collective bulbIndividualism is a hallmark of American culture.  We value the skills a single person brings to the workplace and how that one person leverages his or her skills to increase the capacity of the business.  And, when we search for new hires, we look for a single person to fill competency gaps in our organization.  How would hiring and retention practices change and consequently our business’s culture when we employ people based upon collective intelligence?

Collective intelligence is a relatively new field of research in business and leadership development.  Simply put, collective intelligence is the total of a business’s potential that is much greater than the contributions of each individual employee.  Theoretically, collective intelligence is a type of shared or group intelligence that arises from collaboration and connection between individuals and groups. To me it is a phenomenon of the correct connection between people that creates an integral field where all the people connect forming that common mind.

Metaphors that are cited the most as illustrations of collective intelligence are open source sites like Wikipedia or social media sites like Facebook.  In these sites, people share their individually cultivated “marketable” skills and knowledge as well as deeply personal, one could say, subconscious skills of emotional intelligence and social connectivity.  The information becomes co-inspirational and can easily and agilely morph as the group as a whole searches new directions.  Collective intelligence is messier than the traditional paradigm of individual intelligence because collective intelligence operates from a real future possibility that is seeking to emerge.  The end goal is present, but how to get there is not in a step-by-step blueprint.

Developing and then relying on collective intelligence to push your business towards previously unrecognized horizons requires a change in how you lead the organization.  Dr. Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of the Global Intelligence and Gross National Happiness Lab which links international leaders in order to innovate beyond simply increasing their nation’s GDP, is a foremost researcher and writer in the field of collective intelligence.  His advice to leaders who want to tap into the collective intelligence of their employees is two-fold:

  • leaders need to create spaces where people can reflect, sense, then prototype and implement and,
  • leaders should shape the organizational culture and structure to make them more able to benefit from  already existent collective intelligence tools like blogs, wikis, tags and social media networks.

The result is relations characterized by transparency, trust and partnering, not hierarchy.  Command and control leadership is replaced by cultivate and coordinate leadership.

True, the global culture is moving to value collective intelligence, and even individualistic cultures like America.  The fluidity that people use to move in and out of groups rather than define themselves to one specific group with one defined goal characterizes collective intelligence.  You are already doing it.  Think about the different Facebook groups you belong to, diverse chat rooms that you participate in, LinkedIn connects.  All of these groups inform the type of problems in your business that you want to tackle and how to approach these problems.  Moving collective intelligence out of your personal life into your business life is a thinking leap that traditional education has not prepared leaders to take.  Even the example of moving from personal life to business life does not represent collective intelligence ideas since this example uses lives that are separated instead of integrated.

As you begin to think about how collective intelligence changes your leadership style and how your business sets and achieves goals, take a look at  This is a collection of articles, blogs, comments and research that features integral approach to business and how to cultivate and coordinate a workplace that harnesses today’s society to meet tomorrow’s needs.