority in a democracy and, if this is their voice, it deserves the highest position and honor. Although the Wisdom Council would have no formal power over other branches of government, its symbolic placement above all other democratic institutions would allow it to exercise a profound influence as the current embodiment of public will and wisdom.

3) Citizens need to take very seriously the role of the Wisdom Council as their collective voice. If the Wisdom Council says things certain people agree with, those people will need to tell their representatives (and the media and everyone else) to listen to it. If the Wisdom Council says things that certain people disagree with, then those people need to ask, "Why did they say that?!" In other words, there needs to be active public dialogue regarding the Wisdom Council's pronouncements. Such dialogue would serve not only to shape public awareness and policy, but to prepare the next set of randomly-selected citizens to do an even better job the following year.

The Wisdom Amendment elegantly addresses the complex and crucial question of how to have real participatory democracy in a nation of 250 million people.

By the very act of taking the Wisdom Council seriously, the people would delegate to it all the power it needs, in turn, to empower them to ensure that their will is honored in all areas of public life.

That synergistic relationship between the citizenry and the Wisdom Council would need to be built through the arduous task of passing a Constitutional amendment. That project involves approval by three-fourths of the states and thus a massive grassroots educational campaign, during which people could discover for themselves the potency and possibility of the idea.

But first dozens -- if not hundreds -- of Wisdom Councils should be set up at the local level. Bugs can be worked out and people can become familiar with the process. This is good homework to prepare the country for a national Constitutional amendment campaign. If local (and state and regional) Wisdom Council projects shared their experiences and insights, they could develop and promote increasingly effective variations.

For more information, you can contact the Co-Intelligence Institute or Jim Rough and Associates, 1040 Taylor St., Port Townsend, WA 98368. Phone (360) 385-7118. Fax (360) 385-4839. Email

OTHER THINGS WE CAN DO AS STATES AND COUNTRIES TO BUILD A CULTURE OF DIALOGUE: Provide matching funds for local dialogue-building projects, especially by the social sector.... Actively support community self-reliance and self-organization.... Actively support, train and build infrastructure to ease the shift from a culture of mass-consumption to a culture of dialogue.... Reduce the role of money in elections and media so that social dialogue is less warped by special interests....


In a 1994 survey of over a thousand Americans, Dr. Paul H. Ray, of American LIVES (Lifestyles, Interests, Values, Expectations, and Symbols), a market research firm, identified three primary values-oriented subcultures in the U.S.

Many Heartlanders, despite their conservative views, would be quite at home with the co-intelligence focus on local community and respect for the environment. Many Moderns, despite their linear short-term pragmatic perspective, would nevertheless be intrigued by the ability of co-intelligence to generate innovations, profits, and solutions. But the real core of support for co-intelligence, it is clear, will be coming from the Cultural Creatives, many of whom will feel quite at home in the worldview described in this essay. The chances are very high that you, like me, are a Cultural Creative.

Being on the leading edge of social transformation is not comfortable. Since we can't be fully satisfied with old forms, and since enough satisfactory new forms have not yet been created, we often feel quite at sea, making things up as we go. (Karen Mercer, my partner, likes to say that, in addition to her MSW degree, she has an MSU. MSU means Making Stuff Up. Perhaps God has that degree, too.) It often feels alone, and not a little fumbly.

Paul Ray found that many of us Cultural Creatives spent a lot of time and effort freeing ourselves from old ways of thinking, being, behaving, feeling and living. Most of us had to have a strong personal core to see ourselves through repeated acts of liberation, differentiation, discovery. We have developed our uniqueness to a striking degree. Our loneliness, uniqueness and strength make us hungry for community but often unsure how to find or create it.

We've all be on similar paths, doing similar things, reading similar books and magazines -- oblivious to the fact that millions of others have been on the same road. There are 44 million of us and yet we all feel alone! As Paul Ray says: "Cultural Creatives have acted rather like an audience: all facing in the same direction, rather than towards one another.... Now they must face one another, to recognize who they are, and to build community....[which will be] like coming home again." (The Integral Culture Survey, p. 119)

Of course, my main interest in the Cultural Creatives is our role in building a co-intelligent culture. If you consider yourself a Cultural Creative -- and, actually, even if you don't -- you can look down the following list for some more things you might do to help build a co-intelligent culture. Each list is just a teaser, a taste of what sorts of things you could do. I'm sure you know your area better than I do. Connect with others in that domain and make a better list!

IF YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL -- Get together with your colleagues to begin building an eldership network dedicated to using your specialty to empower communities to co-intelligently self-organize. Psychologists, educators, theologians, architects, planners, futurists, sociologists, healers, lawyers, librarians, mediators, writers and artists, performers, systems analysts, and many others are actually working at different levels of the spectrum of human systems -- individuals, relationships, groups, organizations, networks, communities, regions and whole societies. Life at each of these levels unfolds in the context of all the others. Creativity, healing and intelligence at any one level is hindered or helped by the state of the other levels. An elder is anyone who enhances self-organization and co-intelligence at one or more of these levels. Ideally, the boundaries between the disciplines concerned with each level would be permeable, many practitioners would be competent at several levels, and an overarching ideology and sensibility (such as the co-intelligence perspective) would facilitate networking among practitioners at all levels. That's what the eldership network is for.

