Conversations are Essential to the Construction of Collective Meaning

by Augusto Cuginotti

Conversations are essential to the construction of collective meaning and creation of systems. For instance, one important characteristic of a system is its boundaries, without which we would not be able to distinguish it from its ‘environment’. If there is no distinction, something that we do through language, there is no system.

Systems can change at many levels and many are the different levels of conversations that relate to these changes. In all levels, systems change by the change of patterns of our conversations.

Some systems are considered more complex than others. Complexity arises when the conversation needs to happen between people that hold different visions of being in the world: from different departments, different sectors, different cultures. At some levels, that’s the only way someone can aspire to touch the whole elephant, so cutting some actors will only give you a simplistic solution.

We seek for system innovations. Innovation arises from the creation of a different way of distinguish the system, therefore by creating another language to identify it. Individuals can do that by themselves, but as complexity arises, a single person is not able to explore all the ways of being in the world that are needed. The creation of a collective common language to describe a system is an action of what some authors call collective intelligence.

Innovation through creating a common language is key to allow the emergence of a new collective meaning and therefore a new collective action. The more fundamental the change, more difficult it is to map the variables that influence the system, more fragmented is the understanding by the stakeholders, etc. In cases of deeper complexity, other patterns of conversations need to happen.

The creation of this common language comes by intentionally creating spaces for them to emerge, spaces of self-inquiry. When we inquiry our system (and ourselves) to figure out ‘what is becoming’, we are actually creating ‘what we are becoming within the system’ or ‘us becoming within the system’, like in Heidegger’s Dasein. The inquiry, by itself already an action of construction, reflects a construction of a new collective meaning.