Becoming Smarter Together — A Guide to Implementing Collective Intelligence

No matter what industry you’re in, leading an entire organisation is no small feat. It’s no wonder several managers and leaders often face challenges in their positions. Most managers miss one extremely important aspect of leadership — fostering and encouraging collaboration, which can only be achieved through collective intelligence.

No organisation thrives from the efforts or intelligence of an individual; success lies in collective intelligence. Most leaders run businesses that have several stakeholders, but they have no strategy for collaboration. And without the key approaches for collaboration, partnerships are as good as non-existent.

Collective intelligence is not about exploiting another organisation’s resources or a team member’s knowledge; it’s a matter of creating ecosystems that thrive and support each other. It requires that you view your challenges in their different levels of complexity.

Collective intelligence transcends the people with whom you build relationships. This process includes the skills, data, and technologies that impact how we work. Collective intelligence has been redefined several times over the years. NESTA describes it as being “created when people work together to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas, and insights to address a complex challenge.”

NESTA’s definition focuses on creating diverse groups of people in and out of your organisation to collaborate. Working with people outside your organisation can help you build new value, reduce the risks that come with new opportunities, and create a mindset shift.

Using Collective intelligence to map complex problems

Collective intelligence is the field of creating a clearer vision and a level of diversity that also encourages nonlinear learning. The need for collective intelligence is most highlighted when we solve wicked problems, which always require complex solutions.

Wicked problems require different mindsets and levels of thought that can frame the bigger problem, and collective intelligence can help define the different layers of such problems within your organisation. Contrary to most leaders’ beliefs, these problems are not to be feared because they bring an opportunity for collaboration.

Because complex problems are constantly moving, it’s hard to make decisions as an individual. We must work together to understand all the different stakeholders and elements that can impact us over time. Therefore, you must start thinking about the foundational people you want to connect with and the adjacent areas that are dependent on those relationships.

Leaders must understand the needs of all stakeholders and the effect of any change that could impact an organisation. Think of scenarios that can impact your relationships with stakeholders. This makes it easier to find people that can add value to your organisation and bring innovative solutions.

Barriers to successful collaboration

One of the best leadership qualities is the ability to accept that we’re not always right. Some managers tend to have a divisive mentality driven by ego. They assign blame to others instead of accepting when they’re wrong. This mentality is not conducive to collaborative efforts within and outside your organisation.

Power can easily make you believe you’re the centre of the organisation. So, you must shift away from an ego-driven leadership system where you think all stakeholders are at your whim.

Poor communication can cause misalignment within the organisation. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain excellent communication between departments. This ensures that ideas, solutions, and resources are shared efficiently, leading to a cohesive organisation.

As a leader, you must focus on the infrastructure, knowledge bases, and technology that can help you reframe complex issues in your organisation. A mindset shift allows you to consider problems that are yet to appear, and those that will evolve. This will enable effective decision-making in your organisation.

Developing a mindset shift to build networks

You need to create an organisation that embraces change. Leaders and managers need to create a space where employees and stakeholders can present better ideas, understand complex situations, and have different perspectives. With this shift, your organisation will have a wide mandate and a strategy to make better decisions.

The key is in finding partners and people that align with your goals as an organisation. You need to figure out how they can help you move forward to establish a better way of collecting insightful ideas, sharing data, and sharing resources to create better services.

Successful networking is about making sure that your networks thrive, especially during times of hardship. Therefore, you want to find people that can add value to you and your organisation. The best people to collaborate with should have access to rich data or technology that aligns with your organisation’s plans. Partners can be other organisations, start-ups, experts, or even your community.

What collaboration might look like

Collaboration may look different for every organisation; it will vary based on your needs. Colleague crowd, for example, explores the internal structures of the organisation. It revolves around communication with employees to work together on different initiatives. You could host events to help you share resources and build new insights around problems.

Innovation incubators are effectively labs for developing new ideas. This is where you usually invite people into your space to create and test ideas. Social listening involves building programs and initiatives to enable people to share their views. Through social listening, you can observe what the world is saying and analyse that information to uncover new opportunities.

Co-creation communities involve fostering communities where there’s a win-win scenario. In this collaborative approach, you work with communities to create new ideas.

There are also corporate venture funds where corporations invest in small businesses in their ecosystem. These are often exploitative because the large organisation can ruin the innovation and culture within the small venture they buy.

Open innovation ecosystems allow you to source ideas and new patented solutions from customers, start-ups, and scaleups. Accelerator programs, on the other hand, are limited-time events where you bring people together to solve a specific challenge based on your organisation’s needs.

While the above collaboration approaches are not the complete list of collective intelligence tools you could implement, they provide scope for fostering innovative ideas and new ways of thinking.

Achieving this level of success will require a reframing of your norms and problem-solving techniques as an organisation. You’ll need to replace any norms that are not conducive to successful collaboration. You then need to explore and experiment to figure out what works in your partnerships, learn from these processes, and share your learnings with your wider ecosystem.

This is where the intelligence really lies, being able to build on successes and understanding what works. Once you’ve figured out what works and established a level of competence, the next step is making sure you can scale and repeat.

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Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing

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Daniel Tuitt

Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing