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April 5, 2008

How well can collective self-reflexivity scale?

I woke up this morning 4 o’clock and not only because the jetlag. Yesterday was the first day of the first World Café Research Conference. Due to the delay of the flight from New York, I arrived late and when I entered the room, I stepped into a conversation about the reflexive nature of knowing and research. It was strangely familiar and excitingly new, at the same time.

It was familiar because a central theme of my thesis, 30-something years ago, was a critique of the objectivist sociology and its claim that its interview methods are neutral. (I suggested that interviewer and interviewee interact and their relationship constructs the meaning of their exchange as much as the words uttered by the second.)

It was also new because the context, the implied assessment that the quality of new knowledge developed in a typical World Café setting is a reflection of the quality of relationship between participants, as well as, the attention they give to the inner space, from which they are listening and speaking. (Bow to Otto Scharmer’s concept of the “blindspot.”)

At the dinner table, I happened to sit next to Fred Steier of the Fielding Graduate Institute and editor of a series of books on reflexivity in research. Fred is a gentle man with deep caring to squeeze out every once of learning from a conversation, with the power of second order self-reflection. In my exchange with him and the others around the table, I discovered this:

If people in conversation are observing and reflecting on both the source and the direction of their attention (the inner and the inter-subjective space), and sharing those reflections, a spontaneous combustion of consciousness can occur. If so, collective self-reflexivity can lead to deeper, more fine-tuned sensing of reality, thus to wiser action.

How well can collective self-reflexivity scale? What does it depend on whether it will grow into a system of influence or wither away, unfulfilled its potential? I feel those questions deserve a focused and rigorous research. My first thought about it is this:

For conversations that matter to grow into communities of practice and social systems at increasing scale, they have to be able to absorb the increased complexity involved with those systems. What does it depend on whether a community or a network of communities is capable to do that? One of the factors seems to be the trust and appreciation that flow among the participants in the conversation, besides their capacity for double loop learning in real-time, on the spot…

That’s what I got out from the bed with. Now, I go to get a breakfast, and continue the conversation, in the 2nd day of the conference.

September 4, 2007

Social Presencing Theater for scaling up collective intelligence

In his new book on Theory U, MIT professor Otto Scharmer describes one of his 7 enabling conditions for inspiring a positive shift on a global scale:

"A new social art form I call Social Presencing Theater that stages media events and productions to connect different communities and their transformational stories by blending action research, theater, contemplative practices, intentional silence, generative dialogue and open space."

Social Presencing Theater is striking an enthusiastic chord in many people who read or hear about it. When Otto told me about the idea in our first conversation two years ago, my soul caught fire as I imagined what could happen when Social Presencing Theater links up communities across a country or across the globe in co-creative, future-responsive dialogues, fun, and wise action.

In this --longish!-- blog entry, I explore the relationship between Social Presencing Theater (SPT) and collective intelligence (CI).

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May 20, 2007

Collective intelligence in service of Reboot

Reboot is "Calling all practical visionaries of the world!" It's an event to reboot our minds, play on the edge of technology, and re-dream our culture. Its is a brainchild of Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, in its 9th successful year, happening in Copenhagen May 31 - June 1, 2007. The event is designed for 400 people ans is sold out but you can still participate in the Reboot online community, by registering (for free) here.

I will co-facilitate there an experiment in Boosting Our Collective Intelligence. The subtitle is: Presencing the future we care for, by liberating the potential of communities of practice and life-work communities.

Let me know whether you'd want to learn more about it, as it unfolds.

August 20, 2006

The power of open AND generative questions

Robert Bystrom wrote in his comment on the "Connectivity ramp, CI, and Jaron Lanier" blog entry.

"Whenever you entertain an open question, you invite personal intelligence. Whenever a group entertains a shared question, they invite their collective intelligence."

Robert, the insights you shared with us in your comment are very much appreaciated. Not only they resonate with my own sense of CI and condtions favorable to its emergence but your focus on community empowerment is truly inspiring.

Regarding your key message that I quoted above, I can see that shared questions do invite collective intelligence but wether CI actually will show up, depends on a number of factors in each of Wilber's Four Quadrants.

The conscious cultivation of those factors may lead to higher level CI capacities. When dealing with complex challenges, nothing less will do. I am curious of what factors you differentiate and respond to in your practice. Would you say more about them?

