CODA: Attending to the Collective

Russ Volckmann

Leadership Coaching TipMuch of the attention on integral development has the focus on individual development. We have programs and practices for attending to cognitive and emotional development, as well as attending to physical development (through variations on the martial arts and other physical activity), and meeting aspirations for spiritual development, albeit still a question of whether that is a line or stream of development, on the one hand, or is manifest in different ways by development in other streams.

That is not to say that there is no attention to the collective half of the four-quadrant model offered by Wilber. I suspect most of this attention is found in the application of the integral perspectives to addressing specific problems from organizations and their development to sustainability and social systems. In fact, some of the earliest works on organization development from an integral approach were offered by Ron Cacioppe and others in articles found in journals like the Journal of Leadership and Organization Development. Gradually, more is surfacing. For example, in early 2010 mark Edwards’ new book (Organisational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory) is being published by Routledge and promises to offer considerable insight into how we can approach theories of organization more competently. And, of course, there are numerous articles about applications of integral in this journal, as well as books and articles in other journals.

Also, Alfonso Montouri states in an interview I did with him for Integral Review (December 2009, forthcoming) when we were discussing creativity, that most of the research on creativity is focused on the individual and not on groups. And it seems to me that there is so much potential here for both academic researchers and those involved in practical applications. For if we are indeed facing challenges of increasing complexity, we are going to need both individual and collective creativity to forge a generative future.

A new book from a group of practitioners (with some academic credentials), does not seem to be integrally informed, but it takes a look at groups from the point of view of how they are creative and productive, as well as what internal dynamics tend to cause groups to falter and produce bad (destructive) decisions.

Collective Wisdom coverAlan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott and Tom Callanan,
The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly.
San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2009.

Alan is a PhD in organizational behavior and author of The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace. He is a co-founder of the Collective Wisdom Initiative. Sheryl has been a principal investigator for the Collective Wisdom Initiative and has been involved in organization change and leadership development. John is another change consultant and part of the Collective Wisdom Initiative. Tom has had a key role with the Collective Wisdom Initiative in starting various programs, including the Global Youth Leadership Collaborative. Peter Senge wrote the Foreword.

The book explores, “What allows us, in groups and larger collectives, to find solutions amid complexity and daunting circumstances, to make wise choices and work together, as opposed to splintering apart and failing to see what opportunities arise?” Their answer is Collective Wisdom, a capacity to learn together and evolve toward something greater and wiser than what we can do collectively. The alternative is collective folly, that is, “lacking in good sense, prudence, and foresight, a continuum of behaviors ranging from personally foolish behavior to criminality, evil, and depravity on a mass scale.”

The authors go on to describe what it is like when groups are tuned into collective wisdom and some of the pitfalls of collective folly. It is worth the read—and fun to read, partly because of how they draw on some heavy hitters like Mary Parker Follett (note the Leadership Quote in this issue of Integral Leadership Review by Follett that I found in this book) and Teilhard de Chardin (now there’s a pair!) and partly because of the interesting way they share some fascinating stories to demonstrate what their messages are.

But be forewarned! This is not an integrally informed book. Nor does it consider adult development models or theories. It suffers from the lack of attention to these perspectives. For example, it assumes a value set that is centered in Green,

But I offer this here, not so much to recount their message as to welcome the attention to the collective in our integral, generative activities. Again, this book does not attend to integral or adult development frameworks. In fact, I think the total lack of attention to the latter is its Achilles heel, if a book can have one of those. It seems to me that this is very, very Green (albeit not so mean, as far as it goes) while reaching out for some Yellow. But, in truth, it fails to do this.

My point here is that in the study of integral as in the study of leadership, there is a tendency to focus on the individual. Gradually, some integrally informed works are making their appearance that are attending to the collective. There is Peter Merry’s Evolutionary Leadership and soon the book by Mark Edwards, Organisational Transformation for Sustainability—An Integral Metatheory. Things are looking up!

> Russ Volckmann