What does collective thinking involve?

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(District Heating Plant, Vienna, Austria (Friedensreich Hundertwasser))

Collective thinking is the exercise of the collective mind, both individually and as a community.

Collective thinking involves the thinker(s) in:

  • Dialogue
  • Synthesis
  • Integration
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Coordination
  • Suspending disbelief
  • Organised anarchy
  • Open-minded pragmatism
  • Deep democracy
  • Critical loyalty
  • Deep refection.


Collective thinking does not require groupthink. It is not about:

  • Achieving a consensus
  • Reducing everything to the lowest common denominator
  • Setting a priority.


Rather, collective thinking is about synthesis; however, it is not a question of synthesis replacing analysis. Instead, it is about reclaiming the capacity to connect the two, a capacity that was last commonplace during the Renaissance. In a successful synthetic system, interaction between the parts creates synergy. In short, their interaction leads to a more effective result than any of the parts alone.

Collective thinking is also about acknowledging that there are a number of knowledge cultures and that each one makes a unique contribution to a pattern that connects. That is:

  • Individual knowledge enables
  • Community knowledge grounds
  • Specialised knowledge examines
  • Organisational knowledge ensures
  • Holistic knowledge focuses
  • Collective knowledge empowers.


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Each of these is required in any program of social change. Networking the knowledge cultures generates synergies between them for the future, as well as enabling the immediate tasks. Collective decision-making can be thought of as a sequence of nested knowledge cultures.

Ultimately, collective thinking uses ‘both’, not ‘or’. It is about using ‘and’, not ‘but’.

The aim of collective learning is not to find one right answer, and nor is it to reach a consensus: it is to value each contribution. Bringing them all together generates a better solution than any one contribution alone.

Are you interested in finding out more about what collective thinking involves?

Further reading:

leonardos-visionIn Leonardo’s Vision: A guide to collective thinking and action, Valerie A. Brown provides a detailed exploration of the theory and practice of collective thinking.







Collective Learning for Transformational ChangeCollective Learning for Transformational Change: a guide to collaborative action, Valerie A. Brown and Judith A. Lambert, is a guide for individuals, specialists and decision-makers desiring transformational change. It also outlines the mechanisms you can use to bring parties into a fruitful discussion that will lead to transformational change.