As work environments become more complex, scientists continue to search for ways to improve how technology can enhance the performance of individuals and help groups work together most effectively.
According to an interview on the Smart Planet Blog with MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, the crux of the matter is what he refers to as “collective intelligence”—how people and computers connect so that collectively they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer separately.
Professor Malone asserts that the future of these kinds of interactions will lead to organizations which are very different from those that exist today: in addition to providing information, computers also will be able to do things that intelligent humans can—as well as some things they can’t. The result? Instead of man versus machine, it will be man plus machine. In other words, “the combination of people and computers will be able to think in a way that neither people nor computers have ever done before” and therefore work together more effectively.
This new paradigm, says Professor Malone, will allow us to categorize our work in innovative and different ways, creating not only new kinds of organizations, but also new kinds of leadership. It will be up to those leaders to take advantage of this new paradigm. The biggest challenge will be a shifting power base, which will exchange the traditional top-down structure in favor of a more democratic hierarchy. Although management will still need to define goals and visions, this power shift will create organizations where those being managed have the right kinds of connections and incentives (thanks, in part, to technology) to make decisions for themselves. Once they understand an organization’s overall goals, they’ll be able to work in innovative ways to help the organization achieve those goals—and, at the same time, contribute to the company’s bottom line.
In addition, while traditional organizations measure effectiveness in terms of productivity, this new model will emphasize not just the productivity of an organization, but also its intelligence. The more intelligent the organization, the more flexible and efficient it will become. In a fast-changing world where innovation and adaptation are considered critical success factors, this new kind of organization will be more readily able to adapt and respond than the older traditional models—which means a win-win for leaders, employees, and organizations, themselves.
Thomas Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.