I think not all open questions generate CI equally fit to call forth the most valued future of the organization or community. I call the ones that do "generative questions." Their power is in the qualities of the individual or collective attention and consciousness, from which they come.

August 6, 2006

Chance and choice experiences, presencing as community art

Andrew Campbell wrote somewhere, "The more whole and integrated each person the chances for choices are increased..." I may have found that sentence in the context of his conversation with de Lange on the Learning Organizations list, 5 years ago. The following paragraph from de Lange’s “Choice and Chance are They One?” message struck me and helped me clarifying the meaning of an interesting pattern in my own experience of navigating on the high seas of life.

The more we imagine the system's "coin" as an omnibus of "chance events", the less the coin leaves us with "free energy" to imagine its future as a "choice event". On the other hand, the sooner we deal with each "chance event" as an actual opportunity rather than stacking it together with other "chance events" of the past, the more the coin leaves us with "free energy" to imagine MANY "choice events" following from this ONE "chance event". I myself try to convert every "chance event" as soon as possible into as many as possible "choice events" so as to nurture my "free energy" and the "one-to-many-mapping" of my creativity. (emphasis added)

I found the "one-to-many-mapping"--in the sense pictured by Andrew Campbell's Lightening Branches below—of one’s creativity, both a fascinating metaphor, and a model for contributing to each other’s body of resonance with the emergent futures.

lighteningbranches.jpg

In my view, the painting also suggests presencing is a community art: the diversity of evolutionary possibilities triggered by one collective choice is a reflection of the diversity of talents and sensibilities present in making that choice.

Campbell's painting and de Lange's quote above also reminded me of what Otto Scharmer wrote in the 10th Principle of Presencing:

“Who we become will depend on the choices we make and the actions we take now. That being of the future is our highest or best future possibility.”

Attracted to realize that possibility, I notice how rapidly I flip events that present themselves by “chance” into “choice” events I use for my learning. The same attraction also pulls my attention to the question: What are the practices that communities can use for navigating their future (without blindspot) as they are co-creating it?

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Escaping from the Museum of the 20th Century

As I woke up, I immediately knew: the meaning of this dream will grow with me, keep unfolding; I will see clearer the guidance that I’m getting from it, over the years. At the time of that dream, in the early seventies, I was living in Hungary under communist governance, between two markers of my life's journey:

• being freshly released from prison, after serving 20 months for organizing a student movement, in September 1969

• being forced into exile for continued opposition to the policies of the ruling elite, in July 1975

Back then, there was an artistic avant-garde in Hungary, mostly young people who expressed their dissidence by engagement in artistic happenings, street theater, amateur films, etc. that was considered too "edgy" by the communist censorship. I was part of the scene, and after years of the rather ascetic, movement organizer lifestyle, I really enjoyed the fun, and was inspired by the irreverent, creative manifestations of my peers; some of our best happenings started as a "chance" experience. Like this one:

I am walking on the "grand boulevard' of Budapest, named "Lenin boulevard,'" in the afternoon rush hour, the sidewalks teeming with people streaming from the offices. In their midst, I feel my movements slowing down, my legs move more and more unhurriedly, hardly lift, and advance at a snail's pace. It feels like time itself slows, while the rushing continues around me. The boulevard is crowded and a bit dangerous because some people are so little present to their body or the space around it, that have a hard time to avoid bumping into and getting mad at me.

As I turned the spontaneous slowing down of my movement, into an "experience," a happening, I didn't intend to provoke the people on the street; I knew it may happen but that was not the point. My way of walking became a full-body, immersion experiment of not being part of the system, stepping out from the drub reality of living in a country without freedom. It was a little bit like a walking meditation, except I didn't know that time what meditation was. I performed that slow-motion happening at different places of Budapest, a couple of times, weeks before the following "teaching dream" occurred.

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July 29, 2006

All presencing is co-presencing

Talking about “presence,” Andrew Campbell wrote in email, “what it means is not what it is -- and does.” It reminded me of Aurobindo’s saying, “Man’s greatness is not in what he is but in what he makes possible.”

What our times demand us to make possible is nothing less than what the unknown author of the following graffiti on the wall of the occupied Sorbonne asked in 1968: Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible! It is to bootstrap ourselves onto higher stages of individual and collective consciousness by simultaneously letting go of the illusion of a separate self-sense, yet embracing our full respons-ability for our choices in every moment.

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