“The Power of Collective Wisdom” by Dr. Alan Briskin, et al. And the Trap of Collective Folly

January 24, 2018

SHOW NOTES: Dr. Alan Briskin co-wrote The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly with Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan. Together, the authors seek to answer the key question, “How does magic happen in groups?” With the encouragement and support of The Fetzer Institute, they combine their own research, theory, and practice with that of hundreds of others, as noted in the Acknowledgments. In short, they teach how to maximize the best in us.  “Collective wisdom,”” says Briskin, is about how we come to make sound judgments with others, touched by what is common and decent in all of us.”

But leveraging this wisdom, or finding a new joint perspective, requires deep connection with others and our surroundings. Briskin’s multiple examples of both positive and negative group participation illustrate the urgent need for “large-scale change efforts in business, health care, education, mental health, criminal justice, conflict resolution, and global initiatives.”

To increase the likelihood of collective wisdom emerging, Briskin proposes six “stances” or attitudes. The first is “Deep Listening.” To illustrate, Briskin introduces us to Paula Underwood, a Turtle clan mother of the Iroquois nation. Taught by her father to listen to people’s hearts and to read between the lines, she learned both emotional and cognitive empathy. As a tribal leader, she uses these skills while anticipating life seven generations into the future. Such foresight or concern for the future, which Briskin calls “the DNA of wisdom,” can be adopted by any culture. In fact, today we see it often in environmental groups.

A similar stance is “Seeing whole systems/Seeking diverse perspectives.” This attitude is what we hope will frame robust political debates, which have long been part of our nation’s history. For example, in Benjamin Franklin’s final speech at the Constitutional Convention, he champions individuals who engage in vigorous discourse with the express purpose of moving group goals forward.

Humility is another key component to collective wisdom. Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers, openly admitted he did not have all the solutions to organize his little band of grape harvesters. And, by publicly confessing he lacked answers, the group helped him find a way to unite and galvanize others.

Without building deep relationships, we can fall into “the trap of collective folly,” Briskin warns. This folly may begin as mere separation and fragmentation. However, if we don’t take precautions against polarizing, accusing, blaming, and talking past each other, then collective folly can lead to dysfunction and even evil. For example, the “not me” or “not us” attitude can devolve into “confirmation bias,” with members welcoming only data confirming what they already believe or know. Another form of collective folly is false agreement and the (outward) appearance of unity. To illustrate, Briskin shares the true story of the disastrous, deadly failure of the Challenger Space Shuttle mission. In the end, the book can help immunize us against such dangerous folly.

BUY The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly by Briskin (1-Oct-2009) Paperback

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5 comments on ““The Power of Collective Wisdom” by Dr. Alan Briskin, et al.

  1. They do not come any deeper than Alan Briskin. You will learn to listen deeply and to speak with a voice that penetrates deeply.

  2. We certainly live in a time abounding in collective folly when what we all really need is collective wisdom. Given the wicked problems we face as a species this podcast and the book behind it contain an essential message. The planet will survive, our species and culture not so sure if we continue on our present trajectory. If more people lived consonant with Alan’s message we would have a much better chance.

    Thank you Janet and Alan.

  3. myrna holden Jan 25, 2018

    A succinct, thoughtful, and wise podcast. Here’s wishing that we all benefit by it.

  4. Robert Jan 29, 2018

    I really enjoyed this podcast and learned a lot from the authors’ insights. I particularly appreciated the lead in of the interviewer to each question she asked. These provided more information about the book, the details of the background for the question and provided a smooth transition to the response by the author. I consider this a unique talent to open the discussion and to provide the best possible background for asking the question. Most professional!

  5. Insightful. Clear. Inspiring. Wise. Engaging. Accessible. Thank you, Alan and Janet.

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