This post is about common meaning in groups, as being what comes out of the process of sharing openly who we are and what we see from our respective points of view. We will explore how creating common meaning is related to potential and its emergence.

The creative impulse

My interest in collaborative practices and self-organized groups has led me to pay attention to the “mechanisms” behind our desire to come together. During the past few days, I’ve found myself partaking in several conversations regarding the  contributions or gifts each one of us can offer to the whole. I have associated these contributions to the « creative impulse », the urge and desire to bring something forth into this world, through our beings and our actions. That impulse may manifest itself in different ways, and often we do not know exactly what form it will take. What we feel is that deep inside there is something that wants to emerge through us, and that only we can do it.

Fly Geyser, Nevada –

In most biographies I’ve read about people who have made contributions to our world, I’ve come across statements such as “I did it because I couldn’t not do it” or “I knew if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done”. So it seems that a certain sense of urgency is needed in order to move forward and share what we have to offer. I find curiosity for what our contribution might be, among other things, nourishes that sense of urgency.

Often, we realize that in order to have an impact in the world we need to share that “something” we have inside of us. Wether it is a big scale impact or a smaller one, we understand it is through collaboration that we will manage to successfully bring forth what wants to be. This doesn’t mean we cannot do anything on our own. It means that even the things we seem to do on our own are the fruits of explicit or implicit collaboration. As social beings, we are interconnected by definition.

Sharing the gifts

In this scenario, sharing our “gifts” comes down to expressing openly who we are and what we are about, not being afraid of taking a stand and honouring it. This requires being clear, both with ourselves and others. Often, it also requires a certain degree of trust in the relationship. And if the relationship is just beginning, at least a minimum feeling of security is needed, so that all parties feel safe to fully assume their positions. In a group context, creating spaces that allow such conversations to take place seems to be a key aspect of the process. Such spaces are usually defined by “ground-rules” that encourage mutual respect, conscious listening and authenticity. The more we practice this, the easier it becomes for individuals to share openly.

The information we share depends on the context we’re in. There’s no need to give our full life story ! Unless the context is appropriate and we feel like it, off course. It’s more than enough to expressing as clearly as possible what’s important and relevant according to the context we’re in. For instance, if we are in a meeting and we want to operate in this way, we might want to express what our intentions are for the meeting. In general, starting by simply saying how we feel makes a big difference in the way our interactions take place. More than once, I’ve been with people that shared openly about how they felt at the time and it gave me enough context to better understand them and interact with them. This is sometimes not easy, but it is very useful and rewarding. Sometimes, doing this takes courage. And when courage is there, people feel it and acknowledge its presence.

Tree of Life –

Creating meaning together

When we come together as individuals and express our different points of view openly, we start creating common meaning. It seems to me that the main characteristic of this process is inclusiveness. Individuals start adding other’s perspectives to their own, expanding their understanding of whatever is being discussed in the middle – be it a common interest, a common intention, a specific project, etc. Note that even though their perspectives are broaden and include the perspectives of other’s, none will have the exact same point of view. Individuality remains, as long as each member of the group keeps on sharing openly what they see. Honouring this diversity enhances the resilience of the group and its adaptability. It’s also important for the integrity of each individual.

The common meaning that emerges as individuals share their points of view gives the group access to its collective intelligence. When all voices are heard and all perspectives are included, we start seeing more of the whole picture. In a previous post we talked about a “tool” we can use to measure this process.

Seeing the emerging potential

By being together, we start seeing and thinking together. And by operating in this way, we develop an ability to see potential as it emerges. This is something most of us – not to say all – are capable of doing, and is related to what we call creativity. Once the appropriate conditions are met, this ability is “unleashed” and the potential we perceive becomes more and more clear. And by doing so, optimal options and choices become obvious. I like calling this phenomenon “seeing the next step”. As I write this, I realize it comes back to the creative impulse we were talking about at the beginning of this post. This time, it’s the creative impulse of the group that by becoming clear, propels the group forward.

