Intelligence and Social Bodies

Conflict as a healthy Process

© 1990 Eberhard Schnelle and Gustav Adolf Pourroy (condensed version)

Published in International Management May 1989

German Version published in FAZ/BdW 3.8.1990

Do you want to prevail / survive in baronial wars or in the Minefield of Intrigue? Click here!


Turning Heat into Light

Why is it that a group of intelligent People will so often fail to fulfill a task because of arguments and discord resulting from internal conflict? On a broader scale, why do companies miss an opportunity in the marketplace despite repeated warnings from individual managers who advocate a change of course? The warners often go unheeded because the company could not learn. In both cases, groups have failed to make the most of their potential intellectual power. Like lemmings, such companies – half consciously, half unconsciously – bring about their own demise.

Groups torn by dissent can be suddenly united when an external enemy appears. Nevertheless, if not atmosphere in the group is poor, the group will not realize its potential. In contrast, a good atmosphere produces a degree of high fidelity that makes outstanding achievements possible.

Confusion by serial Communication

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Remember the last Flop in your Social System?

The most important task for managers, along with supplying entrepreneurial impetus, should be to provide an adequate set of tools for managing conflict. When a dispute is settled, the group’s intelligence is liberated. In this sense, we can restate Heraclitus’s aphorism "Struggle is the father of all things". Conflict can stimulate the imagination, and ultimately engender empathy, thus raising logical thinking to higher level.

We know a great deal about the learning processes of individuals, but very little about the learning processes of groups or social systems. Apparently, specific features of communication, the organizational structure, and the divergent personalities of participants can stimulate the intelligence of one group while paralyzing the strengths of another.

Certainly, the sum totals of the individual IQs have an influence on a group’s performance, but other factors play a role. In 1922, E.L. Thorndike described social intelligence for the first time. He saw it as the degree of an individual’s ability to communicate. In other words, it would seem that social intelligence springs from the ability to communicate intelligently. The result is a kind of collective intelligence.

We know that people in groups can encourage, support and advise each other so that the intelligent performance of the social body is greater than if it depended solely on the sum of the IQs. This is the effect of group dynamics when intelligent people get together and communicate effectively. The result is a higher degree of intelligence in the true sense of the word – the individual minds that communicate with another merge into one mastermind. This is what lies behind a well-managed social system’s ability to reach consensus.

The Mastermind Effect

It is worth reflecting on this phenomenon, for the manager who understands how to foster this social intelligence has access to something critical to the success of his company. The intelligence of a social body can be developed through training and brought to bear on a variety of situations.

Well into the 20th century, power was the tool most frequently used to resolve conflict. In a highly complex social body such as a modern corporation, with its widely divergent interests, its very complexity and the desire for consensus make essential other instruments  - for enhancing the system’s ability to resolve conflict. Without these tools, willingness to deal with conflicts decreases, and tensions are swept under the carpet. Or worse, they build up and find their dubious means of resolution, the principle of intrigue ahead. Please refer to Minefield-Intrigue.htm and intrigue.html.

The different forums people select for the discussion of problems vary in their potential for managing and solving conflicts. Matrix of Approaches. The most common are conferences, discussion groups, networks, panel debates, symposia and workshops. The most frequently chosen – but in many cases the least suitable – is the conference. With its foundation in oral communication, the conference ambience makes it difficult to arrive at clear picture of results. The danger of successive contributions to the discussion by the big talkers, and the restriction of the communication to the oral, inevitably means the number of active participants in the debate is limited from the start.

This problem is compounded by major socio-psychological drawbacks. The conference method usually encourages people to economize when expressing themselves ("I’d better watched myself"). Emotional reactions (narcissm, or fear of exposing one’s faults for example), play an excessive role. Choosing the conference to manage complex conflicts means endless debates and forced solutions. For the company, it leads – at best case – to tunnel vision, if not total blindness and disaster.

Corporate networking enables the free development of initiatives that arise when various people in the organization communicate informally. Full-blown promotion of this communications network, by providing room and space, arranging social functions for example, is a considerable task for corporate management that gives scope for renegades to operate productively. The most complex, however, in changing minds and behaviour most successful function is the information-market, a forum of its own, and a conglomerate of workshops so to say.

Behaviour patterns run on tracks that have been laid by the social system. To modify the patterns, the tracks have to be re-laid. Nevertheless, in order to change behavioural patterns, permanent insights must be generated. They can develop in the course of discussions, which constitute a forum, a place where people can express their opinions with impunity and acquire insights from others.

This is the environment in which spontaneous networks are formed and new initiatives pave the way for new ideas: when the corporate "fly’s eye perspective" is thus expanded. The system’s ability to perform intelligently is substantially increased.

The social systems that will meet the challenges of our time are whose collective intelligence, stimulated by entrepreneurial ideas, frees itself of destructive conflicts in choosing the matching, intelligent instrument for communication.

German version: please refer to


Im Minenfeld von Intrigen

In the Minefield of Intrigue

intrigue.jpg (14143 Byte)

Intrigen sind ein soziales und alltägliches Übel - wie man sich dagegen wappnet.

How to get along with Schemers, Plotters, Intriguers.

English Version in short: The Principle of Intrigue

Intrigen setzen immer einen Konflikt voraus. Mobbing ist etwas Elementares, es ist Hänseln aus Bosheit.

Klassisches Symbol für Intrige: intrigue.jpg

intrigue   minefield-intrigue    konfliktudemokratie  

Manche schlafen ruhig. bigsleep.gif

Der Philosoph Michel Montaigne gibt folgenden Rat:

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