What is the problem this document addresses?
In an ideas economy, every business contains much more intelligence than ever gets put to use. This is mostly because few have given sufficient thought to its everyday, unimagined presence, or considered how to make what is known available and usable in their future design.
Yet, we are moving into an age in which “thinking at a new scale” across the internet will become pervasive in all forms of commerce, because it enables companies competitively to explore, to tap into and not to waste any of the insights, experience or intelligence available to them.
Initially, only the most foresighted of organisations will weave this way of working into the ways their teams think, learn and behave.
But, when they learn to identify and build on their most creative inputs, those organisations will quickly become the most productive businesses around, and also the most feared and unwelcome of competitors.
Certainly, as they learn how to transform their improved thinking into action, they will become those most adept at solving their most complex and wicked problems.
Given this need, this document proposes a method, combining long-standing, established practices and now commonplace workplace technologies to coax hitherto hidden insights out of any disparate group of individuals, to reveal the emerging themes most deserving of further investigation.
The end of this document contains some sample questions, open and entirely contestable, to get your people thinking creatively, and to illustrate the diversity of responses the imagination of your business might generate, were its minds challenged to do so.
So, what is collective intelligence?
Collective intelligence is created when a group of diverse people works purposefully together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas and insights in order to solve a problem.
It presents a combination of machine intelligence – AI, data, and so on – with human sensitivities of imagination, instinct, emotion, judgement, reasoning, knowledge, experience and learning.
It’s based on the premise that intelligence is distributed, and that when people work together on a problem they can become more than the sum of their parts.
Different people each hold different pieces of information and contribute different skills to create a more complete picture of a problem and how to solve it.
Businesses die from a lack of ideas. But, like any idea, unless pinned down and shared to be tested with purpose, many of the most productive insights may be instantly perishable.
For actionable benefit, its content must be articulated and reported back to decision makers.
As such, while exposing and capitalising on its most valuable talents, the aim of collective intelligence reporting – or, simply, intelligence reporting – is consistently to lift the quality of critical thinking across a business.
Not only are few individuals born natively with this capability, but without experience and practice in thinking together, extremely few teams will possess any such cacacity to any degree.
But building a plan is like a news story. There is a lede, and then it goes on to say who, what, when, where, why, and how. But getting to this point requires iterating with the whole team or company so there is a shared understanding.
To achieve this, the collective thinking model beneath combines hundreds of years of professional editorial validation in producing the written materials from which we all have learnt, coupled with the invaluable real-time tracking and checking afforded by the document-sharing tools of the modern internet.
Good intelligence-design decisions start with asking the right questions and applying three core principles
When you ask new questions, you can invoke knowledge that is out of present awareness, and teams and their members learn fastest when the creativity of each is guided and involved in setting the agenda for what they learn next.
Without a trigger to think about something we’ve never been asked about before, most of us don’t know what we know or think about it.
So, when questions seem to come out of nowhere – but their answers must draw on respondents’ tacit knowledge, born of their unique personal experience – they can shake people out of the fog of their status quo and open their eyes to new thoughts.
But, to begin such a process of investigation, following the simplest rules of research or journalism, the more precise your articulation of your requirements of what you need to know, and of the question that must be asked, the higher the value will be of what you get back in reply.
These three principles can help you manage risk better to design a superior product and customer experience (CX)
First, while you can assume you know many things about your customers and about the abilities of those you work with, you can’t ever know what others know, want, expect and can contribute with certainty until you ask them.
Second, you can’t be sure you understand what they tell you until you document it and check back with them that what you recorded and interpreted was what they meant.
Last, until what you have captured is simplified, summarised and issued in words that you have tested to ensure nothing has been overlooked in the search for possible improvements, and that everyone understands, it may be premature to instruct your team on what its future operating processes should be based.
Put simply, the smarter a company gets about investigating its customers’ perceptions and experiences with its products, and reporting back to and checking with them on what it finds, the better those products – and the smarter and more capable the organisation providing them – can become.
And, if the idea of building a workplace’s collective intelligence by capturing its knowledge, let alone that of its customer base, may sound chaotic and messy, it is.
Yet, making sense from a cacophony of competing voices and opinions is no different to the challenge faced by news organisations reporting around the world every day.
