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The importance of what Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan offer in this book is suggested by Peter Senge in the Foreword. He identifies three reasons. "First, [the material in the book] corrects a misconception, that wisdom is not developable [when in fact it] can be cultivated: through continual reflection, through silence, and through connecting with the highest in yourself and others...Second is that wisdom is not about just a few wise people but about the capacity of human communities to orient themselves around a living sense of the future that truly matters to them...While the world's cultures offer a rich storehouse of stories of extraordinary individuals who exercised wisdom, upon closer inspection what makes the stories compelling is what emerged collectively...But even these examples are misleading, insofar as they start with the central leadership figure. For it is the everyday emergence of collective intelligence in teams, communities, and networks that is most welcome today...Third, the authors show that rather than being a `feel good' concept with little tangible impact, wisdom is all about results, and especially what is achieved over the longer term." Senge nails the essence of what this book is all about far better than I ever could.

For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material is provided in Chapter Three as Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan focus on what's involved when "inhabiting" a different worldview, one that enables people to "think collectively about the circumstances they face. [This book offers} a guide to reclaiming our participation in groups as positive, necessary, and hopeful without sugarcoating the external challenges we face or the external obstacles that prevent us from seeing new possibilities. Wisdom reflects a capacity for sound judgment, discernment, and the objectivity to see what is needed in the moment. Collective wisdom reflects a similar capacity to learn together and evolve toward something greater and wiser than we can do as individuals alone." The authors identify and then briefly but insightfully discuss five social visionaries who possessed the aforementioned worldview, who contributed to the field of collective wisdom: Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955), Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Regrettably, Mary Parker Follett has not received the attention and appreciation she deserves. Peter Drucker named her the "prophet" of management. Warren Bennis has characterized her as a "swashbuckling advance scout of management thinking" whereas Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that reading any of her works is "like entering a zone of calm in a sea of chaos. Her work reminds us...there are truths about human behavior that stand the test of time. They persist despite superficial changes, like the deep and still ocean beneath the waves of management fad and fashion."

Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan cite three of Follett's most important insights, the second of which she called the "law of situation." Instead of bringing in outside experts and resources to bolster one side over the other, consistent with the fact that Follett was a staunch advocate of "power with" rather than "power over" in all relationships, she proposed complete and unrestricted use of information to advance transparency of operations. "She saw the power of the scientific method, still nascent in her day, as useful in creating a shared pool of data that everyone could use." Several decades later, Henry Chesbrough would develop this insight in much greater depth in two books, Open Innovation and then Open Business Models. Collective wisdom cannot be created and then leveraged unless and until everyone involved is both willing and able to embrace what C. Otto Scharmer describes (in Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges) as three intertwined "openings" of the mind, the heart, and the will. Only then, Senge suggests, can people learn "how to listen more deeply" and suspend their "take-for-granted mental models" as well as to "connect with one another in that listening, and, perhaps quietly and barely noticed, how to pay attention to why [they] are here."

This is the journey of discovery to which Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan invite their reader. Throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, they affirm the value of collective wisdom, insisting (and I agree) that it is available to everyone, in any group or larger collective to which one belongs. That said, the authors add, "Our exploration of collective folly, however, reveals the other, far less comforting, implication of Terence's bold claim, `If nothing that is human is alien to me, then I know the poet and the thief, I know the teacher and the terrorist. I know the victim and the perpetrator - they are all within me.' The same is true of any group: We are capable of extraordinary acts of grace and kindness and creativity, and equally extraordinary acts of cruelty and violence. No group is exempt - all that is human is within us."

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out two written by Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind and The Design of Business, as well as Carla O'Dell and C. Jackson Grayson's If Only We Knew What We know, Morten Hansen's Collaboration, James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, and Seth Godin's Tribes.
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on November 20, 2009
Collective Wisdom does a great service by helping us orient and tap that rare and powerful experience when groups are wiser than the sum of the individuals that make them up.

