What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?
How can we co-create our politics and governance to bring
collective wisdom to bear on our immense collective potential for good
What is your personal experience of collective
wisdom in groups?
I have had quite a variety of such experiences. As a
teen I spent three years in a weekly Quaker meeting, becoming familiar
with silent worship and spirit-based consensus. On the 1986 Great Peace
March I learned native council circles. (About 20% of my subsequent
circles generated collective wisdom.) A profound experience of group
Mind on the March is featured in the prologue to my book, THE
TAO OF DEMOCRACY. I spent 2+ years in a weekly dialogue group grounded
in Bohm, Korzybski, Krishnamurti and meditation practices, which involved
some profound varieties of individual and group consciousness. My first
week-long Open Space in 1994 generated a very intense community which
produced some fascinating psychic events. My 6+ years with the Bay Area's
Center for Group Learning included co-creative experiments in "going
meta" -- observing dynamics present among us -- which produced
some profound altered states.
But my concern for the societal dimensions of such experience
made me hunger for group wisdom that would be of value to those outside
the group. I found that at my first workshop in dynamic facilitation
in November 1999. I have never been in a group of ordinary people so
creatively energized. We redesigned the US health care system so brilliantly
that it stunned us. I realized the implications for wise democracy.
(Unfortunately, the participant who was to copy our notes got distracted
by her work and never got around to it and the notes are now lost...)
All that said, I think the phrase "in groups"
in this question may limit our inquiry in important ways, because collective
wisdom is only partially a group phenomenon, and ultimately we need
to find ways for whole communities and societies to guide themselves
with collective wisdom.
What is it about the work in this field that
excites you and connects you to your own deepest self?
I care about the destiny of humanity on earth more deeply
than anything else. And I believe that the destiny of humanity is intimately
bound up with our ability to tap into, realize, discover, generate and
co-create collective wisdom. Without that capacity we are -- I feel
certain -- soon doomed. On the other hand, with that capacity we will
-- I feel equally certain -- co-create a profoundly better civilization
than has ever existed on earth. It will be a web of wisdom cultures
capable of wisely learning its way into new forms of being and self-organization.
Its quality of life will be deeply meaningful, joyful, rich and sustainable.
I relish transcendent group experience, and once even
proposed a self-organized movement, CASPER
groups, to generate and explore that realm. But I feel my work is
no longer focused on the experience itself, but on the social potential
of group wisdom.
I now believe, from my own experience and my study of
groups, that there is a "core commons" in every person, a
collective common ground, that has spiritual dimensions, biological
dimensions, and social dimensions. We come from common Spirit, Life
and Humanity, and this kinship is fundamental to our makeup. I believe
that good group process can dissolve the boundaries that veil and distort
that kinship, freeing us into deeper connection, resonating in our core
commons. When we reflect on social problems and possibilities from that
deeply resonant place, we have an excellent chance of realizing insights,
solutions and initiatives that will serve the long-term Greater Good,
including the appropriate growth and transformation of ourselves, our
communities, and our civilization. That is the wisdom we need.
This field is full of possibilities for bringing us there.
That is what keeps me at this.
Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of
what brought you to this work.
I was raised in an activist family, concerned about the
world. I studied mysticism as a teen, did zen, yoga and psychedelics.
I dropped out of college to resist the Vietnam War, but soon found myself
in Scientology trying to make the planet sane. This was a very rich
and intense experience, with some downsides that led to my departure
after twelve years. When I returned to the peace movement I realized
that the dysfunctions of progressive movements and Scientology were
totally different, but that both involved smart, well-intentioned people
often doing crazy, not-so-smart things as groups. The 1986 Great Peace
March showed me that could be different. I spent the next 15 years exploring
group and organizational phenomena -- and collaborative and whole-system
methodologies. My associates helped make corporations or activists more
effective. I wanted to help societies be more sane and collectively
intelligent. Peter Senge, Arny Mindell, Meg Wheatley and Harrison Owen
were major influences. Jim Rough, Kenoli
Oleari, Eileen Palmer, Juanita Brown, and Rosa
Zubizarreta are friends, guides and thinking partners on the journey.
Some of my best conversations are with my daughter Jennifer Atlee, my
partner Karen Mercer and my local friends.
How would you like to be available to others in
this field? What would be a meaningful connection?
I would, of course, love to talk with people interested
in transforming politics and governance using powerful forms of dialogue
and deliberation, people interested in the impact of group wisdom outside
the group. I have much research about this to share, and am happy to
learn others' approaches, and to join in shared inquiries. A litmus
test for approaches that particularly interest me is: What impact could
they potentially have on developments in biotechnology and nanotechnology
that could destroy (human) life on earth.. (My focus on citizen reflective
councils arose from a sense that they could have a profound effect on
these developments.) I also bring inquiries about:
* the common underlying dynamics that make diverse
* the potential synergies between diverse approaches
* our historic role in the evolution of our species and cultures.
And I bring my belief in the democratic power of implicit
Links to this site or others
The Tao of Democracy
Democracy and Community Wisdom
for a co-creative world
Dialogue Can Bring Wisdom to Democracy
Tao of Co-Intelligence
The National Coalition
on Dialogue and Deliberation
Call to Move Beyond Public Opinion to Public Judgment
and the Evolution of Societal Intelligence
Challenge of Technology in a Democracy
to Make a Decision Without Making a Decision