I’m Malcolm Parlett, and in exploring the website, there are four different paths to the exciting new thinking I am researching.
At a time of pandemic disruption and mental health challenges the need and scope for increased Whole Intelligence is immense. Handling the complexity of existence calls for a new style of personal activism, one that responds to humanity’s needs for healing and empowerment through an innovative practical approach.
In common with over two hundred and fifty million (and still counting) other human beings around the world, I have had Covid. Thankfully I did not need to go to hospital. I did not suffer unduly, yet I’ve still taken a few weeks to get over it, and occasionally still wonder if I have traces of ‘long Covid’ – has it really gone?
In the slowed down state of the illness – de-energised and needing lots of rest and a quiet space – I reflected on my life and work. The world news was bleak. Devastating fires with massive air pollution on several continents; terrible floods in Germany (with some friends of mine losing everything – bringing the seriousness of such disasters home to me in more acute fashion); vast inequalities between rich and poor countries in their access to vaccines; shocking events in Afghanistan.
Everywhere I looked or listened, what stood out were stressful events and disturbing patterns: lack of fairness, compassion, and generosity; absence of wise leadership; human effectiveness in abeyance; out of kilter processes. Statistics appeared with confusing exactitude; truth and falsehood seemed harder to differentiate. Humanity as a whole (at least seen through British eyes) seemed adrift, frantic, uprooted – as well as sleepwalking towards devastating calamity. And the stresses and confusion seemed to stretch from the heights of political power to society’s foot soldiers, and the ordinary functioning of local communities.
Usually – that is, months ago now and before I was laid low by the virus – I lived by a deliberate choice to remain hopeful for the future, despite evidence of drift and indecision, and sometimes the obvious lack of common sense on the part of political leaders and others with power and influence. I deliberately focused on the extraordinary levels of innovation, new thinking, and youthful energy dawning brightly. I got excited by signs of powerful undercurrents for change – against racism and misogyny, in particular – and for new approaches to agriculture, conservation, green energy, animal welfare, re-wilding… the list of hopeful developments is vast and growing at a rate.
In my altered state of consciousness, enduring the discomforts of illness, and isolation from neighbours and friends, the pendulum swung the other way from my former optimism – towards despondency and pessimism. I was withdrawing into my own little world. Standing outside the buzz of ‘ordinary life’, I wondered about the whereabouts of stillness, silence, and unhurried thoughtfulness; and about ‘what was going to happen next’, and from where would enlightened leadership come?
I also had a sense of my own time running out. I may have survived Covid, but if I was to report my radical thoughts and bring my discoveries about Whole Intelligence to a wider audience, the thought was ‘I had better get on with doing so’, even if I was still feeling depleted after my illness.
As I re-emerged ‘into the world’ (as it felt like) it struck me forcibly that my ideas did need to be ‘out there’, rather than locked up in a small information pocket (albeit with some impressive supporters).
I also realised I wanted to write very directly and personally, not in an impersonal academic style or in business-speak. Instead, I opted for asking questions of myself – as if I were a reader.
Since publication of my book Future Sense in 2015, three basic questions have continued to nag at me. They underpin my work as a psychologist, writer, and teacher.
As I emerged into the world again, these three questions struck me as too important NOT to address. They demand answers and they are central in this emerging Whole Intelligence Manifesto.
The evidence is that our collective situation, as members of Homo sapiens, is one of such extremity and danger that few people can face it, let alone think about it coherently and decide how to act or participate. Given the enormity of the changes required, questions about how to conduct ourselves, find direction, and how to live one’s work and family life, become existential choices of profound difficulty. For a great (and growing) number of people, they are thought-provoking and urgent.
