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Tapping into the Wisdom of the Collective

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

“Trusts in the wisdom of the collective” was the card that generated some controversy. It was part of an activity that had participants categorizing a set of cards as representing an Agile mindset vs a legacy mindset.

“How does that work?”, asked one participant. “How do we move forward if we include everyone’s opinion? How can we trust in the wisdom of the collective when each person has a different point of view?”

She was right to be skeptical. Placing our trust in a group of people to come up with a better idea or solution than an expert can be a risky proposition. For simple or even complicated problems or opportunities, an expert is the most efficient and effective way to fill in the gaps in understanding. However, for more complex problems or opportunities (a common scenario in our current VUCA world), relying on an expert — narrowly focused on a single domain — can prove the more risky option. With complexity, learning happens through emergence and the better ideas and solutions more reliably come from the collective intelligence of diverse thinkers.

To trust in the wisdom of the collective is not easy. One has to start with a belief — a leap of faith that the time and energy it takes to tap into this wisdom is worth the effort.

Tapping into the wisdom of the collective takes intention and action.

What transforms a belief into trust is intentional action on the part of the participants and their facilitator. Inviting the right people, a collaborative stance, and artful facilitation create the right conditions for participants to experience the superior quality of the ideas and solutions to complex problems that could only surface from the collective intelligence of diverse perspectives.

Lived experience leads to trust.


So, what does this intentional action for tapping into the wisdom of the collective look like?

Inviting the right people

Tapping into the wisdom of the collective requires the ‘right’ people.

Who are the right people? The right people …

  • Have a stake and interest in the outcome.

  • Possess a diverse set of perspectives, knowledge, and/or lived experiences.

  • Hold the relevant knowledge or experience to meaningfully contribute to the idea or decision at hand.

A collaborative stance

To effectively tap into the wisdom of the collective, every participant must engage with a collaborative stance.

What is a collaborative stance? A collaborative stance is …

  • Being fully present and engaged.

  • Coming prepared and ready to offer meaningful contributions.

  • Maintaining a high interest and low attachment to their own idea.

  • Being respectful of other people’s ideas and open to building on their ideas.

  • Demonstrating courage to oppose an idea with supporting evidence.

  • Showing maturity in assessing each idea on its own merits.

  • Committing wholeheartedly to the resonant idea - even when it is not their own.

Artful facilitation

Artful facilitation is the third key to tapping into the wisdom of the collective. A neutral facilitator who can guide the group to arrive at a resonant outcome goes a long way in creating the magic of turning belief into trust.

What is artful facilitation? Artful facilitation is …

  • Providing neutral guidance through the process of divergence and convergence - ideating on multiple options and moving forward with a resonant choice.

  • Ensuring psychological safety for a healthy debate on the merits and demerits of each idea.

  • Maintaining thoughtful timeboxes that move the group towards an outcome with optimal efficiency.

  • Regularly stepping out and up to articulate what is emerging in the group.

  • Checking for a shared commitment on the resonant choice.

“If I hear it, I forget.
If I see it, I remember.
If I do it, I know.”

- Chinese Saying

To trust in the wisdom of the collective, you have to experience it - so just do it with intention!

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