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Exploring this book

Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.

-- Sitting Bull

This book was written for all the people who want a better world than we have now. It is especially written for social change agents, community organizers, spiritually motivated activists, and the millions of people sociologist Paul Ray calls "cultural creatives" -- the co-creators of a new culture. If you happen to be someone who has left activism because it was too adversarial -- or if you feel called to be more active in response to the suffering, danger or tremendous possibilities you see in the world -- this book is for you, too. I wrote it as an invitation to everyone who is seeking to transform our human culture in conscious, collaborative, life-affirming ways.

Its purpose is two-fold. First, I want to introduce you to the co-intelligence perspective -- a vision of what intelligence might look like if we deeply understood wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity.

Next, and most importantly, I want to explore how we might use the perspective of co-intel-ligence to transform our troubled democracy into a living system capable of creating a world that works for all, by generating the collective wisdom we need to creatively address our twenty-first century problems, opportunities and dreams.

The political vision of this book

I called this book The Tao of Democracy because Lao-Tzu, the founder of Taoism, is famous for his insistence that when leaders lead well, people feel that they did it themselves, and that it happened naturally. Democracy is, in the end, about creating processes that allow people to empower themselves, not about Great Leaders saving the people. This book is about increasing the capacity of We the People, as a whole, to govern ourselves wisely, thereby realizing the dreams of all democratic visionaries from Lao-Tzu to Thomas Jefferson.

At the core of the political vision in this book is a straightforward, simple, and yet revolutionary thesis that flings open the doors to positive democratic change:

Given a supportive structure and resources, diverse ordinary people can work together to reach common ground, creating wise and deliberate policy that reflects the highest public interest.

Around the world thousands of people have experimented with democratic innovations based on this premise. In this book, I explore the evidence that these "citizen deliberative councils," in their many forms, can be used to help us resolve social problems much more wisely than we do now. I also explore the possibility that these innovative institutions, combined with other aspects of co-intelligence, could produce a new culture capable of consciously evolving itself.

Our predicament

Such democratic innovations are critical at this moment in history to deal with the crisis-generating capacity of twenty-first century civilization:

Collectively, we are creating effects in our world beyond our collective ability to comprehend what we are doing, at a speed that surpasses our collective ability to reflect and respond.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see where this is headed. Our civilization is racing headlong into massive breakdown or breakthrough -- or both. This book is about consciously choosing breakthrough. It is about breaking through to conscious evolution and conscious co-creation of our collective future.

Most of you are undoubtedly all too aware of our considerable social and environmental problems. I will not burden you with the usual litany. But I would like to use a few of our troubles to illustrate the point I make above, about the imbalance between our capacity to create and our capacity to respond to the consequences of our creations, as communities and nations.

It is clear to many of us that, in the very near future, our lives will be changing even more dramatically than we have already experienced. Our vast collective power -- our technological and economic power -- is so great that we are creating impacts far beyond what is called "the human scale" -- that scale of everyday life where we evolved with a certain balance between our powers of creation and our powers of response.

Gone are the days when the worst we could do was conquer a neighboring tribe or overgraze a local hillside. We are reaching a point where individuals and small groups will be able to create, or destroy, almost anything. We have moved beyond the scale of centimeters and miles down into the microscopic, even subatomic realms, and up into the planetary and interstellar realms, from angstroms to light years, from nanoseconds to gigabytes. We break up atoms and chromosomes. And collectively we change forests to deserts. We litter the upper atmosphere with layers of space junk zooming around earth at hundreds of miles an hour. Our inventions are transforming the lives of our grandchildren's grandchildren -- and we do not have the foggiest notion how. And we are doing all of this faster and faster, more and more, bigger and bigger.