The Manifesto introduces a different perspective on today’s global crisis, and our personal and organisational responses to it. Central is that humanity needs to discover and draw upon its Whole Intelligence, the wealth of human beings’ in-built and acquired competence. The full capabilities and potentialities of humanity constitute an extraordinary resource that the species needs more than ever. The suggestion here is that increased access to Whole Intelligence can impact every kind of global issue requiring human high performance; that it can improve psychological wellbeing and support mental health, and act to counter fear, pessimism, and policy paralysis. I, and my colleagues, have found that paying attention to Whole Intelligence can result in more focus, resilience, and sense of direction; and that this in turn leads to more frequent instances of ‘right practice’, in organisational settings, and to greater satisfaction in personal lives.
The Manifesto will demonstrate how enhancing Whole Intelligence, making it more visible and more widely understood, and finding ways to support its rapid emergence, constitutes a new and vital form of activism – one that complements other forms of action and outlook already in existence, and might make a fundamental contribution to our human future.
I lay out eight propositions in the Manifesto, which are numbered below as titles to the various sections.
1.1 Our starting point is that if we are to survive as a species, we need to act more intelligently as an entire population of human animals – for example, protecting the biosphere and avoiding catastrophic war. The good news is that acting more intelligently is possible. Whole Intelligence lies within rather than outside the human range; developing more of it is not an outright impossibility.
1.2 Examples of what I am calling ‘Whole Intelligence’ already exist. Treaties to create peaceful conditions, international scientific and medical collaborations, joint rescue efforts after traumatic events such as major earthquakes, are among the most visible and newsworthy. Countless other human actions, from common thoughtfulness to collective inventiveness, are recognised as creative and desirable for the benefit of society in general. The achievement of minor miracles – for example, to protect an endangered species, eliminate corruption in a government, or rapidly increase discovery of a vaccine – are again valued as constructive and considered human actions – inspirational for the rest of us and pointing to the ‘best of humanity’. They are examples of ‘practical wisdom in action’ – part of what the ancient Greeks called phronesis, the exercise of which was considered also a moral duty.
1.3 The growth of Whole intelligence can come about through a process of fundamental re-education, species-wide. This may sound wildly improbable. However, just noticing when Whole Intelligence occurs and makes a difference is a first step. Investigating what factors support higher effectiveness and concentrations of human energy, are further steps. Bringing Whole Intelligence to the front of our attention, understanding it more fully, and honouring people and organisations which demonstrate it practically, can enhance its presence and power to inspire millions.
1.4 The framework of Whole Intelligence makes sense to people when explained to them. The ideas and purposes resonate. However, raising consciousness of it is insufficient on its own. There are associated skills and ideas that can be actively taught and learned – and already have been, in contexts of organisational consultation, professional coaching, and gestalt psychotherapy. The scope for wider teaching and practice – in groups, teams, and organisations as well in whole communities – is both immense and necessary to achieve widespread impact.
1.5 Whole Intelligence articulates and ‘captures’ the kind of practical knowledge that experienced teachers, managers, and coaching staff often communicate by personal example or by other informal means. Many people recognise the critical role of ‘experience’ and ‘know-how’ in ensuring good practice, operational effectiveness, and high morale. Yet too often this realm of ‘practical, experience-based knowing’ is still regarded as ‘unimportant’, ‘soft’, or ‘irrelevant’. The routine acceptance that ‘propositional’ knowledge (formal, conceptual, abstract) should dominate over ‘practical knowledge’ is one of the ways in which Whole Intelligence challenges so-called ‘advanced’ assumptions regarding the world and humanity’s competence.
2.1 Pursuing Whole Intelligence requires questioning what counts as ‘being intelligent’ in the contemporary world. The word ‘intelligent’ used to mean ‘knowing, sensible, sagacious’. Today, it has lost a lot of these earlier associations. In most forums, intelligence has become more or less equated with logical thinking skills and IQ scores. General views of intelligence have become stuck and atrophied.
