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The Co-Intelligence FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

The answers in this FAQ are designed to be readily understood by most people, and to engage them in the richness and utility of the subject. While they provide a good introduction to the topic, you'll find much more detail on the rest of this site, especially here.

Here are answers to 20 questions about co-intelligence. Click on a question to be taken to its answer.

What is intelligence?
What is co-intelligence?
How is co-intelligence a bigger form of intelligence?
What is a "bigger picture perspective" and what are "bigger picture" results?
What helps people make co-intelligence happen?
Isn't co-intelligence just collaboration?
What's the difference between co-intelligence and collective intelligence?
What is co-stupidity?
What causes people and groups to be co-stupid?
Is co-intelligence an experience?
Can individuals be co-intelligent, or just groups?
Is co-intelligence a method?
Isn't co-intelligence already happening in lots of places?
What is the co-intelligence worldview?
What does co-intelligence have to do with democracy?
What value do the co-intelligence worldview and co-intelligence capacities add to human life?
Is co-intelligence the intelligence of God or Spirit?
What is holistic intelligence?
How does all this fit together?
What is the Co-Intelligence Institute?


Intelligence can be described in a number of ways:

  • Intelligence is the ability to develop, apply, and change our knowledge and skills.
  • Intelligence is the ability to learn and solve problems, especially in the face of challenges and change.
  • Intelligence is our ability to recognize patterns in our thinking and in life.
  • Intelligence is our capacity to fit our thinking, feeling, and behavior (our inner patterns) with what is actually going on (the patterns of reality).

When we think we know what’s going on and that’s not what’s actually going on, we make “stupid” mistakes. Keeping ourselves aligned with reality – that’s what intelligence is – is vital to our survival, success, and having good lives generally.

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  • Co-intelligence is diverse people working really well together and getting results that make sense when viewed from an inclusive, long-term perspective.
  • Co-intelligence is alignment between the inner world of a group or community and the broad spectrum of factors in the larger world around them.
  • Co-intelligence is accurate sense-making by everyone involved, looking at as big a picture as they can manage on behalf of everyone involved.

Co-intelligence involves truly common sense – shared awareness among people about how to live well together in the circumstances they share, in partnership with the living world – today and tomorrow. It is a bigger way to generate bigger understandings of bigger realities to promote bigger forms of success and quality of life for all.

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We can look at co-intelligence as an expanded, inclusive form of intelligence because...

  • It seeks to include not only individual minds but also the intelligence of groups and other collectives - embracing, as well, the capacities for intelligence that are embedded in cultures and systems.
  • It seeks to include not only reason but also the intelligences of relationship like heart intelligence, gut intelligence, resonance, intuition, spirit, and the evolved, evolving wisdom of nature.
  • It seeks to include not only our own interests in the immediate situation but also to embrace the true needs and gifts of all lives involved, including future generations and erstwhile opponents.
  • It seeks to include not only the immediate obvious facts of the matter but also important contexts, interdependencies, feedback dynamics, and other less obvious but influential factors that are easily overlooked.
  • It seeks to work with anyone and anything that can help generate broad, long-term benefits.
  • It honors, seeks and supports the emergence of unexpected, surprising, out-of-the-box solutions and wisdom.

For a model of how co-intelligence expands traditional intelligence, see Six basic manifestations of co-intelligence.

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To improve our ability to see things from a bigger picture perspective and create bigger picture benefits, we can ask questions like these:

  • How many different ways of looking at the situation have we fairly and appropriately taken into account?
  • How many of the facts, dynamics, beliefs, interconnections, and nuances involved in the situation have we considered?
  • How many diverse real interests and deep needs have we addressed and met?
  • How much of the web of life are we benefiting - and how deeply?
  • Are we engaging all of our cognitive capacities in ways that help us expand what we are able to understand as well as who and what we are able to benefit?
  • Are we considering impacts on the larger world over the long term?

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Here are some of the most important factors:

  • People seek to the greatest extent possible to include everyone and everything that is relevant to the situation.
  • They seek mutual benefit and/or the common good.
  • They try to really hear each other, really pay attention together, and interact creatively.
  • They use diversity, disturbance, and concerns as resources for greater understanding, wisdom, and connection.
  • Their attitude is appreciative, collaborative, and possibility-oriented.
  • They value, create, and use contexts, processes, and systems that increase their ability to live those qualities and do those things.

This means that there is a whole field of study, knowledge, and practice of co-intelligence which can be used to understand and increase the co-intelligence capacities of people and groups.

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Collaboration is an important aspect of co-intelligence, but there's more to co-intelligence than that. After all, people can and do collaborate in creating harmful effects on themselves, each other, and the world around them. They can also collaborate while being ignorant of important things that then make them fail. With co-intelligence they are collaborating on knowing and using what they need to know and use to create long-term broad benefits.

