Group Genius

"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of a person, and the crux of any individual person's story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive."

..."This quality in buildings and in towns cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly, by the ordinary actions of the people, just as a flower cannot be made, but only generated from a seed."  – Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

Christopher Alexander's work has moved far beyond his field of architecture.  I did a google of "Quality Without a Name" and noted that there are 13,000 references to it. References span across many industries and sources... each defining the essence of what it means to bring something more than can be known from the parts of a body of work or knowledge. Recently, I read Eugene Kim's blog  where he defines—or attempts to—the Danish word Hygge and compares it to Quality Without A Name. Eugene provides this interpretation: "Hygge denotes a sense of intimacy and closeness, and is often used to describe gatherings of people, where you share a sense of familiarity and fun with those around you. Think 'hug,' but not as wishy-washy. It's a sense of wholeness that comes from being around others, and there's a strong association with the space that helps create this wholeness." Eugene calls this "high performance collaboration." I call it Group Genius. If you click on the term, you will find a definition barely touching the essence of Group Genius.  When I asked people who are taking part in being group genius to define it, each provides a different answer but they are all inclusive of feeling more alive, having a better sense of self while loving the feeling of being in the midst of something greater than oneself,  being smarter than they knew they were, and getting better answers to some profoundly complexing problems.  Waste falls away from the process, and  time seems to expand, providing the time to consider and choose wise ways forward.  All say that their ideas matter and are woven into a larger framework. It is freedom within boundaries. 

Boundaries are not set by controlling people, but rather by providing  freedom to contribute wisely and learn in using the intelligences which are most familiar to them.  When we control the things that do matter: environment, facilitation process, bodies of knowledge, the tools used, etc., people are free to make individual contributions that add to the whole. 

With one client I was working with years ago, I sent groups of people out into the city to find places - businesses, malls, the Zoo, day care - to discover where and how learning really happens.  What is it that turned them on, made them want to learn?  I can tell you that the courses they designed and developed for their own employees were entirely different than they would have been without these field trips!   It's an interesting exercise to go into a city and look for where things are happening ... and to be curious about what creates the "quality without a name" kind of experience.

Matt and I lived in Washington D.C. for several years near the Eastern Market. What a treat! I never tired of watching this community in action. As a neighborhood, it exemplified group genius.  The Eastern Market is a square block building and inside are many dozens of small specialty markets, some unique, many competing with each other. One day in the middle of the week, I walked in to find that the vendors were playing ball! The game was to keep the ball in the air like volley ball. They had some sort of elaborate score keeping arrangement and of course the real challenge was not to let the ball land on the meats or vegetables or bottles or cheeses.  The ball was traveling throughout this square block building  along with great cheers and groans. They noted my presence and were most gracious in working around me as I made my purchases. Each vendor I went to gave me the utmost care while I was at their stand.  Great spirit during an otherwise dull time of the day.  This kind of play at work, the ability to galumph has kept this market open since the 1870's.

Group Genius is something that matters a lot to me. It is the essence of all Tomorrow Makers work. It is still a strange concept for many as we have been so trained to think of experts as having the answers. Most processes are designed 180 degrees upside down so that it is really impossible to unleash the genius of a group.  Additionally, most processes (even good ones)  are designed from the top down, precluding in the structure a way of growing ideas and solutions from the ground up so that emergence and surprise happen ... both elements of group genius. 

Group genius?  Hygge? High performance collaboration?  Each has their own unique characteristics but for sure they each offer the experience of "quality without a name".