Institute for the Future on cooperation

by | Mar 17, 2007


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.

Author

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.


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