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Collective intelligence concerns the intelligence of groups, organizations, communities, societies, and other collective entities. Co-intelligence involves "diverse people working really well together in ways that make things better from a bigger picture perspective". Thus collective intelligence is only one of the following six major manifestations of co-intelligence so far identified:

  • collective intelligence (more than only individual)
  • multi-modal intelligence (more than only reason)
  • collaborative intelligence (more than only competitive and controlling)
  • resonant intelligence (more than alienated smarts)
  • universal intelligence (more than only human)
  • wisdom (more than obvious, immediate, narrow views)

Each of these can be thought of as co-intelligent in itself, but true co-intelligence includes many if not all of them integrated together. For example, a group working well together in hyper-rational ways towards extremely self-interested ends exhibits collective intelligence but - since it probably lacks much wisdom and heart intelligence - it doesn't really fit the definition of co-intelligence (i.e., "making things better from a bigger picture perspective").

Of course, collective intelligence that involves diverse people using their full cognitive capacities to collaborate with each other and the energies and entities involved in the problem they're working on, empathically taking into account the full spectrum of information and perspectives while attuned to the guidance of nature and spirit - that's very co-intelligent collective intelligence!!

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Co-stupidity is people working together (generally without realizing it) in ways that generate failure and/or that make things worse in the bigger picture. Some varieties of co-stupidity have been studied for years under the name "groupthink".

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Co-stupidity shows up because of many factors, but especially when:

  • The situation supports everyone's personal stupidities rather than their intelligence and wisdom.
  • People conform, pander, or acquiesce to pressures around them that suppress and waste their unique gifts.
  • People use their brilliance to isolate, dominate or get in each other's way, rather than working together.
  • Things are set up so that the people involved tend to fight or to collectively ignore other people and things they actually need to pay attention to.

Co-stupidity is curable by doing things that enhance co-intelligence, as described in this FAQ and elsewhere on this site.

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A short answer would be "No," in the sense that co-intelligence is not in itself an experience nor fundamentally about experience. It is about how well and wisely we engage with each other and the changing world around us.

That being said, we may or may not have any particular experiences or feelings when this is happening - especially when it is happening with a whole community or society. Sometimes we may experience stress and struggle as we work our way co-intelligently through our collective differences and challenges en route to a useful, shared sense of what's going on and what should happen. Such struggles can become meaningful, positive experiences as part of a larger process of healing, discovery, or transformation.

On the other hand, the empathic quality of our experience is a recognized facet of co-intelligence we call resonant intelligence. And certain instances of co-intelligence have profound experiential dimensions. We can be elated by a really good co-creative conversation. We can also develop a special kind of presence as a facilitator or a deep resonance with living things and places as a practitioner of permaculture (an ecological design science) or religious communion with the Goddess in Nature or the God in all people and things.

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The word "co-intelligence" tends to be used to describe the capacity of a group, community, or other collective. However, sometimes the co-intelligence of the collective comes about largely from the cooperative personalities, attitudes, or consciousness of its members as individuals. In this case, the individuals can be said to "be co-intelligent". Furthermore, people may be considered individually co-intelligent based on the extent to which they integrate the diversity that exists within themselves - especially their cognitive diversity - their reason, emotion, intuition, etc.... or a remarkable ability to elicit mutually beneficial collaborative engagements from the people and life around them... or simply the level of true wisdom they manifest in service to broader perspectives and beneficial impacts.

But co-intelligence can also - or even alternatively - be generated by the culture, activity, or system in which people are functioning. Things can be set up in a way that improves people's ability to work together and to take into account important factors that, in other circumstances, they might ignore. In such a group, they may even be able to view everyone and everything as potential partners in coming up with solutions that benefit all the lives connected to a situation. Such a system, activity, or culture can itself be considered co-intelligent.

A system, culture, or activity can be considered especially co-intelligent when it is set up in such a way that individuals grounded in their own self interest and narrow perspectives nevertheless make decisions and take actions that benefit the world around them. A good example of such a design is the proposal to add into the market price of goods and services the costs of dealing with environmental and social damages associated with those goods and services so that the most beneficial goods and services are cheaper than the more destructive ones.

On the other hand, a system whose design encourages co-stupidity can impede, distort or subsume the efforts of people in it who are trying to act co-intelligently, keeping them trapped in participating in co-stupidity.

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No, but many existing methods and resources can enhance co-intelligence and many more can and should be developed. Existing practices and resources range from approaches to dialogue and online collaboration to science and meditation. Most of the people reading this FAQ already know of or use methods and resources that facilitate or manifest co-intelligence. Wikis and other open source efforts are good examples. But these methods are not themselves co-intelligence any more than a paint brush is art. Their intelligent use, however, can help produce co-intelligence. For a taste of such methods, see Co-Intelligent Practices, Approaches, Processes and Organizations.

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The simple answer is "Yes!" In fact, given that people are always dealing with situations they face together - consciously or not, successfully or not - co-intelligence is always present to some extent. Many groups and organizations develop a level of collective functionality that shows up as co-intelligence even if they don't call it that. However, when we understand the dynamics involved and some approaches that make good use of those dynamics, we can significantly increase the co-intelligence that’s present within, among, and around us.