IF YOU ARE AN ACTIVIST, PHILANTHROPIST, VOLUNTEER OR CONTRIBUTOR -- Learn how to see with a whole-systems perspective. Too often your caring attention gets so caught by some specific suffering, dysfunction or symptom that you can't put much attention on the dynamics that generate such problems -- to say nothing of positive systemic changes that would resolve them. All of us are biologically hard-wired to see what's dramatic, immediate and personal -- when what we need to deal with are less visible, longer-term, more powerful forces, tendencies and opportunities. The more time, money and intelligence we, as a culture, spend on relieving suffering, the less we have to give to preventing suffering and creating social innovations that would bring us a co-intelligent culture. So target your caring energies on transformational work. And realize that some traditional forms of activism support co-intelligence and some undermine it. A union fighting for a shorter work week helps transform the culture more than one fighting for higher wages. Environmentalists promoting real dialogue and green taxes do more to build a co-intelligent culture than environmentalists who do nothing but sue corporations (although that may be necessary if they refuse real dialogue). Community empowerment is more co-intelligent than welfare handouts. Etc.

IF YOU ARE A PARENT, EDUCATOR OR STUDENT -- Make sure that schools teach co-intelligence. Many existing programs fit that category: co-operative education, democratic classrooms, multi-modal learning, critical thinking, values clarification, conflict resolution, multi-culturalism (if it respects all cultures and includes the importance of having a common culture grounded in that respect), volunteerism, community involvement, emotional intelligence, each one teach one, etc. Systems thinking, ecological sensibilities and awareness of the student's own role in systems is extremely important. As early as possible, and as consistently throughout the years of education, the skills and methods of real dialogue need to be taught, to enable citizens to creatively participate in a culture of dialogue. Programs that strengthen self-esteem -- especially those that address not only the student's psychology but their family and social context -- are very desirable. Support Open Space Conferences, Future Search and Wisdom Councils in the school system, involving all stakeholders.

-- Help generate co-intelligent story fields with co-intelligent (interactive, participatory) media and stories about co-intelligence. Networks of storytellers and visionaries could co-create entire utopian worlds to explore how co-intelligence might play out in every aspect of life and society. Multi-media art and communications could be used in ways that engage people's multi-modal intelligence (and, if we add multiple-user interactivity, even collaborative and collective intelligence). If you are a journalist, join the movement to use newspapers and magazines to actually engage people in meaningful issues and dialogue. Move away from false objectivity (reporting what authorities say as fact -- because, after all, those authorities did say those things) and conflict-based reporting (including politics-as-sport metaphors). Move towards giving people a better sense of the broad range of views (there are always more than two sides) and why they feel and think those things (the underlying values, stories, motivations).

IF YOU ARE A POLITICIAN OR PUBLIC OFFICIAL -- Think systemically. Use problems as an opportunity to transform the context and build community involvement and co-intelligence. Nurture a culture of dialogue. Support the use of Wisdom Councils to provide guidance and political impetus -- and to stimulate dialogue -- at all levels of governance. Support the care-ful shift of more governmental functions from the public sector to -- not the private sector, but the social sector. Support changes that reduce the power of money over politics and media. Volunteer for real answerability. Build empowered, self-reliant, self-organizing communities (you can even use your grassroots election efforts to build community networks that outlast the election). Since real security is social, economic and (increasingly) environmental, support the transfer of military funds to address these areas. Don't support public and private entities that suppress communities and co-intelligence (such as arms sales to dictators). In all solutions, see how far you can go in evoking and using collaboration and synergy rather than domination. Change our official economic indicators from production-consumption-monetary ones to quality of life ones.

IF YOU ARE A BUSINESSPERSON, CONSULTANT OR INVESTOR -- Support community-based, ecological enterprises and the social sector. (I think I'll say that again:) Support community-based, ecological enterprises and the social sector. Join The Natural Step. Support the participation of all stakeholders in the business -- stockholders, managers, staff, all departments, customers, suppliers, competitors, symbiotic enterprises, government officials, community representatives, and anyone else affected -- preferably in generative dialogue formats like Open Space Conferences. Make your organization a learning organization. Consider the impact of what you do on the long-term welfare of natural and human communities. Energetically push for government policies and laws that will level the ethical playing field (green taxes, corporate answerability, etc.) so that it is easier for companies to act ethically since everyone has to -- even while your company goes as far as it can in monitoring its own ethical behavior.

IF YOU ARE AN ACADEMIC, RESEARCHER OR PHILSOPHER-- If your work doesn't help much to build the field of co-intelligence, consider changing it so that it does. Help weave all relevant disciplines, theories and approaches into the fabric of co-intelligence-as-a-field. Find and build synergies among all these disciplines, theories and approaches. Help bridge between theory and practice. Engage political, social and economic powerholders and the public in this new way of thinking.


A final note on telecommunications

The world of telecommunications is developing so rapidly that I can't keep up with it. At the same time I know it will profoundly influence the evolution of co-intelligence.

I guess my main concern is the power of the Internet to lure people out of their communities and real lives (which some now call RL!). The global networking capabilities of the Internet are most co-intelligent when linked to in-person engagements of people with each other and with their local circumstances. If we lose the last of that engagement, already undermined by the industrial era, then we will have lost everything. Real-world social and environmental dysfunctions will not go away no matter how many of us sit in front of our terminals. Ultimately they will catch up with us.

So let's find ways to link up with each other locally, as well as nationally and internationally. I hope that by the time this is published, there will be Web pages for every ZIP code in America, where those who live in that ZIP code can find each other and share information and activities. The ZIP codes Web pages can be linked to those nearby, or even far away, in such a way that we could specify: "Give me an integrated view of the data for all ZIP codes in a twenty mile radius of my house." With this kind of system we could overcome all the fragmentation imposed on us by neighborhoods made up of little boxes whose inhabitants seldom come outside except to get into their cars or move to a different neighborhood.

Beyond that, I'll let the experts have at it.

So that's enough for now. There's plenty to do. Let's get to it.