2.2 To think of ‘pure intellect’ existing independently from character, values, life choices, and moral courage is over-simple. Neuroscientists have shown that such ‘reductionist’ divisions do not hold up. Clear divisions may be preferred but the reality is that ‘intellect and cognitive skills’ cannot be disentangled from ‘personality’, ‘emotional maturity’, ‘sense of obligation’, and ‘level of interest and involvement’.
2.3 Sometimes psychologists have proposed add-on notions such as ‘emotional intelligence’ or ‘ecological’ intelligence. The proposals stem from acknowledging that thinking, pencil-and-paper puzzle solving, and academic success are clearly not sufficient in themselves as predictors of capacity for enlightened actions and mature leadership. However, introducing notions of different intelligences perpetuates fragmentation. Handling complexity in real-life conditions, with inspired leadership, and practical wisdom of the phronesis type (see 1.2 above), requires that ALL the different types of intelligence that have been proposed are involved, including emotional, ecological, even spiritual intelligence.
2.4 Cultivating Whole Intelligence underlines that human understanding rests on more than intellectual prowess. Ease in manipulating concepts and facility in verbal arguments may offer advantage in controlled settings and stable times, but other qualities and skills are necessary for unstable, complex, continuously changing conditions. Being able to discern priorities, make finely balanced judgements, and handle clashes of personalities require qualities of character and moral sensibility. Our views of Intelligence need to embrace a wider vision of competence that is tied to real-world performance, and to whether our institutions, relationships, and choices are successful or not. We need a conception of intelligence that is grounded in the context of practical action.
2.5 The scope for increased Whole Intelligence is vast. If the hallmarks of intelligence lie in ‘acting intelligently’, there is essentially no limit: all but a tiny minority of human beings can shift in the direction of acting more intelligently than they do. Such changes are not automatic, but can become more probable and less difficult to bring about, especially if there are strong forces within society supporting Whole Intelligence as a powerful idea, rallying call, and a first priority in a reconsidered education.
3.1 My observational research pursued over four decades has focused on the experiences and lives of people in both everyday and specialist contexts. Usually, I have been supporting individuals, groups, or organisations in their working and/or living environments – handling to the best of their abilities the challenging situations they are managing. This long engagement with the interface between human beings and their situations has helped to clarify the nature of Whole Intelligence and to discover ways to release more of it in practice. Over time, other consultants, therapists, and coaches have joined in refining the concept of Whole Intelligence.
3.2 The chief discovery is that Whole Intelligence is a synthesis of different kinds of human capability. There are five different ways in which people (and communities and organisational systems) actively contribute to enlightened, healthy, and satisfying practices in human affairs.
3.3 Specifically, acting intelligently is more likely when people (or groups of people) are:
3.4 The above five critical modes of experiencing life as it unfolds, apply to each of us. They are evident in the shared life and working practices of families and small groups, in organisations of all sizes, and (scaled up) also seem applicable to communities, governments, and international institutions. They offer a common currency of meaningful criteria, some simple diagnostic language, that point to critical factors in all human activities.
4.1 The five contributions to acting intelligently (as listed in 3.3 above) can be thought of as five dimensions of Whole Intelligence. However, the five dimensions are NOT independent performance categories or separate capabilities: and if regarded as such, they are misunderstood. They are not separable, but are specific entrances to ‘the whole’.
4.2 They need to be understood as intimately connected: each of the five dimensions is dependent on the other four dimensions also being ‘in play’. Completely inter-dependent, they are interacting together at all times, with each contributing to the whole and to the others. And all are critically necessary for Whole Intelligence to emerge in its fullest sense. It is true that as ‘parts’ of the ‘whole’, each of them can be attended to and practised, and thus become a point of temporary focus – rather like a sports coach may focus on different features of a player’s performance; however, the successful coach never loses sight of the importance of the integrated whole: it is the whole flowing sequence that determines performance.
4.3 The complete interdependence between the dimensions means that if one is undeveloped or lost – avoided, socially weakened, or consciously neglected – there is not just loss of a certain area of human or organisational competence, but the dysfunction has a negative impact on the other four areas of capability.