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A worldview is the way someone sees the world. For example, many artists and others have an aesthetic worldview, seeing the aesthetic dimensions of every person, every place, every creation of people or nature. A devout Christian or Hindu may see the face of God in every being and the workings of God everywhere. When someone who sees the world in terms of co-intelligence observes people trying to deal with a situation, they notice how well those people are working with each other - and with whatever challenges and resources exist in the situation - in ways that create beneficial outcomes for everyone who is connected to that situation. If their discernment is trained in the co-intelligence worldview, they also see ways to help those involved be more co-intelligent.

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Democracy is, essentially, self-governance - government by the people. Some people are legitimately concerned about "too much" democracy because they fear mob rule and general co-stupidity. The fact that we can enhance the co-intelligence of groups, communities, and whole societies suggests that we could create wiser forms of self-governance at all levels of society. We call this the promise of "wise democracy".

A primary example of this is the use of citizen deliberative councils, randomly selected panels of citizens who consider an issue together, supported by full-spectrum information and facilitation that helps them listen to each other and co-create shared findings and recommendations about the issue. These and other approaches are covered in detail in the books The Tao of Democracy and Empowering Public Wisdom.

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There is never a time when people don't need to address situations in their collective lives. In fact, politics, governance, economics, justice and international relations all involve major social systems dedicated to doing exactly that. Doing it successfully is not easy and doing it unsuccessfully can produce disastrous consequences.

Given the obvious collective dysfunction, stupidity, and folly we can observe here and there at every level and in every sector of society - and even by any given society and civilization as a whole - there is clear need for improvement. Furthermore, given the consequences of the worst of our collective failures - including some very large and foreseeable global catastrophes - the ability to increase humanity's capacity for co-intelligence is a precious skill indeed.

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If you are a spiritual person, you may well see spiritual dimensions to co-intelligence, which is very understandable. At the same time, it is no more necessary to think of co-intelligence in spiritual terms than it is to think of healing, mediation or facilitation in spiritual terms, even though many practitioners of those arts do so.

What you are probably thinking of with this question is closely related to the recognized manifestation of co-intelligence referred to as "universal intelligence" (which covers all intelligences beyond the usual human forms) and to the broader intelligence underlying co-intelligence - a phenomenon known as "holistic intelligence".

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Holistic intelligence involves the evolutionary dynamism that we find in all domains and at all levels, thanks to the holistic, interrelated nature of reality. Co-intelligence - a subset of holistic intelligence - focuses on the human manifestations of that dynamic, and our conscious use of it.

An example of holistic intelligence is the tendency of any living or life-like system, when disturbed, to seek to reestablish or renew its former state or to transform itself into something new that has more integrity or utility under the circumstances. We can observe this tendency in how forces involved with a disturbed forest, species, person, mechanism or idea act to reestablish its prior order or to stimulate a new form to emerge (including even the entity's breakdown into components useful elsewhere).

When we're dealing with this dynamic in human affairs – in groups, organizations, communities, or societies - we find problems, conflicts and dysfunctions calling forth energies seeking solutions, resolution, organizational or social change, and so on. In other words, we find some degree of co-intelligence at work seeking to promote fruitful harmony.

In both cases, we are observing impulses for more healthy integrity, functionality and contextual "fitness" - which are all manifestations of a whole trying to regain its wholesome nature after a disturbance.

Holistic intelligence be viewed as the intelligence of The Whole of Reality or as a transcendent Intelligence that shapes reality. Although this perspective is not necessary for understanding holistic intelligence, for many people it is thoroughly descriptive and spiritually meaningful.

Studying the general principles of holistic intelligence brings to light subtle dynamics that underlie many manifestations of co-intelligence and thus can increase your mastery of the subject. Yet you don't have to know anything at all about holistic intelligence to study and work competently with co-intelligence.

For further information see Holistic Intelligence.

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Co-intelligence is a bigger-picture intelligence phenomenon
generated by a bigger-picture intelligence capacity
which is influenced by condtions and methods
whose applied principles are studied in a field
- all of which is made possible by a worldview
(supported by the underlying metaphysics of holistic intelligence)
which enables people to discern and promote the presence and dynamics of the phenonmenon.

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The Co-Intelligence Institute (CII) is a non-profit research and public service organization founded in 1996 by Tom Atlee and Karen Mercer to encourage increased understanding and application of co-intelligence - as a capacity, a worldview, and a field of study, knowledge and practice.

Through research, networking, publications, advocacy, and project work, the CII seeks to enhance society's capacity to successfully meet the challenges we collectively face in ways that produce a sustainable, just, and responsible civilization that provides a high quality of life for all who live within and around it.

Contributions to our work and participation in our networks and in our upcoming community of practice are warmly welcomed.

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