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Finn Voldtofte

We honor our colleague and friend, Finn, who passed December 22, 2006.

His photo, quotes and writings, appreciatively woven into the CWI website, remind us of his significant and continuing influence as we seek to deepen our understanding of collective wisdom.

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

What we can create individually, what we can know and learn by ourselves, is one thing; call that “ant thinking”. But what can we learn only through being part of an interaction in a group of people - what can we know and understand only if we engage in “ant-hill thinking”?; that question is driving me.

What is your personal experience of collective wisdom in groups?

I have two sources of experiencing the dynamics of collective consciousness in groups.

One is from the 1980's and early 1990's of taking part in "World Peace Assemblies" in former Yugoslavia, Hague, Washington DC and other places. Groups up to 7,000 practitioners of an advanced meditation program (TM-Sidhi techniques) stayed together for several weeks. The best way for me to describe that experience in terms of collective consciousness is to say that the organizing power of the collective field became noticeable, almost visible.

The other source is from hosting and facilitating hundreds of dialogue processes with many participants in the same room ("many" means 25-1000). The process is organized as several simultaneous conversations around small tables, but the experience becomes that the room is in one common dialogue. As a facilitator of the process that dynamic has been repeated so many times that now it is easy for me to recognize and to support it. "First-time"-participants often report having the same experience, without my telling them about it.

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

What is it about the work in this field that excites you and connects you to your own deepest self? You may wish to describe this in metaphor or as a challenge or in a statement about what aspect of the work feels most at the edges of your understanding.

Whenever people are in an interaction with each other - could be a good talk for instance - there is a possibility for a "magic" to appear "in the middle" of them. "Magic in the middle" is what drives me these years. Providing opportunities to have an experience of "magic in the middle" and offering a possible language and frame of reference to connect with that experience, that is what I see as my work for now.

I think it is needed, because what even the brightest, most learned, most personally experienced and unfolded INDIVIDUALS can think, conceive, help forth in our worlds, is limited by the fact that they are individuals - like "ants" in an "anthill".

I want to point out (as many before me) the need to develop the ability to learn together and make time for contemplation and investigation in community.

What we can create individually, what we can know and learn by ourselves, is one thing. But if we turn our attention to what we can ONLY learn as collectives, can only know and understand if we assume an "ant-hill perspective", we might perhaps also develop greater complexity and depth in our knowledge and thinking skills, seen as a community.

There are plenty of problems which need addressing, which demand just such a developed capacity for thinking and learning.

For example, isn't it a paradox, that at one, collective, level, we seem to have understood and recognized that human activities are affecting the earth's climate in a way which threatens civilization, while at another, individual level, we continue behaving in a way which contributes to an unpredictable and dangerous progression?

I think this is an example of the fact that "ant thinking" can't solve problems at an anthill level? And that we should therefore take an interest in strengthening our capacity for "anthill thinking".

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

Between 1994 and 1997 I was part of a small international group of 20 company leaders and consultants, who called themselves "The Intellectual Capital Pioneers Group" and who met a couple of times a year in San Francisco. The idea of cafe type discussions for large groups came out of this forum, an idea which I have developed over the years into my own special area of expertise.

Over the years I have, of course, constantly paid attention to my own personal development, my knowledge and practice, and there has been an underlying, driving question: How little is enough? The question does not arise from laziness but rather from my observation that people and organizations expend a lot of effort to obtain results, which they are then not satisfied with anyway. In 1993 I wrote the words "self-organizing???" in a notebook, at the top of a blank page. It remained like this until the autumn of 1996, when I took up the subject and we developed the learning expedition, Leadership in Living Systems, which was launched in February 1997.

These two areas, discussion among large groups and the capacity which living systems have for self-organization, excite me both professionally and intellectually. They cross-pollinate each other and lead to a third area of expertise: an understanding of the deeper principles of processes. There is enough in these areas to require years of learning. I think it is fair to say, that the extent to which I am of value to my customers (and can therefore bill them for my contribution), is due to the fact that I learn well in these areas, as well as having my earlier experience to draw on.

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

Lets meet, have a talk, and find out what brings us together.

Links to this site or others:

World Cafe

Magic in the Middle


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