4.4 Similarly, excellence in one dimension carries dangers of ignoring other dimensions: thus, brilliance in (say) experimenting may not bring about the expected all-round high performance if skills of collaborating are not also evident. Whole Intelligence depends on all five dimensions being constantly in play. The best image of the dimensions working together is to think of juggling five balls.
5.1 For acting intelligently to become more frequent, reliable, and valued, the five dimensions and their associated human capabilities need to be thoroughly understood, communicated, mastered, modelled, and demonstrated, so that their relevance and power to change human practice is clearly visible and appreciated.
5.2 Examples of the five dimensions – as contributions to acting intelligently – are abundant. During the pandemic, for instance:
5.3 Increased recognition of the five dimensions and their significance can also come from noticing where Whole Intelligence is NOT understood nor displayed in practice.
5.4 Because of the complex interconnectedness between the five dimensions, any shift in any one of them leads to differences in the totality. In the above example, responding appropriately to the situation was electrified by the realisation ‘landing’ that the whole enterprise was in serious danger of collapse (both the CEO and CFO, and the board of directors, ‘waking up’ to the actuality and ‘discovering they had blind spots’). Appointing a new interim CEO with a strong wish to encourage open sharing of fears and resentments led to a vastly different management style and a more collaborative atmosphere. Plans to launch a new publicity campaign were checked for their back-up procedures and interim reviews. Learning occurred.
6.1 The holistic thinking of Whole Intelligence is grounded in methods and assumptions that over the last few decades have been neglected, and in some cases treated with contempt. In the current market place of ideas, preference is automatically given to approaches favouring categories, measurement, statistics, and exact definitions – these being part of the dominant reductive paradigm of the social and human sciences, and how they can live up to their claim to be scientific. My Whole Intelligence thinking and inquiry makes no claim to be ‘scientific’; it is more like a ‘natural history’ approach, based on close observation and description, and on cultivating insight and understanding. There is a deliberate return to research values of a previous era of psychology.
6.2 I take for granted that skills, attitudes, patterns of behaviour, working assumptions and even ‘standardised procedures’ are experienced uniquely in the situations in which they arise – inevitably so, given that human beings are not machines, and are profoundly affected by their varied physical and social environments. This ‘ecological’ stance means that what successful leadership looks like, how crises are handled, and what values are rewarded or criticised in different conditions, are complex matters and always need considering contextually. Historians, novelists, and social commentators are often more insightful about such phenomena than are those of us with academic leanings.
6.3 While eschewing the search for generalisable ‘findings’, statistically backed up, there are observed ‘family resemblances’ that help ground the approach as a framework that hopefully heightens appreciation of human relationships, aspirations, group life, and how human beings maintain their health, sanity, and spiritual direction (in its broadest sense). Of the many background subjects, writers, books, practices, and sources which have inspired my work, the single most useful and insightful have come from the gestalt discipline, particularly from its applications to coaching, psychotherapy, and consulting to organisations. In my semi-retirement, I maintain a small coaching practice.
6.4 For students and young researchers, acknowledging the variation in how human beings live their lives, and the multiple ways in which organisations function, can appear overwhelming at first. The Whole Intelligence framework brings a general structure and some informative terminology. However, gaining a deep familiarity with the approach cannot be achieved through reading and disembodied studying alone: it has to be experienced, usually through something like ‘osmosis’ – a sustained immersive experience of taking in slowly what the five dimensions of Whole Intelligence are about, engaging with them practically, and progressively letting them inform initiatives, collaboration with others, observation of everyday processes in real-life contexts, and self-observation.
6.5 The pursuit of greater Whole Intelligence can be threatened in a number of ways. As implied above, it can be instantly decried as scientifically worthless; and the necessity for it can be dismissed by those who usually have decided that all attempts to ‘interfere with human nature’ are doomed, or are the province of charlatans or ‘naive do-gooders’. In addition – and far more commonly encountered – there is the crippling inertia of longstanding belief systems, and inflexibility constraining any (or all) of the five constituent areas of human skillfulness. The suppression, loss, or dismissal of Whole Intelligence may be the single challenge most necessary for organisations, teams, or individuals to address.
