First in a series: “The power of collective intelligence in organizations”

Collective Intelligence
People are smarter in groups (though there may be exceptions to this rule).

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the sum is greater than its parts.” New thinking and research has shown (once again) that folk wisdom actually can be proven through science. Tom Malone, a respected professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, explains it in a fascinating book, The Future of Work, which is based on 20 years of research and compelling insight into ways technology is changing how people think and work.  Malone also is the co-director of a cool initiative at MIT, “Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century,” which is cataloguing how these changes are happening now and how they can happen in the future – if we choose.

In a nutshell, Malone explains that people actually are smarter in groups. You might assume, as I first did, that the people with higher IQs simply make the rest of the people in the group look better. But it was not the case. Instead, Malone has research that proves that the collective intelligence of a group actually is higher than the combined individual intelligence of each group member!  (Look up the article “The Collective Intelligence Genome” in the spring 2010 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review for the full story.)

He also notes that the availability and increasingly lower cost of technology is making it easier and more practical for groups of people to solve problems collectively. “The collective global human intelligence is growing exponentially due to technology and the Internet. This never has existed on our planet before,” he says.

What does this mean for society, and business in particular? I will explore that more in my next few posts, but I can tell you that Intertech long has embraced the power of collective intelligence. If you have read my book, Building a Winning Business, you already know that I am a big believer in daily huddles, management retreats, all-company meetings and other techniques for getting teams together to solve problems and brainstorm creative solutions.  In the meantime, check out Malone’s work. It will make you deeply ponder what percentage of the intelligence, creativity and energy in your organization you are (or are not!) actually taking advantage of.