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Bringing the Overview Effect Down to Earth

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Distinction Three: Unity vs Diversity

In our own work, we have demonstrated repeatedly that transformation begins with the ability to distinguish content from context. Similarly, from the surface of the planet, it is hard to see the reality of co-intelligence because our senses are overwhelmed by a chaotic swirl of diversity. From orbit or the moon, astronauts see that unity appears as the context of that planetary diversity. The two coexist, but we will see one or the other as primary or secondary, depending on perspective. (9). This ability to clarify content and context brings the Overview Effect down to earth in ways that can transform organizations and the people in them.

We all have seen co-intelligence in action in great sports teams, wondrous musical performances, moments of intimacy, friendship, and sharing, or in hot projects that achieve goals everyone is proud to own. These are moments of a cognitive shift, even of transcendence, becoming more than yourself, in a boundary-less condition.

Shuttle astronaut Bonnie Dunbar said:

Team participation is the key. Being on a mission is like playing team  sports or being on an air crew. (10)

As International Space Station (ISS) astronaut Ron Garan puts it:

If I had an epiphany [in orbit], it is the sobering contradiction between just how unbelievably beautiful our planet is versus the reality of life on the planet for many of her inhabitants, so it caused me to ask how we can use that perspective to inspire people to make a difference and make life for the inhabitants of our planet as beautiful as our Earth looks from space.  (11)

Garan is himself working on a number of projects to use his insights from space exploration to improve life on Earth. (12)

In the course of work and life on the planetary surface, the unity recedes into the background. If we can discover how to communicate the Overview Effect and bring this perspective to individuals’ commitments to high performance, magic will happen.  If we can trigger this cognitive shift, we will begin to see non-astronauts working together in the way that astronauts do and that will be the beginning of something really new “under the sun.”

Distinction Four: Cognitive Shift vs. Masterful Performance

For some astronauts—and for many who have heard about the experience—the essence of the Overview Effect is transcendence; a state of being above and beyond the norm. But without masterful performance back on the surface, transcendence is a fleeting experience and loses its credibility and power. That is why we prefer the term “cognitive shift,” something that is more easily put into practice.

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