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
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
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
The fourth ingredient of co-intelligence is:
wisdom, 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
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
How can our economic lives be reorganized for wisdom -- for long-term
perspective, for ecological sensibility, for a pace that permits
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
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.