Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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September 05, 2004

Distinguishing Co-Intelligence and Collective Intelligence

Many people equate "co-intelligence" and "collective intelligence." That is OK in everyday usage, but it can impoverish our language when these two terms are equated in more formal work.

I believe it is very useful to keep the two phrases separate to describe distinct phenomena. I'll try to describe here the distinctions I see, and hopefully you will find them useful.

Co-intelligence embraces the full spectrum of ways that intelligence can arise from wholeness, interconnectedness, diversity and co-creativity. Collective intelligence is one of those manifestations -- the intelligence that characterizes a collective.

But the use of both head and heart (and intuition and narrative and many other capacities) can quite legitimately be considered another manifestation of co-intelligence -- a capacity I call multi-modal intelligence -- in which we integrate more of the whole of who we are into our intelligence.

This integration can happen in a group when we welcome and use people's different capacities, and so it can be related to collective intelligence. However, it can just as well happen in each of us individually as we try to heed our reason, our passion and our gut sense of things all at once.

Likewise our ability to cooperate -- to co-create with each other and nature -- and to apply our intelligence to that end -- a phenomenon I call collaborative intelligence, should also be considered a distinct form of co-intelligence. The Aikido master who moves with her attacker is not being collectively intelligent but is being collaboratively intelligent.

Similarly, resonant intelligence -- the intelligence that arises in and among us when we are "attuned" to each other or to a situation or to some form of transpersonal or collective intelligence -- is also a notable (and often very memorable) manifestation of co-intelligence.

Collaborative and resonant intelligence are often, but not always, associated with collective intelligence -- and vice versa -- and so are most usefully considered distinct phenomena.

Furthermore, the familiar concept of wisdom -- which I think of in terms of expanding our perspective to embrace more of the wholeness of reality and of our interconnectedness -- is another form of co-intelligence. Collective intelligence, if it has that expansive quality -- and it often does, since it usually creatively integrates diverse viewpoints -- can be considered to that extent wise. But collective intelligence can also operate within very narrow frames of reference -- as the collective intelligence of brilliantly oppressive regimes and unprincipled companies -- and thus not be so wise.

Finally (at least as far my own understanding has progressed), we can notice there are forms of transpersonal and transhuman intelligence functioning in, through and around us -- the intelligence of nature in its complex weave of evolving workable patterns, the intelligence of intuitive knowing that people often experienced as guidance from a higher power, and so on. Arising as they do from the wholeness of reality, they, too, can be considered together as a distinct manifestation of co-intelligence that we could call universal intelligence. These "higher" intelligences seem to exist and function whether we are aware of them (as in resonant intelligence) or not.

So, by all means, feel free to say "co-intelligence" when you loosely mean the collaborative, collective sort of intelligence we generate in well-functioning groups and organizations.

But keep in mind that there is a much bigger reality involved and that we need a word that can refer to that -- and that co-intelligence is a great word to perform that task for us.

If we preserve the expanded meaning of co-intelligence in our serious conversations about all this, that may help us to expand into the vast and powerful realities it embraces.

For more on these distinctions and for various useful definitions of co-intelligence, explore the articles on http://co-intelligence.org/co-intelligence-1.html.


posted by Tom Atlee on Sunday September 5 2004
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

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Diversity is possibility waiting to be born. So how can we use our differences most creatively?


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