What is collective thinking?

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Currently, human beings are facing numerous challenges – political, social, economic and environmental. These problems don’t just affect individual people or individual countries. They are global issues, having an impact on everyone and everything that inhabits this planet. We currently address them by applying socially structured knowledges – individual, community, specialised, organisational and holistic.

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Examples of such issues affecting everyone include:

  • Global warming
  • Energy sources
  • Industrial pollution
  • Endemic violence
  • Gross inequalities between populations.


We need to:

  • respond to local social and environmental change
  • cope with global social and environmental change
  • bequeath a liveable sustainable planet.


It is obvious to most people that such problems can’t be solved by applying the logic of cause and effect that we’ve applied to such problems in the past, because the simple solutions that such analysis produces simply don’t work.

Collective thinking is a way of obtaining a comprehensive understanding of these problems and coming up with better ways of tackling them. In this way, collective thinking is a tool to help us to achieve transformational change for a just and sustainable future.

What does collective thinking mean for the individual?

For the individual, collective thinking involves examining a problem from a number of angles. This will require embracing and employing knowledge from throughout one’s experience – personal, physical, social, ethical, aesthetic, sympathetic and reflective.

Collective thinking urges us to:


For example, a fresh water ecologist working to protect endangered species of fish may look to ecology and its companion fields (botany, biology, zoology) to come up with ways to fix the environmental damage that is threatening the ecosystem in which the endangered species is living. However, in order to find a better way to deal with the problem in its social context, they will also need to review their own assumptions. They will also need to reach beyond science and even question their own training, to draw from the analytical tools deployed in sociology, political science, economics and statistics to come up with a reflective understanding of the whole of the issue.

What does collective thinking mean for the broader community?

For communities, collective thinking involves examining issues from the many ways of understanding and using those ways of understanding to obtain a more complex interpretation of the issues. Ultimately, it is about finding a more effective way to address those issues and develop a comprehensive plan for the future.

If we continue with our example of the fresh water ecologist who is working to protect an endangered species within its its social context, in order to develop any action for the future, they will engage with the broader community in order to come up with a plan of action. This may include interacting with: government bodies, local residents, local economic interest groups (farmers and miners) and representatives from environmental groups, as well as any other stakeholders. Each of these will also view the issue under their own seven ways of understanding. Depending on the nature of the problem, this may involve it being explored at the local, national and even international levels.

In this way, collective thinking involves listening to more than one perspective and embracing multiple points of view to come up with a more sophisticated approach to problems, especially diabolical or wicked problems.

Can collective thinking cross cultures?

Yes, collective thinking can be applied transnationally and cross-culturally. Every human being has access to the same seven ways of understanding. Therfore, collective thinking can also be applied to global as well as local problems.


Although collective thinking has its origins in the Western world, it can be applied internationally and across cultures because it does not give any one culture hegemony over the way we explore or respond to wicked problems. Instead, collective thinking embraces multiple perspectives without allowing any point of view to dominate. Ultimately, the aim of collective thinking is to absorb the full range of perspectives in order to build both a new vision and a plan of action for the future.

Are you interested in finding out more about collective thinking?

Further reading:

Collective Learning for Transformational ChangeIn Collective Learning for Transformational Change: A guide to collaborative action, Valerie A. Brown and Judith A. Lambert provide a user-friendly introduction to the concepts behind collective social learning and explore how those concepts can be applied in a practical context to achieve transformational change.







leonardos-visionIn Leonardo’s Vision: A guide to collective thinking and action, Valerie A. Brown explores both the theory and practice of collective thinking, focusing on how it can change the way we think, as individuals and communities.







In The Human Capacity for Transformational Transformational Change Book CoverChange, Valerie A. Brown and John A. Harris explore the ideas and practice of how to harness the power of a collective mind to achieve desired transformational change towards a just and sustainable future.