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Collective intelligence is only one-fifth of co-intelligence

Note: This article was written when there were "five dimensions" to co-intelligence. Now co-intelligence is framed as having six manifestations. The ideas in this article are still true, although they could now be expanded to include resonant intelligence.

The earliest reference I've seen to the phrase "collective intelligence" was in Paul Hawken, James Ogilvy and Peter Schwartz's 1982 book Seven Tomorrows:

We need a collective intelligence of a kind that may not
have characterized the human species in the past; but we
see no reason to believe that ... a whole population cannot
reach a stage of mature self-consciousness much as an
individual does. (Bantam, p. 9)

This paragraph not only introduces the idea of collective intelligence, but applies it to "a whole population," inviting us fifteen years later to think beyond "group intelligence" and "learning organizations" to larger phenomena like community wisdom and societal intelligence.

I'd like to extend the reach of that concept even further and then deepen and enrich it so that it is free to move beyond the IQ-tethered smartness glorified by our culture into fuller, more holistic realms of intelligence. The holistic intelligence I will describe here I call co-intelligence. It includes collective intelligence plus a whole lot more -- multi-modal intelligence, collaborative intelligence, wisdom, and universal intelligence. I'll explore all of them briefly below. I'll explain why we need all of them if we are to safely build collective intelligence in organizations.

Before exploring the other facets of co-intelligence, I'd like to say a few more words about collective intelligence.

First, it is a systemic phenomenon. We could even accurately call it systemic intelligence. Many people erroneously assume that "collective intelligence" means that a system is made up of many individuals in whom intelligence resides, and that collective intelligence is achieved by simply gathering all those individual intelligences together. While this is true, it is only part of the picture.

Much of a system's intelligence resides not in its individual parts, but in the system's characteristic patterns -- its structures and institutions, its relationships and operational habits, its culture (or personality), its fields of energy and aliveness, its flows and reservoirs of information, the stories it tells itself, and so on. The collectIVE intelligence of the whole is greater than the collectED intelligence of its parts because wholeness adds synergy -- patterns of relationship and interactivity -- to the mere sum of the parts. Individual intelligences play a crucial but only partial role in the generation of collective intelligence.

Different systemic levels of intelligence -- individual, relational, group, organizational, community, cultural, societal, species, etc. -- are interdependent, interlocking, and mutually influencial. The intelligence of any individual part is influenced by the intelligence of each system in which it is embedded; a system's intelligence is influenced by the intelligence of its parts.

The structures of a system can enhance or impede the intelligence of its parts -- and the way those parts apply their intelligence can enhance or impede the intelligence of the entire system. We can see both of these phenomena in a meeting. A few brilliant people fighting or suppressing communication in the group can lock up the intelligence of all the rest and stultify the collective thinking of the whole group. This contrasts with real dialogue in which each person's comments stimulate creative responses from the others. Dialogue is the kind of systemic pattern that enhances the intelligence of the individual dialoguers and the intelligence of their group.

Before leaving the subject of collective intelligence, I want to note that it applies to each of us individually as well. Walt Whitman said, "I contain multitudes." People have multiple urges, voices, and capacities -- sometimes even whole personalities -- alive or latent within them. To the extent each of us integrates these within ourselves, through synergy or internal dialogue, we enhance our personal collective intelligence.

This brings us to the second facet of co-intelligence:

multi-modal intelligence
-- the ability to engage our full spectrum of intelligence capabilities: analysis, intuition, narrative, intra- and interpersonal sensibilities (what Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence), and so on. The most famous of the dozens of articulations of this are studies of "left and right brain" phenomena and the "multiple intelligence" theories of Havard's Howard Gardner. Each of us has a different profile of the diverse qualities that make up our potential and actual multi-modal intelligence. And each of us faces the challenge of integrating our strengths while strengthening and compensating for our weaknesses. We face the same challenge collectively: Too often the intuitives fight the analysts who fight those who learn by doing, etc. To the extent human systems integrate the diverse gifts of their members, the presence of diversity enhances their collective intelligence. To the extent systems feed the fragmentation or opposition of their diverse members, they become co-stupid.

This brings us to the third facet of co-intelligence:

collaborative intelligence
-- the ability to work with the people and life around us, and to get them to work together. We can observe collaborative intelligence in the phenomena called "flow" (exemplified by good teamwork and jazz improvization), in the elegant and nonviolent victories of aikido masters, and in ecological practices like composting which work with the forces of nature to achieve human ends with little energy input or waste. Collaborative intelligence is the ability to produce synergy in one's environment or in one's relationship with that environment. Dialogue, for example, requires the exercise of collaborative intelligence by people working together towards greater shared understanding.

