Issues to Consider when Tapping Collective IntelligenceIn the Winter 2009 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Eric Bonabeau, CEO of Icosystem Corp., reviews what we know about the best ways to apply collective intelligence to decision making (the alternative being to depend on a small number of decision-makers who may suffer from biased thinking and/or poor information).
The techniques for tapping collective intelligence Bonabeau mentions include:
- Information markets
- Social networks
- Collaborative software
- Loss of control Depending on collective intelligence can produce an undesirable outcome, an outcome so unpredictable that the organization is not prepared to deal with it, lack of clarity concerning who is responsible for bad decisions, and public relations problems if outsiders are involved and come up with embarrassing ideas.
- Diversity vs. expertise The best outcome in some situations is produced by ensuring that a wide variety of perspectives are considered. In other situations, it may be best to sacrifice diversity in order to ensure that needed expertise dominates the analysis and decision making.
- Engagement "... organizations must provide a continuous flow of new, enthusiastic participants to keep engagement high, or they need to provide incentives to sustain people's motivation over time."
- Policing to control any mischief-making or malicious input.
- Intellectual property An organization must both manage its own intellectual property when sharing information with those whose input is sought, and it must "determine whether and how it will assume ownership" of intellectual property that arises from ideas contributed by people outside the organization.
- Mechanism design The organization must answer such questions as who gets to participate, whether everyone's input receives equal weight, and whether decision making will be distributed (a number of people contribute to one decision) or decentralized (many people are empowered to make their own independent decisions).
For many problems that a company faces, there is potentially a solution out there, far outside of the traditional places that managers might search, within or outside the organization. The trick, though, is to develop the right tool for locating that source and then tapping into it.Bonabeaue also emphasizes the importance of identifying appropriate metrics and indicators for assessing the performance of collective intelligence tools the organization adopts.