6.6 If Whole Intelligence is to become rooted in general human understanding, developing a holistic, ecological point of view is part of what’s required. As human beings – animals of our species – a commonly held illusion is that we are independent, free-standing, autonomous individuals complete with separate personalities, outlooks, and beliefs. Women and men, families, organisations, and nation states may regard themselves as separate and wholly autonomous, but this is a dangerous false belief. However much we extol freedom and private choices, inescapably we are immersed in human-generated environments, as well as being part of the Earth’s biosphere; and we are influenced by the contexts of shared language, relationships, and culture; by our locality, history, education, and family. We cannot hold ourselves entirely apart from movements and currents of thought that exist around us – and partially ‘within’ us. Each of us is part of the whole of humanity, and inevitably influenced by what others are doing, by how our society is structured and how it works, and by the shared assumptions that circulate in our personal and historic milieu. We take so much for granted – as ‘given’ and ‘automatic’ and something ‘too big to question’. Beginning to question the taken-as-read status quo is often a critical point in a person’s or group’s or community’s discovering that they have choices and agency.
7.1 Even if Whole Intelligence is spread unevenly across humanity, and is fitfully evident, it surely qualifies as having universal presence. We can see that instances of such human all-round skillfulness already exist, even if not recognised and not the subject of a manifesto. It is difficult to imagine how the different dimensions highlighted could not be valued as significant contributors to human wellbeing and systemic ‘good functioning’.
7.2 As priorities for necessary human competence and ‘right action’ I suspect the five dimensions have been known in practice for millennia as fundamental for the success of civilised living. The idea that human ‘progress’ is linear and goes in one direction has been discredited – for instance, slavery has been abolished several times, not just once in the course of history. I imagine that the human priorities depicted in the five dimensions have similarly been repeatably ‘discovered’, valued, and taught in each generation, albeit expressed and prioritised in different ways in various cultures and historic periods. Thus, in finding keys to survival and how to live, our predecessors have (1) adjusted to their conditions and been resourceful; (2) sought friendship, built relationships, and supported others in their families and communities; (3) lived through the stages of the life-cycle, meeting their biological needs as best as they can, and enjoying sensory pleasures; (4) found narratives, creative outlets, and other ways to help make meaning of their existence; and (5) perpetually sought to improve their lot, extending their reach to try out new possibilities. So the five dimensions of Whole Intelligence draw on very deep roots.
7.3 The immediacy and enormity of the present global crisis requires a step-change in contemporary thought – and it needs to be world-wide. The proposal to highlight Whole Intelligence is a radical invitation to humanity to embrace fundamental changes in their general consciousness. It is a far-reaching ambition, especially because of the human inability to conceive of a future world that is radically different from what is already known. In a non-political sense, we are all conservatives to a great degree. Most fundamental change is – by definition – something that disturbs what people take for granted, accept without question, and are unlikely to want to overturn.
7.4 For the potentialities of Whole Intelligence to become widely understood, and treated as an educational priority of the first order, there has to be a major revision of what passes as ‘normal in society and everyday thought’. Accordingly, there's an invitation to every person, every group, every institution, every government, to wake up to their Whole Intelligence, their strengths and capabilities, and – most challengingly – to discover what prevents them from acting with greater Whole Intelligence.
7.5 The growth of Whole Intelligence will be affected by the actions, choices, and resonances of individuals. Each of us, in our homes, communities, and workplaces can make a difference. We can act as accelerants, or as role-models who set precedents, or we can inspire others by our leadership or initiative-taking. For Whole Intelligence to make a difference in the global crisis that humanity faces, it needs to spread rapidly. It needs to operate like a popular melody, or a striking new fashion, that catches on and spreads through a contagion of understanding.
