How to Tap the Power of Collective Intelligence

How to Tap Collective Intelligence

To win in the 21st century, leaders need to greatly expand their thinking capacity. Accomplishing this requires a new approach: Collective Intelligence enabled by technology.

In a Newsweek article, “Google–Ten Golden Rules,” the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the company’s chief economist, Hal Varian, explained why Google taps the Collective Intelligence of its people to make decisions:

“At Google, we adhere to the view that the many are smarter than the few, and therefore solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision.”

The History of Collective Intelligence

There is a long history of compelling evidence about the power of Collective Intelligence.

In 1906, a British researcher visited a livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest. An ox was on display, and the villagers were invited to guess the animal’s weight. Nearly 800 people participated and the results were astonishing. The average of the 800 guesses was 1,197 pounds. That was only one 1 pound less than actual weight. In short, the average was 99.9% correct.

During the 1950s, the Delphi Method was developed to harness the collective intelligence of a group of experts on national security issues. It has since been widely used in business because it consistently increases the accuracy of forecasting.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki provides numerous examples of how diverse groups, because of their combined knowledge, experience, and thinking capability, can be smarter than a brilliant individual or an elite few.

Diverse groups are better at predicting the future, solving complex problems, fostering innovation and coming to wise decisions.

Through the power of Collective Intelligence, we can find the important needles in the ever-growing haystack of information. We can dig deeper into critical issues and make smarter strategic decisions.

The formula for tapping the power of Collective Intelligence is four-fold:

  • Diversity – A group with different thinking styles, life experiences, expertise and information sources
  • Challenge – A task that is intellectually demanding, open-ended, and involves higher order thinking skills
  • Openness – Each individual having the freedom and ‘safety’ to express their ideas and share their knowledge
  • Iterations – Multiple cycles of presentation, feedback, and synthesis to increase the quality of thought and buy-in.

Leland Russell-Collective Intelligence

You may be thinking, “That sounds great, but it also sounds time-consuming. We are already suffering from time poverty with all the emails, voicemails, meetings, and everything else on our plate. How can we find the time to bring a diverse group together for Collective Intelligence sessions?”

The truth is you can’t if you rely on traditional paradigms for meetings and communication.

New Circumstances Require New Approaches

Weyerhaeuser Building Materials wanted to rapidly drive innovation and growth, but the complexity of the leadership task was daunting. They had over 70 locations across the U.S. and Canada organized into 12 regional markets.

The innovation initiative leader, Phil Leupold, recognized the value of engaging the Collective Intelligence of stakeholders across all of the regions. He was also daunted by the challenge,  which Leupold describes as “finding the time and avoiding the excessive cost of physically convening a large group. This was simply not feasible on an ongoing basis.”

Weyerhaeuser’s solution was a virtual approach using the GEO Collaboration System, a technology platform that enables participants to come together online for facilitated Collective Intelligence Sessions.

Leland Russell-Virtual FacilitationBy leveraging this technology, Weyerhaeuser actually accomplished more in less time than they would have in their typical face-to-face meetings. They increased the speed and precision of idea sharing, which produced the innovation insights and strategic solutions they needed.

There were two other significant benefits. The virtual approach greatly simplified the logistics of getting the right minds together to address important issues (and dramatically reduced the costs). It also allowed a broad spectrum of thinking to be quickly captured, synthesized and acted upon.

Leupold summed it up this way: “The GEO Collaboration System was a cost-effective way to virtually engage our stakeholders. It allowed us to translate a mass of ideas, views, and opinions into a winning strategy that everyone understood and bought into.”

A Future Fact 

To win in the 21st century, leaders need to greatly expand their thinking capacity. Accomplishing this requires a new approach: Collective Intelligence enabled by technology. ~ Leland


Consider three questions:

  • Do you and your organization think about the Big Picture frequently enough?
  • Do you effectively tap the Collective Intelligence of the right minds at the right times?
  • Do you have the processes and tools you need for frequent, far-reaching Forethought?

If “no” is the answer to any of these questions, let’s connect.

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