Reflections of fall -

Reflections of fall –

In a group, once we see the potential emerge and identify our next step, it’s time for action. Ideally, each person is invited to voluntarily choose their action. Note that with practice, this becomes spontaneous and each individual develops a sense of knowing what is theirs to do. In groups where there is a strong sense of belonging, which usually comes with a high level of performance, choosing individual actions can become so spontaneous, it sometimes feels we act “as one”. This seems to be well known to some musicians, specially jazz players who improvise in their performances. According to some, operating in such a way feels like “being there before” the others.

Forward we move

There is something tricky about seeing the potential, that is : potential is not reality. Reality is much more complex than it may seem when we see the potential, and the group’s ability to understand its mechanisms is limited. Even when tapping into its collective intelligence. The potential that is perceived is also limited. As mentioned earlier, it allows us to see our “next step”, providing us with a direction. Yet, moving in one direction doesn’t necessarily mean we will end up where we planned.

Once we see the potential, we need to be careful not to take it for reality and not to hold on to it. It is very tempting to “stick to the plan” and get attached to what we perceived as potential. Just as being open to sharing our points of view is so important in order to see the emerging potential, being open to letting go of our expectations seems crucial in order to see what is happening in reality. Once in action, what matters is how that potential is really manifesting itself.

Embracing the unexpected : a matter of intention

Letting go of expectations in terms of the perceived emerging potential has a lot to do with the shape and form we think that potential might look like. One of the things we might become attached to, is the mental image we make of the “destination” – in other words, our desired outcome. It’s important to remember that image is not exact, just as the direction we are heading is more of a beacon guiding us. The actual shape and form of the outcomes of our actions will remain unknown until the potential becomes reality. I like seeing shape and form as being “given by life”. Which means it’s often the unexpected things that happen along the way that have a significant impact on the shape and form of what we create through our actions.

Nabib desert –

If we embrace this, by leaving shape and form to life, we can focus on the original intention and the feeling we had when first seeing the emerging potential. Staying aligned with the intention and that specific feeling, allows us to swiftly navigate the unexpected. Note we do this all the time, it’s just that we don’t always do it consciously. When we do something because it “feels right”, what we’re doing is just that : following a feeling and acting accordingly. This is the same, applied to a situation where we take action in order to create something together.

When taking individual action according to the potential we saw collectively, the invitation is to acknowledge as quickly as possible how that potential is actually manifesting, so we can adapt. Embracing the unexpected ways in which the potential manifests can be both liberating and powerful. Liberating, because it means we can let go of the pressure of doing things as expected – as long as we stay focused on the intention behind them. Powerful, because when we are open to the unexpected, our disposition often allows us to see it as an opportunity for more potential – as long as it serves the original intention. Composing in such a way with the unexpected brings more life to our activities, more surprisingly rich opportunities, and it fulfills us with a wonderful feeling of connectedness and belonging. It feels like…

Going with the flow

Effortless excellence is not only a quality of highly performing teams, I feel it’s more like a natural state of being that flourishes when we engage consciously in collaboration and we embrace the unexpectedness of life. We may feel tempted to control as many parameters as possible, and we might even be successful in controlling some, there will always be factors we will not be able to control. One approach is to consider the unexpected as something to minimize. Another one, is to embrace it as one of life’s operating principles and to see it as a source of new potential, and new possibilities.

The ability to do so, is related to our ability as individuals to make links between different aspects of reality : the original intention, the desired outcome, the emerging potential, its manifestation in reality, the unexpected and how it might better serve the original intention, and there’s probably more. As any other ability, it is something we can practice.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this and perhaps even practicing your ability to adopt such a posture of collaboration as the one we described here, please contact us[@] We will be happy to hear from you.

Leap of faith of an Adelie Penguin –

Thank you for reading ! And feel welcome to add your voice by leaving a comment below. If you find this post useful, we also thank you for sharing it among your peers.

All the best :)

Share →