The fourth ingredient of co-intelligence is:

, the ability to apply our intelligence with an expanded perspective, especially the ability to keep in mind the big picture when we're handling the details, and to keep in mind the real lives of individuals today when we're handling the long-term fate of whole systems. God is in the details -- and in the whole. We are wise when we think historically and take into account future generations. We are wise when we think holistically and systemically and attend to the interconnectedness of everything. We are wise when we recognize and creatively work with the ambiguity, complexity, paradox, mystery and change that are inherent in life. We are wise when we can consider a situation from both inside and outside all relevant viewpoints. We are wise when we are humble and good humored. There are many ways to be wise; all involve expanding our appreciation of what's involved, of our own limitations and of our place in the world.

The fifth ingredient of co-intelligence is:

universal intelligence
, the intrinsic tendency for things to self-organize and co-evolve into ever more intricately interwoven and mutually compatible forms. This is what Taoism and new sciences like complexity are all about -- the dynamic interaction of order and chaos, of complexity and simplicity, in the midst of which life thrives. Our human intelligence is but one manifestation of this universal dynamic, and can benefit by tuning in to it and moving with its intrinsic wisdom.

These five phemonena -- collective intelligence (at all its levels), multi-modal intelligence, collaborative intelligence, wisdom and universal intelligence -- are all facets of one thing, co-intelligence. Co-intelligence is what intelligence looks like when we take wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity seriously.

Co-intelligence and corporations

I want to see societies become co-intelligent enough to survive the challenges of the coming decades, and then flourish as co-intelligent cultures. I want to see co-intelligent organizations in co-intelligent relationship with each other, with communities and with nature.

What is the role of corporations in this vision? I say this not as a rhetorical question. It is an alive inquiry, one of the most important questions we face.

A corporation's effectiveness is increased when its collective intelligence is increased. But how will it use that intelligence? Will its increased effectiveness be a net contribution to the survival and co-intelligence of the culture as a whole?

Corporations are arguably the most powerful force shaping the future of humankind. Not only do they have a direct effect on the health of communities and ecosystems, but they shape the dynamics and content of entire cultures, including the ability of every society to exercise its collective intelligence.

It is not academic curiosity that leads me to explore the impact on societal intelligence of increasingly effective advertising, political campaign contributions, concentration of wealth and power, and what Dee Hock, the innovator of VISA, calls "the capitalization of gain and the socialization of loss" and others have called "take the money and run."

Does advertising help a culture think clearly, assign correct importances to things, and behave in a collectively intelligent manner? Does special interest control of political campaigns help the "body-mind politic" come up with the best solutions possible for collective problems? Does concentration of wealth create an environment that supports creative dissent, social entrepreneurship and the ability of all relevant viewpoints and options to be heard and digested by the social mind? If not, then these conditions sustain the ability of corporations and other organized special interests to become parasites or cancers in the body-mind of society. They can cripple our societal intelligence, with predictably disasterous results.

We need to be mindful that our efforts to enhance the operation of corporations can easily enhance their ability to undermine human communities, local economies, national politics and natural ecosystems. In light of this, what should we do?

One approach is to only enhance the collective intelligence of corporations whose social and environmental practices are benign, or who are trying to make them so. Another approach is to use our corporate work to support our work to increase the collective intelligence of the whole society. Another approach is to put as much attention on enhancing the collaborative intelligence and wisdom of learning organizations (or, as Dee Hock prefers to call them, chaordic organizations) as we put on enhancing their collective intelligence and self-organizing power.

Many of us dream of creating a more humane, sustainable society through our work in organizations. We support spirit and community in the workplace and the decentralization and self-organization of corporate leadership. A few of us try to build corporate social and environmental responsibility and long-term thinking, but are hampered by the pace and intensity of global competition.

It is time to ask some hard questions.

How can the limited liability corporate form be used to enhance, instead of undermining, co-intelligent society? If it cannot be, what shall we do about that?

How can the success and innovative power of organizations be linked to the well-being of the human and natural communities we all depend on?

How can our economic lives be reorganized for wisdom -- for long-term perspective, for ecological sensibility, for a pace that permits collective reflection?

How can competition be harnessed into the service of collaborative intelligence, rather than undermining it?

How can co-creative participation become a reality not just in the workplace but as the guiding light of every institution, community and society?

Co-intelligence provides a frame of reference within which answers to these questions can be sought. Let us apply our collective intelligence to those questions.

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