Fostering Co-Intelligence

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What is preventing your organization from achieving its maximum potential results? Could it be that your leadership team is pulling in different directions? Or is not treating each other as trusted colleagues? Or that your organization is not making the best possible decisions? Or not using all the intelligence in your organization and outside? Or perhaps many or all of these things? One key may be to become a more “co-intelligent” organization.

What is “co-intelligence”? Tom Atlee defines it as “being wiser together than we are individually.” (1) As Tom has suggested, perhaps understanding “co-intelligence” is easier if we first consider “co-stupidity”. Everyone has seen “co-stupidity” at work. It is the ability of any collection of people to come up with a dumber answer than any one member of the group would come up with by her- or himself.

The story of the six blind men and the elephant is also instructive as to what is “co-intelligence.” Each believes that he alone understands the essence of the elephant. Only by pooling data and perspectives, however, is it possible to achieve an accurate picture and understanding of what the elephant is.

So: “Co-intelligence” is the process and result of harvesting higher wisdom from a group than would be possible from any single member of the group operating alone. It also entails applying that wisdom to achieve the best possible results. (2)

 “Co-intelligence” is not easy. And it is not the same as finding the lowest common denominator of opinion. Creating co-intelligent strategies involves recognition that there are multiple forms of intelligence (3) and eliciting, recognizing, and using all the multiple forms of intelligence to arrive at the best solution(s). These include analytic intelligence; mathematical-quantitative, logic, inductive and deductive reasoning; interpersonal, emotional or empathic intelligence; spatial intelligence; cross-cultural intelligence; spiritual and moral intelligence; practical or experience-based intelligence; intuition; sensory intelligence; brainstorming, creative, poetic or artistic intelligence; analogies, metaphors, and associative intelligence; meditative intelligence; foresight; and mining the sub-conscious mind (e.g., dreams, guided visions). (4) (5) (6)

Co-intelligence also involves “systems thinking,” the opposite of fragmentation: appreciating the inter-connectedness of everything. Inclusion, feedback, and group learning are key principles of co-intelligence. In a world of multiple stakeholders, co-intelligence is essential.  It involves looking at the definition of the problem and seeking possible solutions from multiple perspectives, including all the stakeholders that stand to benefit from or be injured by the way the challenge is resolved.

How To Foster Co-Intelligence in Your Organization

Here are some of the principles we employ to help cultivate co-intelligence in your organization(s).

  • Use the word. As your people hear the term “co-intelligence” they’ll begin to strive for it.
  • Form teams with the shared charge of coming up with co-intelligent solutions (and with shared incentives for doing so and shared consequences for failing to do so)
  • Lead with questions, not answers.
  • Practice proactive listening (and develop the skills to do so).
  • Encourage “point of view” conversations or summaries to supplement or clarify “right-wrong” arguments or disagreements.
  • Articulate implicit assumptions and boundaries that are shaping the discussion and open them to challenge and reassessment.
  • Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
  • Allow silence and time for reflection; not rushing to closure on decision-making.
  • Examine and honor the varying values, perceptions or other roots of disagreement, without prematurely rejecting or discarding the perspectives of the other.
  • Look for the opportunity to find wisdom in some aspect of the perspective(s) of others with whom you disagree and encourage others to do so as well.  Look beyond stances (and tactical positions) to underlying values to find common ground.
  • Be skeptical of either/or solutions; consider “both/and” type of solutions that respond to multiple values and considerations.
  • When only two options have been identified, search for more.
  • Try listing multiple alternatives, including “both/and” type solutions, and solutions that include self-adjusting mechanisms with variable application to varying circumstances.
  • Go beyond the wisdom immediately available in the room.
  • Ask what solutions might other breakthrough leaders be able to see (e.g., Albert Einstein? Margaret Sanger? Abraham Lincoln? Jonas Salk? Branch Rickie and Jackie Robinson? Charles Lindbergh? Carl Jung? Bill Gates?  Etc.

To learn how Kela Associates can help your organization become more co-intelligent or provide team building training and exercises, please contact us.


1. T. Atlee and K. Mercer, The First Little Book of Co-Intelligence.
2. Hargrove, Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration.
3. Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice.
4 Golemon, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.
5. Mattimore, 99% Inspiration: Tips, Tales & Techniques for Liberating Your Business Creativity.
6. Siler, Think Like a Genius: The Ultimate User’s Manual for Your Brain.

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