The authors start by asking: What creates the conditions for group wisdom to emerge? and offer six core commitments that allow groups to access their potential for sound judgment, discernment, and objectivity to see what is needed in the moment. The book is full of powerful stories that illustrate group wisdom in practice, including an illuminating account of how Benjamin Franklin helped the Constitutional Congress tap the potential for unity. I particularly enjoyed the short biographies of pioneers such as Carl Jung, Mary Parker Follett, Teilhard de Chardin, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who experimented and discovered the early principles for tapping and activating group wisdom.

For those who are cautious about the idea of wisdom coming from any collective, three chapters are devoted to the risk of group folly. It was painful to read about the polarization surrounding Austrian physician's Ignaz Semmelweiss' discovery of simple handwashing practices that reduced childbirth deaths tenfold, but could not be implemented fully due to personalities and politics.

Given this potential for tragic failure, and how interdependent we are on other people, the authors argue that we need to learn, share, and master the conditions that tap the potential for all groups to act wisely. They conclude the book with four mindfulness practices that allow us to experience shifting our perspective so the territory of collective wisdom and the insights possible in groups become real, tangible, and practical.

I found this to be an enjoyable read, peppered with wisdom captured in memorable phrases such as "human survival depends on our recognizing that we have a stake in each other's well-being". I have only one suggestion for improvement: I have worked with several of the authors and have personally watched them contribute to subtle and dramatic shifts in how groups operate. I would have liked to hear more stories about their personal experience and what guided their observations and actions in those moments. The next book perhaps!
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on March 8, 2010
Collective Wisdom is more than collective Intelligence.It implies the emerging of an awareness of common need - of connection at a fundamental level. In recent years I have become obsessed with finding ways to achieve this in teams and corporations; these are groups that seem to be terminally divided and competitive. This book explains the rationale for doing this along with some practical ways for making it happen. Unlike other books on the subject,this is not esoteric but practical; it is written in simple language, not consultant-speak.

The book explains why so many of us believe that individual experts are more valuable than a group. It is shocking though not surprising to read some real examples of this failure and the group insight behind each one. When a group descends into folly or even evil, we lose faith in the group. Most of us have experienced this failure and the disappointment that follows however, to atribute this to the group is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Through awareness and practice groups can deliver wisdom that far outweighs the capacity of any individual expert; by avoiding the pitfalls of folly we can prevent the group from descending into disaster.

I like the idea that a group can use wisdom without each member being wise or having high levels of intellectual or emotional intelligence. This level of development, often embarked on by companies, takes years and is simply not practical as a stand alone development strategy in the real world. We need wisdom now. According to the authors, wisdom is always present and the challenge is to allow it to emerge in a shared situation. They refer to a number of ways that enable this: Deep listening, suspension of certainty, focusing on the whole rather than the parts, respect for others, having a shared purpose, accepting whatever arises and trust that there is a greater level of understanding that all can 'tap' into.

Collective wisdom may not be easy to achieve, but it is certainly worthwhile and the authors clearly demonstarte that. In the workplace, it points to the primary role of a leader - to do those things that enable the group and organisation to develop collective wisdom. In business, collective wisdom must be the 'holy grail' of Organisation Development.

A very good book that challenges our pre-conceptions but offers pragmatic advice. I shall be using that advice in my work.
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on March 1, 2016
This book was excellent! Started with some Edgar Cayce kind of stuff for background, but developed into more mainstream ideas on cooperation and the "whole" being greater than the sum of it parts. I made so many notes, folded so many dog ears, and underlined so many passages that I thought were impactful, that I could never loan my book to anyone. So I bought 3 new ones to give away!
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on December 1, 2013
Drawing their inspiration from (among others) Jung, Einstein, Teilhard de Chardin, Emerson, and Mary Parker Follet, the four co-authors exemplify the collective wisdom that they expound upon.

More than simply the aggregation of wisdom that comes from relaxing our blinders, to incorporate the complementary knowledge of others, collective wisdom can arise from such phenomena as "collective resonance":

, "... a felt sense of energy, rhythm, or intuitive knowledge that occurs in groups and which positively influences the way they interact towards a common purpose" [p. 153, defnition attributed to Renee Levi].

The authors give us numerous examples of wisdom emerging (often inexplicably) when the right conditions are present. They highlight and expound on some of these: deep listening; suspension of certainty; seeing whole systems; seeking diverse perspectives; respect for others; group discernment; welcoming all that is arising; and trust in the transcendent.

