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No. 99 (September/October 2007)

Consensus and Higher Syntheses

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Discussion - photo courtesy of Elan Sun Star
Photo courtesy of Elan Sun Star


On practically every matter, it's pretty well a given that we all have way more to learn than we already know. That is one reason why most of our Project Renaissance methods for solving problems emphasize a shift of some of our attention from our stock "knowledge" to actual and ongoing perception. That opens the door for the universe to show us new things about whatever the problem is.

Conventional group discussions consist mainly of people sitting back on their opinions and "stock knowledge" and hurling these back and forth at each other. The larger the group, the more the counter-productive effects of this modality are compounded, of course, by people who, instead of being in the flow of ideas and perceptions, sit there mentally rehearsing their one-liners for when they might have a chance to get a bit in edgewise.

This latter point is one where our Dynamic Format has some wee bit of utility. But we, in list-serve groups and forums and elsewhere, have yet to fully master the practice in our interactions of switching some of our attention from our stock knowledge to our further, current, ongoing perceptions. However, in in-person groups focused with specific problem-solving or discovery techniques, we've had little problem in adhering to and mastering this practice.

We know so little. About anything. And what I'm speaking to in this article is the actual ease with which, with slight adjustments in format or "ground rules" of discussion, much and indeed astonishingly much can be achieved. Example:

In September 2007, I conducted an experiment in a local group. One of our members wanted to take up the global warming issue and we did so. However, early on I established the idea that it would be desirable to establish conferences and colloquia pursuing contingencies (as per my article, A New Basis), that there were both solid points and problems in the cases on both sides of the issue. Several members of the group were, of course, not really convinced that there might be problems with their side of the issue, but politely withheld their fire for the moment, as I led developments into the intended experiment.

This experiment was very simple. After a few minutes of general talking-it-out on the issue, in the midst of which I engendered the above ideas, I paired everyone with someone of the most opposite view I could find within that group. Then, as a challenge, I proposed that each pair experiment to brainstorm out all the possible points on which they both agreed, within five minutes. [I allowed six, and the average was fifteen points of agreement per pair, most of those points pretty key.] I also gave them quick hand signs to use to agree with or object to each point when their partner suggested it in the brainstorm, with the instruction that "If you stop to argue over it, you won't get many points down."

Anyone here game for a similar experiment, even by mail?

Also, we could do more actual formal problem-solving by email, following specified methods and techniques, such as our all doing a CrabApple on the agreed question or problem, or all of us doing an Over-the-Wall on it, and reporting the results to each other or to our common forum.

There is so little that we know, compared to what is—on all fronts. One such front is that of the major issues and world problems, including global climate disturbance, for which I've made proposals in "A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships" and The Art and Science of Hosting Conferences".

What we'd do in such a formal meeting would have to be a tad more sophisticated than our little six-minute brainstorm, of course, but the basic principle would be the same for the ground rules or formatting:  you score more "points" for finding consensus than you do for proving the other guy wrong. With this provision, however articulated, a lot can be accomplished — and we can obviously build for a lot more than just for those six minutes. So it is quite possible to do constructive work this way. A further question, though, is —

I'm also wondering if even discussion by email could be likewise made productive by similar method? Any ideas? Any interest?


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Win Wenger

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