Meanwhile, individually, we can directly comprehend only a tiny fraction of what we are collectively doing. Our individual senses, nervous systems and brains are not capable of taking in the gigantic effects, both current and potential, that our civilization's creativity is capable of generating. Our nervous systems are set to respond to what is here and now and obvious: we can not feel radiation, the population explosion, the vital information missing from our newspaper, the disappearing ozone layer. And when we are faced with any significant piece of the full information, we get overwhelmed.

Stop and think about this for a minute.

We cannot individually comprehend the range, depth and detail of the consequences we are collectively generating for ourselves.

Well, if we cannot appreciate our circumstances individually, perhaps we can do it collectively. Unfortunately, our democracy is not designed for that. Even in those rare instances when it is not being manipulated by special interests, it operates on elections and polls, on the numerical adding up of our individual opinions. Logically speaking, this cannot do the job that is required; if we can not individually comprehend our circumstances, adding all our individual incomprehensions together will not improve our understanding.

The need for collective intelligence and wisdom

It is clear we need far better ways to perceive our world, to reflect on it, to act and to learn from what is going on around us. Of course, we need these things as individuals. But most of all, and urgently, we need these capacities as whole societies -- indeed, as a civilization.

The language I use to talk about this is that we need greater collective intelligence than our democracy is able to deliver in its current form. It is not that we need a better collection of intelligences, a mere sum of all our individual smarts. We need something that is significantly larger and more synergistic than that, an intelligence that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

In other words, we do not need collected intelligence. We need collective intelligence, a coherent integration of our diversity that is greater than any or all of us could generate separately, just as an orchestra is greater than the sum of its instruments. We need a new kind of collectivity that does not repress individuality, diversity and creativity but that, instead, allows us to arrive at creative consensus without compromise. We need a shared power that calls forth the best in all of us and cherishes our diversity for the riches it contains.

Furthermore, we need to apply an unprecedented level of collective wisdom to all the challenges we face. Right now, there is much wisdom on earth, scattered here and there. But our collective actions as societies are clearly not wise. It is far too easy to imagine that the problem is "out there," with all of the various powerholders and interests groups that keep the wise solutions that already exist from being implemented. But if we find ways to work with one another across a wide range of differences, we could then create the broad-based coalitions we need in order to implement the wisdom that we have.

We need ways to focus our full capabilities -- heart, mind, soul, and gut -- on our collective situation. We need to be informed by big-picture sensibilities, aware of our potential for both catastrophe and evolution, for both co-stupidity and collective wisdom. We need methods that can help us deepen and expand our thinking, feeling and dreaming, and we need ways to weave it all together, collaboratively, into a shared future. Co-intelligence is the capacity to do that, individually and collectively.


Co-intelligence is a capacity. It is also the field that explores theories and practices dealing with the dynamics of that capacity and how to use and enhance it. There are many tools available for this task, as you will find in this book. As a culture, we have abundant insight and know-how that just need to be pulled together and aligned so our whole society can see and think and feel and dream more effectively together.

When we succeed at that, we will not only be saving ourselves from disaster. When we become fully capable of wisely co-creating a better future, we will be taking a giant step forward into conscious cultural evolution.

It is time for us to take that step.

Exploring the landscape of this book

This book is arranged so that later chapters build on earlier ones. But it is also possible to explore areas you are interested in by dipping into relevant chapters.

  • In particular, if you are interested in democracy, take a look at Sections III and IV -- looking over chapters whose titles appeal to you.
  • If you are interested in what all this has to do with Taoism or spirituality, check out Chapters 4 and 20.
  • A very condensed summary of co-intelligence is available in Chapter 1.
  • If you learn best through stories and examples, Chapters 2, 12 and 13 will be your cup of tea.
  • If you collect methodologies and processes (as I do), you will likely find Chapters 7, 8, 13, 14, 16 and 17 of special interest.
  • For better understanding of the democratic design innovation most central to this book -- citizen deliberative councils -- read Chapters 12-14.
  • Activists will find Chapters 5 and 19 thought provoking.

