Self-Portrait

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Robert Kenny
Clinton, Washington, USA
(360) 579-3665

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What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?

What are the individual and collective practices that develop the human capacities and character qualities that are required to build collective wisdom and a passion to effectively serve the common good?

What is your personal experience of collective wisdom in groups?

The emergence of collective wisdom is often surprising, as if the doors to the room had suddenly blown open and a wind, a presence, had entered. The "a-ha" of unmistakable, incontrovertible and clear recognition occurs, frequently bringing a response of "Of course!" The wisdom incorporates and embraces the perspectives of all members of the team into a synthesizing tapestry of meaning, resolution and harmony. Everything suddenly falls into place, into a very satisfying sense of wholeness.

I often feel awe, peace, and deep gratitude for the graceful presence of an all embracing Spirit and for the beauty, inspiration and wisdom of each person in the room. I feel blessed to know and work with my fellow human beings.

For collective wisdom to emerge, I and the other members of the group or team need to build an atmosphere, an energetic field, that is characterized by mutual respect, trust, openness, wonder, improvisation, intuitive sensing, acceptance, patience, integrity, honesty, clear communication, compassion, and courage, together with a willingness to abide with, be puzzled by, and contemplate differences, ambiguity, paradox and confusion, at times dipping into the deep pool of silence. Like an orchestra or a jazz ensemble, the diverse voices complement, balance and – through contrast – highlight each other, entering into a delightful interplay. Eventually, the team enters into a state of attunement and resonance – and waiting.

What is it about the work in this field that excites you and connects you to your own deepest self?

I am most excited by the ways in which building collective wisdom can facilitate individual learning (through mirroring, mutual inspiration, and working with diverse perspectives), can result in mutual respect and understanding, can lead to the accomplishment of challenging and complex tasks that require wise and very creative collaboration, and can help strengthen local and global communities that truly support our common welfare. Developing collective creativity and wisdom will be the central challenge facing communities and cultures over the next 50 years.

Work in this field always bring me home to my true Self, to a loving being who serves others un-self-consciously. Together, I and the group members re-member who we are. Ultimately, I cannot fake this work. I can only assist in the emergence of collective wisdom if I develop in myself, through regular practice, the qualities I described in the previous question. If I live and act through my true Self, I inspire other members of the team to do the same, just as they can inspire me to act courageously and express the fullness of who I am. If I don’t express my true Self, I likely will project and transfer the unresolved, unintegrated aspects of my character and my fears onto the group, and will make it more difficult for the group to develop its collective wisdom.

I am exploring two areas in particular at the moment: (1) The impact of individual practice, presence and courage upon the team’s or group’s ability to build collective wisdom and creativity; and (2) the role of intuition (both mine, as a facilitator, and the group members’) in sensing what would be wise collective action.

Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of what brought you to this work.

My life was changed radically in the 1970s by Erling Thunberg, a pioneer in facilitating collaboration and the powerful healing and transformational effects of groups. I worked as a human resources executive and internal consultant for 17 years at the International Center for Integrative Studies (ICIS), a $7 million non-profit that Erling founded. I and 25 of my ICIS colleagues were members of an intentional community. With some of them, I co-founded a residential community. For 27 years we worked and/or lived together. We practiced "24-hour meditation" and experimented with ways to develop collective wisdom, creative collaboration, and synergistic, high-performance teams.

I have studied with Angeles Arrien and Patrick O’Neill, whom I consider the most effective facilitators of collective wisdom processes. They have taught me practices for developing the character qualities, trust, and effective, honest and clear communication that result in collective wisdom.

I draw upon many theories and practices in my work with groups, including Bion (defenses against teamwork), Peck (community-building), Wilber (stages of individual and cultural development), Agazarian (systems centered therapy), Weir (self-differentiation), Bohm (dialogue), Human Dynamics (styles and teamwork), mystical traditions from various religions, and Chodron (practices that develop honesty and loving-kindness with self and others).

How would you like to be available to others in this field?

I can contribute organizational consulting, coaching and workshops on building collaborative leadership, creativity and collective wisdom (CW). For 30 years in the non-profit and business arenas, and as a Fetzer Fellow (mentored by Meg Wheatley and Angeles Arrien), I’ve co-founded pioneering projects and organizations that utilize CW. In 1992 I wrote a seminal article, when few were focusing on CW, and began the CW and Synergy [Research] Project. With Julie Glover, I wrote Calling Out Our Potential, regarding ways to create "leaderful teams"(tm), using CW for decision-making. Julie and I run Bluff House Retreats, where we help teams work with CW. I co-designed and co-facilitated the nationwide "Leaders' Dialogue" Project (a survey of 155 leaders, 55 interviews, and eleven, seven-month training programs for 80 leaders on practices to develop CW). I am writing a book, Change Your Work and Life: Transformative Practice and Inspired Action, which contains CW exercises.

Links to this site or others

Calling Out Our Potential, paper by Robert Kenny and Julie Glover

What Can Science Tell Us About Collective Consciousness? by Robert Kenny

Creating Healing Teams, Organizations and Societies

California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS)


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