The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly By Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan

A Book Corner Review

2010 Volume 13 Issue 1

The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly

By Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009


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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialAccording to the authors, the power of collective wisdom is the “potential of all groups and is marked by an experience of deepening connections within ourselves, with each other, and to larger natural forces involving nature, spirit, and our place in the cosmos.”

Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan, who have all been associated with the Collective Wisdom Initiative since its inception in 2000, present six stances supporting that power, including deep listening, suspension of certainty, seeing whole systems/seeking diverse perspectives, respect for other/group discernment, welcoming all that is arising, and trust in the transcendent. They discuss the split between scientific understanding and religious faith, but while they do explore spirituality and reflection, they do not dwell on theology.

I was most interested in chapters four to six, which focus on the collective follies that groups are often subject to, such as “group-think,” personality conflicts, dominant individuals, confrontations, defensiveness, and pride. The authors offer many illustrations of collective folly including the Challenger disaster in 1985. One particular folly they discuss—and that I have been guilty of—is confirmation bias, that is, “a tendency to search for and interpret information in ways that confirm our existing preconceptions,” and, I should add, a tendency to exclude, ignore, or downplay information that does not conform to one’s theory.

This book and another, also reviewed in this issue of GBR, both have a foreword by Peter Senge and contain similar themes of “power from within,” although one is individual-oriented and the other is group-oriented. (Read the review of Theory U here). This 239-page book is well researched, very readable, filled with examples, and insightful. I would recommend it for those interested in in-group dynamics.

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About the Author(s)

Leo Mallette, EdD, provides technical and programmatic support at The Aerospace Corporation. Previously, he worked in system engineering and project management of satellite systems at the Boeing Company for 30 years. He received the BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida and the MBA and Ed.D. (in organizational leadership) degrees from Pepperdine University. He is co-author of the book Writing for Conferences (Greenwood, 2011), co-editor of The SPELIT Power Matrix (CreateSpace, 2007), and author of Images of America: Rancho Mirage (Arcadia Publishing, 2011). Dr. Mallette is a supporting business faculty at Pepperdine University and the University of Phoenix’s doctoral program, and was an Instructor of Engineering at the University of Central Florida. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a member of the advisory board for the Precise Time and Time Interval Conference, and a board member of the Society of Educators and Scholars.

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