Activating the collective intelligence [1]

Felipe Duarte | english

After many years of practice in the world of ‘collaborative economy,’ I couldn’t help but feeling a little disappointed in it. It was a major shock when I realized that, despite the amazing social technologies we have developed and implemented, many of us never stopped and recognized that our privileges were the actual grounds of our success – and that we spend our days selling an ideology and seducing people with promises and watchwords that were not appropriately understood by anybody, filled with scattered concepts and even more scattered practices.


As the world started to pay attention to ‘collaborative economy’, we observed the shadows and light growing equally. Conflict, competition, gossip and a much obvious dark layer ensued predictably. Pointing to it, a cynical beholder could delegitimize the entire ‘movement.’ But the truth is that nothing can delegitimize the quest, even when faced with all the incongruities.


We already live a networked life. The network is the world. You don’t have a network, some guy hasn’t founded a network and, most importantly, by attending to a given event you weren’t building a network. What we do is to work with possibilities of this networked world, to connect more people in the hope of generating value, happiness, smiles and learnings to everyone involved – the so called ‘network topology’ can be changed.  The relationship between the points is what makes the system, not only in numbers but in quality of relationships. Some socially talented people end up being very important to connect several potential points and harvest a lot of rewards for this reason, but networks are not things to be owned.


The network and its topology vary in terms of density of connection. They are groups.  Clusters  organicaly formed around subjects, ideas and technologies. Groups of magnetic people are united by a shared purpose, initially stimulating both the flow and the exchange. While things develop, it`s not uncommon to see the same people manifesting an inclination to control this flow, add a brand to it and so on. Once attentive, we don’t need to be frustrated or heartbroken by such a common inversion.


Try to remember how many times over the past few years you read on the media that, based on ‘collaborative’ procedures, a new management technology, app, market trend, social movement etc. would represent the end of capitalism and the (competitive) world as we know? That we only need to ‘share’ and ‘collaborate’ with our brothers in order to change everything? The narrative remains the same since the days of Jesus Christ, and it is very convincing. I admit to be a little tired of this messianic trend that seems necessary to convey the ‘collaborative ideas’ to the general public. The real wealth is attention, not money. ‘Ideologies’ – or systems of ideas – need ‘clients’. Idea systems can seem financially gratuitous, but end up charging you with the most intimate and valuable thing you have: your manner of thinking, feeling and acting.


In spite all this, we evolve. Regarding cooperation and collaboration, we must act systemically. We learn more and more strategies to coordinate people according to their natures and interests, thus diminishing the need of attaining results through hierarchy and oppression. This equips us with courage, curiosity and confidence to search for new means of living without necessarily ‘attacking the system.’ Many of the most ‘sublime’ and ‘esoteric’ notions currently championed were already present in the thoughts and comments of Goethe, German poet, thinker and scientist who lived in the 18th century. It’s of major importance to understand that they are simply technologies and, as such, not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Regardless of the ideological system that gave rise to a form of consistently making something, once a technology is understood, it becomes available for everyone. Such is the case of internet, tantric massage, the atomic bomb and my grandma’s secret moqueca recipe. She might have concealed some of her tricks, but I learned enough to make a nice moqueca. Though, I don’t share much of my grandma’s ideological system.


Everything is collaborative and cooperative. To call something collaborative, shared or cooperative became a way of distinguishing yourself from the ‘normal, daily, hard, square and unhappy old world.’ New world, new science, new politics, new era – whenever a denial of the other polarity becomes necessary, it leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Positive prejudices are as limiting and damaging as the negative ones, and I believe that the seductive usage of such words hinders both learning and dialogue, thus reducing the coefficient of collective intelligence we generate.


We can, indeed, use collaboration and cooperation with systemic intelligence, and thereby rupture the chains of command and control that dehumanize ourselves and drain our will of living. We can become confident enough to allow information and other intangible resources to flow freely and harvest the outcomes of the collective intelligence around us. The more fluid, attentive, perceptive and conscious we are, the more we’ll manage to turn experience and intuition into insight and action. There are no new atoms or new kinds of atomic connection, no new essential elements of matter, nor new syllables. Each and every innovation is the product of how we recombine basic elements of matter with our codes and maps in order to broaden our possibilities.


All innovation is a feat of consciousness first. The ideas behind new findings and innovations live inside us. We are their hosts and agents. We cannot ignore that we have an inner side where the worlds we consider and conceive as possible unfold in. By constructing and acquiring ideas, whether intellectually or empirically, we act upon these worlds. By communicating and interacting, whether we like it or not, we act upon the inner worlds of others. The way they react to us, on their turn, acts upon our inner worlds. And it’s on these colisions of inner worlds that the dynamics of collaboration and cooperation thrive or fail.


When we act as managers, facilitators or leaders, we do not depend merely on our personal ability of interacting with each and everyone involved. Collective outcomes depend on the quality of interaction and communication between all the different ‘points’ in a network. The challenge remains the same in companies, neighbors’ meetings or street protests. There is a tension between what we wanted to happen and what actually happens. Accepting and flowing is the inevitable polarity of orchestrating and one cannot be without the other.


Felipe Duarte, is a painter and teacher. He is developing a multidisciplinary approach that includes performance, social artistry, writing and situational art. He is a Fellow of Trasnational Dialogues 2015-16.

[1] What follows is an excerpt from “Shifiting the Conversartion”, a longer piece by the author. Here we explore the relationship between discourse and practice whitin ‘collaborative initiatives’

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