Collective intelligence needs diversity

Collective intelligence emerges not in superficial harmony, but in a space that is grounded in respect for difference.

With our openness to collective intelligence we acknowledge that finding solutions to the challenges of sustainability requires a variety of thought, knowledge, experience and world-view. We can then begin to understand that there is a deeper space of coherence beneath difference.

Let us just think about South Africa’s transition from the apartheid regime in the early 1990s, for example. The country developed away from an unjust paternalist system towards a more inclusive and human rights based democracy. The amount of challenges in order to create a framework where government, the private sector and community organizations as well as trade unions jointly work on South Africa’s future, were numerous and of very diverse origins. That is why a structured dialogue of equals is needed, to ensure that all parties involved are around the same table.


Image by Raquel | riurama

We have only one day for a planning workshop: companies, large international NGOs and representatives from international development cooperation have come together for a co-design: it is all about the scaling-up of an ambitious cooperation project – collective action for better water management. The atmosphere is tense at the beginning:  will we have sufficient commitment for a new phase of an ambitious international project?

We can create an atmosphere, a ‘space’, in which the appreciation of a person as a person is present. In such a climate it is easier to develop the willingness to contribute, to encounter difference without building walls against each other, defend one’s own identity, impose one’s conviction or dominate each other.

The acknowledgement of a person as a person is key to a more sustainable and constructive collective co-creation. It fosters trust and unleashes the constructive dynamic of responsiveness and contribution.

This ‘inner posture’ is more than just an attitude:, it is a process of appreciating the dignity of another person, a different world-view, an opposing opinion, and is one of the most important ingredients for collective leadership. From this inner ground, difference takes on the new meaning of intelligent expression of needed diversity.

In an atmosphere of interconnectedness and collective responsibility, less time is invested in self-protection, the fighting for one’s own territory and the rigidity of one’s vision. More time can be invested to find and foster the collective intention, the underlying coherence and a shared space of significance.

The day is over: ideas and doubts, criticism and disagreement, recommendations and brilliant thoughts have all merged into a scaling-up design that all participants can own. We have arrived and experienced that collective action can work.

What are your ingredients to make collective action work?

Categories: Collective Leadership practice examples, Harnessing collective intelligence, and Living the six capacities of Collective Leadership.



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