The Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future have an outstanding report entitled The Literacy of Cooperation which sets out some cutting edge thinking on cooperation theory. Prepared in collaboration with Howard Rheingold (he of smart mobs) it argues that “in the last decade, scientists and social thinkers in a range of fields have independently discovered cooperation at the heart of a number of important phenomena” – like symbiosis in cellular evolution and ecosystem complexity.
The report looks at seven kinds of dynamic that help to unpack cooperation:
- synchrony (the process by which patterned behaviour is created among many individuals without conscious control);
- symbiosis (mutually beneficial relationships that can evolve between different organisms in a system – which, IFTF note, has been called “Darwin’s blind spot”, not because he didn’t recognise it but because he thought only survival of the fittest drove evolution);
- group selection (the process by which groups develop adaptive traits that improve their fitness in their environment, compared with other groups);
- catalysis (an action or reaction among actors that is triggered by an outside agent – with the potential for a very small catalytic agent to facilitate a very large-scale reaction);
- the commons (goods, resources, or property owned by no-one but available for use by everyone);
- collective action (a result of applying methods and mechanisms for aligning the interests of diverse individuals to resolve complex nested social dilemmas); and last but not least
- collective intelligence (the ability of groups of distributed actors to solve problems that none of the individuals alone could solve).
The last one is the critical one – and has a neat read-across to Leon Fuerth’s concept of shared awareness.