The purpose of this book, as noted above, is two-fold: to introduce you to co-intelligence, and to show how co-intelligent processes and systems can help us solve our collective problems wisely.

Sections One and Two introduce you to the basic ideas and conceptual models of co-intelligence, illustrated with a variety of stories, examples and descriptions of co-intelligent methods and processes.

You will discover a key definition of co-intelligence -- "what intelligence would look like if we took wholeness, interconnectedness, and co-creativity seriously." Co-intelligence moves beyond IQ-based theories to offer a view of intelligence that is fully alive and far more comprehensive than individual reason.

In Section One you will also learn about six manifestations of co-intelligence: multi-modal intelligence, collaborative intelligence, resonant intelligence, collective intelligence, wisdom, and universal intelligence. Focusing on the fourth and fifth of these, collective intelligence and wisdom, we proceed to Section Three, the heart of the book: an exploration of how co-intelligence can transform our public affairs, the area of life that we usually think of in terms of politics, governance, citizenship and activism.

Section Three tackles that realm head on and in detail, describing how we can create a conversation-rich deliberative democracy that naturally and dependably produces community wisdom. It offers an overview of cooperative and holistic politics, as well as the role that citizen deliberative councils can play within this larger picture. Citizen deliberative councils are the key innovation featured in this section. Hundreds of these councils have already been held around the world, in a wide variety of forms and contexts. When you get a glimpse of this compelling story, currently invisible to most Americans, I expect you will see how great a difference these councils could make if popular demand led to their widespread use as a regular part of our democratic system.

Section Four explores how we might proceed with this and why we must. After delving into the dynamics that have made current forms of citizenship almost meaningless, this section describes the emergent "culture of dialogue" and many ways people are tackling public issues together. It explores the co-creative, non-adversarial conversation, participation and action that can transform twenty-first century cultures. And finally, it takes a look at the kinship between co-intelligence and the Tao.

After reading reflections on people who are involved in this emerging movement for a co-intelligent culture, you can explore some ideas for becoming a part of this movement, yourself.

At the end of the book you will find an annotated bibliography of books that have contributed to the development of co-intelligence.

What is now possible

Remember the thesis I said was fundamental to this book:

Given a supportive structure and resources, diverse ordinary people can work together to reach common ground, creating wise and deliberate policy that reflects the highest public interest.

This book explores the many ways in which this statement is true, and how we can use this truth to transform our world. While some amount of supportive structure and resources are essential to this process, it is by no means a prohibitive amount, especially considering the resources that we spend in other areas and the mounting cost of our thorny social and environmental problems.

Fostering collective intelligence on a society-wide level is a project that requires complementary top-down and bottom-up strategies integrated so that they feed back into each other. A broad movement in support of citizen deliberative councils can lead to the use of this highly-effective means of harvesting the "people's wisdom" on behalf of the common good.

If we created such a movement (see page 276) -- and as it succeeded -- those periodic citizen deliberative councils would provide high quality, dependable public judgments about public issues that concern us all. Although they would be "only" temporary small groups of ordinary citizens, they would do their work and make their statements from the "top" of our political culture. Instead of highly placed public officials deciding everything with one eye on fickle "public opinion," we'd have groups that reflected the evolving, thoughtful, informed wisdom of our whole community or society, speaking clearly into official deliberations and into the widespread conversations going on naturally all the time at the grassroots.

This new feedback loop between the top and the bottom would continue as the conclusions of these councils, and the stories of their participants, catalyzed more such conversations, generating a broad base of support at the community level to make the wise course-corrections our society needs.

You may consider this book an introduction -- and invitation -- to the Co-Intelligence Institute's websites: co-intelligence.org and democracyinnovations.org. They contain extensive additional information on all these subjects.

With your support and whatever energy and insight Life sends through us, further books and projects will be forthcoming.

May it prove to be a great and fruitful journey for us all.


Tom Atlee
Eugene, Oregon
July, 2002

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