7.6 People’s readiness to become energised by greater Whole Intelligence may be significantly under-estimated. My own belief is that there is a huge reservoir of practical understanding and moral strength that has been overlooked – as a result of being educationally devalued. Incidents and examples of conspicuous good sense at times DO get acknowledged – but usually as something exceptional, out of the ordinary, and therefore regarded as ‘not for us’. In the face of overwhelming global challenges for humanity, such ‘exceptionalism’ is no longer valid. Every person alive is implicated. The most informed political leaders, the most enlightened leaders of commerce, the most brilliant scientists and wisest philosophers, and the bravest and most creative activists and artists – for all their efforts, expertise, and imagination – cannot resolve the world’s emergencies alone.
7.7 There needs to be an upgrading in human understanding, a release of the many extra strengths of which human beings are capable. Our general competence as members of Homo sapiens is not set at a fixed and unalterable level. Ideas that we are powerless as global constituents, that we cannot make a difference, that we ‘cannot be happy in a world like this’, and that others ‘much more intelligent than us will fix things’ need rejecting as useless attitudes in a time of emergency.
7.8 Unless I am gravely mistaken, I discern a global longing for more fulfilling lives, based on a sense of greater direction, focus, and fairness. For a great many, something important does not seem to have been ‘met’ by existing patterns of living, working, and making sense of the world. For example, there is a deep majority longing to move on from the highly destructive stupidity of organising for violent conflict and the destruction of civilians, homes, and communities through war. There’s an obvious need for greater Whole Intelligence in the service of peace-making, reconciliation, and building alternative ways to manage disputes. In short, it’s about time to ‘grow ourselves up’ as a species, giving up war and its vast wastefulness and deliberate inhumanity, not least as part of protecting the biosphere and the miracle of life, of which we are part.
7.9 Traditionally, for many people seeking a sense of direction, fulfilment and community acceptance, the path has been through following religious disciplines, participating in particular assemblies of belief and traditional wisdom. I sense, however, that there’s a new constituency emerging: one that is activist minded and is sympathetic to spiritual outlooks that do not strain credulity to breaking point. This new constituency seeks to challenge counter-productive stereotypes, prejudices, and everyday beliefs; it welcomes and is relaxed with the erotic life of the body; and is fed up with stale political assumptions and yesterday’s slogans. They are able to face squarely the extraordinary challenges and opportunities presented to humanity today, and are ready to work for decisive change. Notably, this emerging community, particularly of young people (as well as the young in heart), is confronting and overcoming fearfulness, hopelessness, and existential despair in the face of the global crisis. Activists – who have already largely embraced Whole Intelligence without knowing it – are recognising the extraordinary time that human beings are living through: one of historical proportion, and a time that offers each person a distinct choice as to what they will do for the greater good of the Earth and all of its species – which includes our own.
7.10 This Manifesto seeks to provide a different narrative from ones marked by defeat, danger, and dread. The need for greater Whole Intelligence in human affairs is urgent and obvious. The suggestion here is that we need (r)evolutionary acceleration in applying Whole Intelligence through a multitude of incremental conscious steps. And there are powerful means to help this happen: our historically unprecedented global connectivity, plus a world-wide community of the young and fearless impatient for change.
For Readers: This introduction to the Whole Intelligence Manifesto is a first instalment. Further instalments will expand on the themes presented here, and what appears here will likely undergo revision as well as addition of more examples and further guidelines. At present, the Whole Intelligence Manifesto is not a final or complete statement but rather is a working summary. It appears as part of an ongoing inquiry into human development and the scope for radical educational change. Our hope is that by publishing this first instalment we shall attract new readers, listeners, and similar thinkers who will add their insights and ideas. Please register to receive further information and notice of further instalments, and please feed in questions for Malcolm Parlett and his associates to think about and to answer.