As such, our solution isn’t an obscure science, but a communication process proven both by our own repeated personal experience of written reporting and sense-making over many years, and by centuries of practice by others.
So, here, as depicted in the diagram beneath is the triple-loop learning process to bring the three principles together
Depending on the question put to it, the first loop’s aim in this undertaking is to fish for possibilities, ideas and insights, based on what is believed, known and experienced by the exercise’s target group.
This then triggers the checking mechanism referred to above.
The checking stage exists because not everyone has the same gift, comfort with or care for written expression.
No matter how valuable their insights, many people write poorly, don’t like doing it, or record information in ways that may be imprecise and unsuited to use by others.
Moreover, as even the best writers’ original writing contains errors they can’t see, and they may make assumptions about the knowledge others reading it may hold, the second loop’s purpose is to ensure clarity, to verify meaning and intention.
Its checks may ask, is that what you meant, and, if I interpret that in this way, does this make sense?
Most people with limited time want to read as little as possible, so this stage ensures that what is presented to them gets straight to the point and is both comprehensible and readily digestible.
Illustration: The core collective intelligence publishing model
When the summary of replies is reported back to those who submitted them, loop three is when magic is most likely to begin to happen.
It is only then, in the clash of contrasting perspectives, that people begin to see what goes on, unknown and unexperienced – and on which they may be invited to comment, invent and build – in the minds of others who they themselves may otherwise not know.
Because it gives you new insight and understanding of where the creativity in your business can be found, or induced, it is around this that you can design both how it can be invoked for repeated benefit, and therefore to lift the intelligence with which it addresses certain problems.
So, this stage’s aim is to elicit insight that advances and builds upon what is known collectively by its participants, and to create, index and tag, in plain English, a reusable platform for subsequent experimentation, search and reference, investigation and learning.
Combining the loops for insight and profit
The first two steps above are proven by their daily use in professional media production worldwide.
In their application, rule number one is that every writer needs a second reader to check facts and to ensure what is written can be understood.
Unchecked, imprecisely written material, possibly in great volume, is of no help to anyone.
Summarising for complete, concise sense is critical if learning is to be focused, collectively intelligent thought is to be scaled appropriately to meet the critical tasks at hand, and important investment decisions are to be made.
The way its collective intelligence is designed and applied to reducing risk in its business is critical to accelerating the quality of any organisation’s customer-experience competitiveness and products.
More important than any product, service or experience, now is the time to solve deeper problems by revealing, shaping and designing what can be known and built on by others.
And the reason this is reliable is that as a publishing professional with many years of experience, I know how to make this work.
Contact me for a free trial, based on the following questions, or similar.
Some sample questions to test the diversity within your organisation’s collective intelligence
- What intelligence do we most need to grow next to deliver a reliably superior customer experience?
- What must we do to become the business that will put ours out of business?
- Which is the business that looks most likely to do that at the moment, and in what ways, and why?
- On what assumptions is our business currently built, and which of these make our company most vulnerable?
- Every business faces external forces that are disruptive or threatening, so what are those on which we should focus most clearly?
- What will unfold as the most critical success factors in our business’s future survival?
- In what specific ways is our business experiencing change in:
- Consumer preferences?
- Evolving or emerging distribution channels?
- New competitors or forms of competition?
- Access to factors such as materials, the right skills or people?
Some writers may be driven to write fiction and others poetry. And, as much as I’d like to be a great novelist or an accomplished screenwriter, I have to accept that I am not made that way.
(Those with a more discerning eye might also spot here that I am no graphic designer, either.)
Now, however, with an MBA (Technology) from UNSW, and as a former journalist and sub-editor – a key fact-checking, sense-making and quality control editorial role in all professional media – on the pages of The Australian Financial Review newspaper group in Sydney, I believe I am also chasing an opportunity that perhaps few others have yet seen.
The learning derived from investigating and reporting on the collective intelligence of minds across a workplace is exactly – and maybe just as surprising – as that we experience when we first read news we would not otherwise be able to obtain for ourselves.
And my great enthusiasm lies in how this can be more effectively interrogated, exposed and organised to deliver new thinking and a better return for business owners and investors, facilitated by the best internal communication tools ever invented for the purpose.
Thanks for reading, Graham Lauren, February 2023.
Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org or (61+) 416 171724