Prompted by the membership requirements of the Rally Point Alpha group on Facebook, I’ve just re-read Jordan Hall’s brilliant “Situational Assessment 2017 — the Trump Edition.” Supported by my experience of the years passed since its publication, I think of it as timelier than ever. If you haven’t yet read it, I suggest do it now. A minor benefit of doing so will be that you can make more sense of the following reflections.
A gateway into what?
A binary, lazy-thinking response that I frequently hear (and even repeated while talking with friends, not so long ago), sounds like this: We will descend into chaos triggered by the breakdown of the Western civilization or get a breakthrough and ascend to a new evolutionary plateau, a thrivable civilization that works for all. The reality will be, no doubt, much more complex than either the fear-based or the hope-based narratives.
To attempt to go beyond my linear thinking, I had a visit with the “Basket Weaver” whose purpose is to weave a deep basket of understanding of what drives and hinders social evolution in the ’20s. He shared his current take on the ley lines of the most fundamental contradiction. They are criss-crossing his landscape of learning of what is emerging. The question that they gave rise to is this: Will the forces of innovation or conservation gather a commanding lead in the race for collective coherence and actionable collective intelligence?
So when I read Jordan’s take on the central challenge of our times, it resonated with my own sense of it as profoundly true: “The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a Collective Intelligence that can outwit and out-innovate all of its competitors. The central challenge is to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each other.”
Sense-making and meaning-making
My support is less unconditional to one of his proposed actions: “All Collective Intelligence is gated by Sensemaking. Right now, our collective sensemaking systems are in complete disarray. We don’t know who or what to trust. We barely even know how. Find ways to improve your individual sensemaker and collaborate on collective sensemaking systems.”
When we conflate sensing and meaning-making into “sense making,” we risk to lose their power as separate distinctions. As I wrote in 2011, “Collaborative sensing and making meaning are two essential sequences in the emergence of collective intelligence in organizations, social movements, and human groups of any size.”
First, we need to sense an object or an event to construe the meaning of it. Collective self-reflection, which is a pre-condition of collective intelligence, needs to be preceded by what we sense as real, followed by the activation of our collective meaning-making organs.
However, I don’t think that there’s a fundamental difference between our perspectives because, in another place, Jordan said, “we’re limited by discernment so we’re always going to have to be doing work on improving the quality of our discernment in all the modalities,” and that discernment comes, clearly before meaning-making.
The individual is not the most important unit of cognition
Where he and I come into full alignment, again, is this assessment of his: “We live in a non-linear world, stop thinking linearly. Once you have accepted this as the task, you will eventually come to an important conclusion: you can’t. By yourself, you can’t think non-linearly. This isn’t your fault. Individual human beings can’t think non-linearly. Only ‘collective intelligences,’ those agents of ‘inter-subjective consciousness’ can.”
I’m delighted that this view starts gaining currency. Unless we learn to accept the unthinkable, that from the perspective of our evolutionary future, the individual human being is not the most important unit of cognition anymore, we are doomed. I’m not talking about a “Borg-mind” future but the distributed cognition that manifests in the collective intelligence that can emerge from self-organising collectives of any size, in the right conditions.
I guess I was too optimistic about the timing when I wrote, in 2010, in my piece “In Defense of Complexity” on my Blog of Collective Intelligence: “What if what we sense as overwhelming complexity was only evolution’s trick to seduce us into the collective identities and shared minds needed to make sense and higher meaning out of our world? What if someday we woke up realizing that we left the fixation with the narrower perspectives behind just as we did with toys that we’ve outgrown in the kindergarten? What if that day was today?”
I hope I was only 10 years too early to ask that question. Let’s see what’s needed to realize that possibility in the ‘20s.
The gap between collective intelligence and collective will
In his rumination on Decentralised Collective Intelligence, Jordan Hall points to a number of the important enabling conditions. I pick only one, which I deem as calling for the kind of collaborative inquiry that I’m the most passionate about: “there’s a gap between a coherent collective intelligence and a coherent structure of being able to respond as a whole.”
No doubt, a post-conventional collective coherence (in perception and meaning) needs to come into being in a group of any size before it can give birth a coherent collective will. We can fill the gap between the two only by symmathesy and an enabling innovation ecosystem. The latter should be the subject of another article.
[An ongoing, shared reflection on Jordan Hall’s “Situational Assessment” ideas and their implications for where to go from here can be found in the Rally Point Alpha community on Facebook.]