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The Art of Thinking with People Who Think Differently

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Illustration Credit: Murmuration 1 by Soraya Villarreal

In the vineyards where I (Dawna) used to live, just after harvest and just before sunset, the sky darkens and the air fills with the sound of thousands of glossy black starlings. I call it a startle of starlings, but it’s really called a murmuration. Above our heads, huge clouds of them would gather, wheel, turn, and swoop in unison, a perfectly coordinated Möbius ribbon held together by an invisible force. If any one bird turns and changes speed, so do all the others. I wondered for years what makes this uncanny coordination possible. How do they remain so incredibly cohesive, never leaving a single bird isolated when under attack by a falcon? Here’s what I have learned: they gather at harvest time to keep warm at night, exchange information, and protect each other from raptors. Most of all, they follow a simple rule that explains how they remain so incredibly cohesive: each one keeps a fixed number of its neighbors—seven other starlings, irrespective of their distance—in its awareness. When a neighbor moves, so do you. It doesn’t matter how large the group is, or if two birds are on opposite …

Dawna Markova, PhD, is a psychologist and cofounder of Professional Thinking Partners, a consulting agency known for talent and leadership development.

Angie McArthur is the CEO of Professional Thinking Partners and one of the creators of the Worldwide Women’s Web, an organization that works to retain women in corporate leadership roles. This article is adapted from their new book, Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently, which was published by Spiegel & Grau in August.


Dawna Markova PhD is cofounder and CEO Emeritus of Professional Thinking Partners. An inspirational speaker, writer, researcher, and teacher, she is internationally known for her asset-focused work in the fields of perception, learning, and identifying core cognitive competencies.

Angie McArthur is the CEO of Professional Thinking Partners, and has cofacilitated and designed global conferences, leadership retreats, training programs, and ongoing one-on-one Thinking Partnerships in organizations from nonprofits to Fortune 500s.

The two are coauthors of books including Reconcilable Differences: Connecting in a Disconnected World (Random House, 2017), from which this article was adapted. 

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