Where can we find our collective memory?

I’ve heard it said that intelligence is our ability to learn from our experience. If this is true, then our collective intelligence depends upon our ability to learn from all our experience. It also seems common-sense to me to suggest that, since we all have a different and unique experience, we all have an equal amount to offer and that we have most to learn from those whose voice has been heard the least? The intelligent question we need to ask ourselves is: ’how can we learn from all our experience?’

Our ability to learn from our experience is crucial for both our individual and collective development. As individuals we all need to be able to express ourselves and have a sense of agency in our own lives – as a society we all need to listen and learn from each other.

Unfortunately, modern society has a very limited attention span. Somewhere along the way we have lost our collective memory and with it our collective ability to learn from our experience. Even though we know that all meaningful development is long-term and incremental we seem obsessed with seeking the new and shiny at the expense of the tried and trusted. We are constantly developing new projects that we assess in terms of short-term outcomes. We even celebrate our lack of memory by rewarding projects that are innovative and expecting experienced organisations to continually re-invent themselves!

Actually, I do think there are times when it makes sense to fund someone new to tread a well-beaten path – reinventing the wheel is essential if we are to apply learning to new and unique situations – and I like projects! They are a vital learning tool. However, we can hardly think of ourselves as intelligent if we cannot understand our learning in the context of our long-term development and insist on making the same mistakes again and again.

We all need to find our own context. Discovering our own creative voice can be one of the most transforming experiences of our lives. Besides, making sense of our personal journey is becoming increasingly important to our individual and collective development. Now, more than at any time in our history, who we are matters, this is a time for specialisation,  to find out who  we want to be and to make our own unique contribution to our collective community.

The intelligent response to our changing times is to stop trying to be something we are not and to find out who we are and how we can be better at being that person. We also need to find ways to learn from each other, or there can be no collective learning.

It is time to stop asking the same people to come up with new ideas, to keep relying on the same experience, asking people to do what they are not good at. It is time instead to recognise that we are all experts in our own lives and that we all have an unique contribution to make.

When, for example, an organisation excels at producing high quality art, should we really expect those same people to also excel at making the most of that art for diverse communities? Of course, the better the art the more important it is that we can all access it but is it realistic to expect the same people to be experts in such different fields? Surely, the expertise for that lies elsewhere – with the people themselves and those that know and understand our diverse communities.

Right now I’m not sure many of us have the tools for effective community development but we can learn, we need translators that can build bridges between communities and can help us all to learn from and with each other.

How can we do it? How can we access our collective learning and rediscover our collective memory? I’ve suggested that we might need an organisation to help us but I’m also very aware of how very easy it is for organisations to institutionalise the very dependency they set out to tackle. So, I don’t know.

Fortunately, being able to say I don’t know is a strength. It means I am getting ready to learn. I want to find people who can learn with me so that together we explore the things we don’t know. After all, it’s only what we don’t know that is really interesting, it’s only we we are open to uncertainty that we are open to creativity, and only when we are open to each other that we are able to learn from our experience.

Do get in touch if you’d like to learn together, or better still, come along to one of our events.

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