Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
L. Cohen (1992)
Dear Students of the School of Thinking,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Thinking Toolkit class dedicated to ‘Co-thinking’. I hope this class will encourage reflections on how we engage in thinking with others, and how we can make it more fruitful and effective.
The overall aim for The School of Thinking is to develop the capacity for cultivating extraordinary intelligence: individually, as well as in communities, teams and organisations. This, as you have surely started to unpack in your classes, poses many challenges. Limitations and tendencies of the individual thinking, which you have mostly focused on so far, are already complex enough. This complexity multiplies, when you add other people into the equation. However, we do need to add them.
In Worldviews and Identities, as well as some previous classes you have already touched upon the idea that the world we perceive and act within is to some extent a result of implicit social processes – ones that we shape, but also ones that shape us without our (or anybody else’s) awareness or intention. As we take the next step, we should acknowledge that all human thinkers are primates that are inherently social, and thus primed and mobilized by even the very presence of others. Our thinking is social. It may be inspired or thwarted when we are in a group. It is strongly affected by emotions triggered by interpersonal relationships, mutual attractions and group cohesion, but also struggles for power, aggression and exclusion. What’s the net result? Can the presence of others help us think better, or does it only disturb our perfect thought forms with all these emotions and undercurrents? What do we gain and lose when thinking with others?
Once we acknowledge the social aspect of our thinking, an entirely new set of questions arises. How can we share thoughts? How can such sharing improve our thinking? How can co-thinking lead to something new? How can we create an outcome that wouldn’t be possible for any of us individually? These are the issues we’re going to raise in the upcoming workshop.
In order to prepare, I suggest you make yourself acquainted with a review of how group context tends to influence individual thinking, decisions and actions. The chapter you will find below discusses group roles and norms, and also reviews phenomena such as group facilitation, groupthink, and inter-group discrimination. Reading it will be especially useful if you’re not familiar with social sciences.
- Brown, R., Pehrson, S. (2019) Effectiveness of groups [In:] Group Processes. [PDF]
During our work together I would like to introduce two perspectives:
- Individual emotional processes (especially managing anxiety) as the foundation for our capability to create partnership with others while thinking.
- Groupthink and various other group dynamics that influence the effectiveness of thinking together.
Once we are more familiar with what usually gets in the way, we will also explore solutions that help minimise intrusions and adverse effects, while facilitating the process of thinking together in groups.
Noticing obstacles and overcoming them is something you undoubtedly do in real life, so we might benefit from exploring various individual challenges and strategies. This is why I’m inviting you to conduct a self-observation task.
Here it is: Please choose two separate group situations (at your workplace, home, or any other social situation) which are either declared, or feel to you, as “thinking together” moments. Reflect on one of them focusing on internal experience, and on another – focusing on what was going on in the group. More detailed descriptions may be found in the attached form. Please send your short observation report to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Monday December 2nd.
I’m looking forward to meeting you in early December,
Those of you who may be interested in linking internal emotional experience with capacity of groups to think, may be interested to read additionally two chapters from this collection:
- Bob Hinshelwood, Are two heads better than one? Or are they worse? (pp. 39-54):
Abstract (from the Editor’s introduction): His paper “Are two heads better than one? Or worse?” traces the way that Wilfred Bion’s work on thinking evolved to integrate ideas about thinking in individuals with the influence created by the presence of other minds. Bion linked an individual’s capacity to think with the nature of the context in which that individual was functioning, and in particular the social and emotional context. Hinshelwood builds a compelling argument, on foundations built by Bion’s work, that leadership of teams needs to consciously take into account the need to create an unconsciously experienced ‘contained’ context for thinking. Leadership of thinking then, is not just about prompting the team to get the job done.
- Robert French & Peter Simpson, Attention as a basis for thinking in Groups (pp. 105-122): Abstract (from the Editor’s introduction): French and Simpson draw our attention to the way in which flooding with emotion can cause both individuals and groups to lose their capacity for attending to what is actually occurring. The authors cohere their paper around the theme that attention is a key element in the capacity for thinking in groups and teams and that to pay attention “…depends on the capacity to stay with the experience of the unknown as well as the known.” Dealing with the resultant anxiety created by being in contact with the unknown requires a capacity for ‘negative capability’ that is described by French and Simpson as well as Perini (in this issue) and other authors in the field of psychoanalysis. It seems also that it requires negative capability to stay with psychotic elements and unsettled states. So despite describing the risk of being flooded with emotion, French and Simpson also share the view that one’s capacity for noticing and dealing with subtle nuances of emotion is a core element in the capacity to think together in groups and teams.