In perhaps no arena is the understanding of collective wisdom more impactful than in the transpartisan movement, which aspires to unleash and empower the latent wisdom of deliberative democracy. Our current failure to address major issues like climate change can largely be attributed to the "trap of collective folly" (the subtitle of the book) that comes from so many citizens standing in their partisan corners, failing to incorporate the wisdom from the opposing corner.

While the authors don't devote a lot of attention specifically to deliberative democracy, their work has been influenced by, and has in turn influenced the work of Tom Atlee, who has spent many years incorporating the principles of collective wisdom (which he calls co-intelligence) into his theory of democratic reform. Empowering Public Wisdom, the title of his 2012 manifesto and resource guide for transpartisans, could just as easily have been entitled Empowering Collective Wisdom.
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on May 17, 2010
As an OD consultant with over 20 years of experience in organizations large and small, I have read countless books on change, leadership, organizational development, etc. None has captured as profoundly and poetically the critical and central role of authentic, productive relationships that allow groups to learn, grow, and solve problems by accessing something greater than what any one "expert" can bring to the table. In a world where partisanship prevents progress and internal competition trumps collaboration and innovation, a better future is truly dependent on our willingness and ability to tap into the collective wisdom.

Briskin et. al. illustrate this clearly through the use of poignant stories, insightful reflection, and their enduring belief in the positive possibilities inherent in any group of people gathered together. The book is equally provocative and practical. They support their thesis of the need for collective wisdom with a series of pragmatic practices that any of us can readily adopt to promote the emergence of wisdom.

Collective Wisdom delivers just what we need in a world that readily slips in to the trap of collective folly. I will continue to give this book to colleagues and clients alike as it perfectly supports my mission of "adding life back into work."
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on October 26, 2009
A book whose time has come!

This book provides us with new ways of thinking, both for business and society-at-large, to lead us into a wonderful future. Collective Wisdom is realistic yet hopeful about what humanity is capable of doing together. The required shift is such an organic and natural one that it feels basic, yet is critical. It's about a world view of connectedness. Once we're able to cut through the illusion of separation and see our oneness we relate differently with the world around us. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: "collective wisdom helps us transcend the duality of self and others because it is a reminder that we are part of a larger framework from which we act out our role."

This book is highly approachable and reader-friendly while also being very grounded and full of substantive food for thought.

The more people that read this book and subscribe to this thinking, the faster and easier we'll get on a healthy local and global path.
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on November 15, 2009
This is a book meant to be savored sentence by sentence, no racing through it. Have your pen close by so you can underline and make notes in those areas which resonate or raise questions for you and dog-ear the pages. You will come back to re-read and reflect. At the heart of this book is the power of bringing people together and experiencing the ability to create concrete accomplishments on behalf of the greater good. The last section of the book on mindfulness practices is a good description of how this can be done. The rewards of coming together in a collaborative and collective manner are priceless. Not only can you achieve concrete accomplishments but the personal growth and development follow you wherever you go. In these types of groups everyone is able to emerge as a leader.

All in all, this is a wonderful book and one that I will keep close by for re-reading and inspiration.
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on May 7, 2010
I shall contribute further reflection as I continue reading this amazing work. The four categories of praise cited in this book--Leadership and Organizational Development, Community and Institutional Renewal, Social Justice and Environmental Activism, and Spiritual and Religious Traditions--AND THE SUPERBLY QUALIFIED PERSONS PRAISING THIS BOOK IN EACH OF THESE 4 CATEGORIES speak loudly and eloquently to what this book seeks to achieve, and also to its very great accomplishment in doing so. "Collective" absolutely, uniting the great areas of human life that seem currently so divided and broken. "Wisdom" absolutely, offering insight, guidance, and hope in these very same precious human domains. I would regard it as "folly" not to enter into this book.
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on February 4, 2016
This book presents an extremely persuasive argument for seeking the insight of other keen minds in reaching decisions, while also being very careful to avoid groupthink. It is as inspiring to read as it is tight in its logic.
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