It’s likely you’ve heard of collective intelligence, the term used broadly to refer to groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent. The most well-known examples of collective intelligence in action are Google and Wikipedia—large, loosely organized groups of people working together in a rapid transfer information stream.
What many organizations don’t know—but could benefit from—is the use of mapping collective intelligence to dissect and better understand their people, processes, and sources of inefficiency and, in some cases, to create a structure to improve business innovation.
In the MIT Sloan paper “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence,” Tom Malone, Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan, asserts that we can map the data of collective intelligence in the same way that scientists map the human genome. “Just as mapping genomes helps understand and design organisms,” says Malone, “mapping these design patterns may help understand and design organizations.”
Following this human genome analogy, mapping collective intelligence involves creating a new framework whereby businesses and organizations can look at their entire organization as a collective intelligence organism. Using this framework, they can then break down each “gene” as a particular answer to one of the key questions—who, why, what, and how—as it is related to projects and tasks within the organization. Each key question is associated with a single task in a collective intelligence system.
With this framework, leaders and business managers can do more than just look at examples and hope for inspiration. Instead, for each key activity to be performed, they can systematically consider many possible combinations of answers to the key questions noted above and design their organization according to the data. You can learn more about the “collective intelligence genome” in this interview and video with Malone on the IBM-sponsored blog, Building a Smarter Planet.
How can mapping an organization using the collective intelligence genes create innovation? According to Malone, the exercise offers a new framework with which to view the organization and gain new insight into ways to improve the system. By breaking down departments, projects, and tasks, and mapping who does what, when, and how, leaders and teams can see bottlenecks they may have previously missed, detect a new way of completing a project, or initiate a more creative approach to production. Similar to a design structure matrix (DSM), collective intelligence mapping gives organizations the information they need to evaluate what is working, what is not, and make new connections in increasing creativity, productivity, and efficiency.
Tom Malone is a Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan and the Founding Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. He teaches Intelligent Organizations: Collaboration and the Future of Work at MIT Sloan Executive Education.