Collective Insight

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Bonnitta Roy:

"Collective Insight is the experience of a group of people working together all having the same key insight at the same time. Although one or two individuals might speak it first, each person experiences the insight, the “ah ha” moment, spontaneously and at the same time, so there is very little impression that one or another individual came up with the idea. On the contrary, people report the feeling of already knowing what the person was going to say, or alternately, the feeling of having someone “take the words right out of my mouth.”

Collective Insight can be compared to a group of musicians from different bands and different styles coming together to play. At first they are each playing in their own sound, so it just sounds like an arbitrary mixture of competing riffs. As they search for a sound that is completely new, the result goes through phases of dissonance and experiment. Without any previous idea of what the result will be, and without needing anything like agreement or consensus on this form or that, the group can spontaneously settle into a completely new sound – something that surprises even them. Together, they begin to “hear” the form that is shaping, that is moving them toward an emergent new way of playing that has never been played before.

We already know quite a few things about collective insight. We know it is a special and rare outcome of group interaction. We know that collective Insight is emergent, embodied, creative, spontaneous, imaginative, playful and powerful. Although most people have difficulty describing it, every person knows it when they experience it. In fact, outside observers who come in after the fact can tell when a group has achieved collective insights. We know that collective insight is powerful because it taps into creativity that is greater than the sum total of the individuals in the group. We know that it depends upon people in the group having a sufficient orientation toward letting go of their individual patterns of behavior, thinking, doing, and saying, while also being willing to abandon what they know in lieu of what they might be surprised to learn, and able to allow themselves to flow with emotional, dialogic, conceptual and relational movements through all kinds of phases and in any and all directions.

We know that collective insight requires the ability to stick with the engagement during the oftentimes long process of working through the uncomfortable periods when nothing seems to be happening, or everything seems to be going wrong. We know that these are periods which are very similar to natural adaptive processes, in which many configurations of outcomes are tried, but few achieve the right “fit” or resonance. In these periods, a bright idea might fizzle out while deep silence or dark tension might spark a wave of inspiration. We know that the process depends strongly on relational dynamics, and that relational dynamics are non-linear and ride strong waves of emotional energy and subtle energetics. Finally, we know that it is impossible to determine what is a “beneficial” contribution and what is not, since everything that happens contributes to the adaptive process, which can benefit from contributions that can feel pleasant or unpleasant, and that therefore, the greatest potential for collective insights happens in groups where people learn to be equanimous with the process and happy to participate without expectation of outcome." (