The most intelligent groups aren’t just a bunch of smart people — Thomas Malone

From Quartz

It’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to think about themselves not just in terms of their productivity and efficiency, but also their intelligence. But how do you measure an organization’s intelligence? And with so many groups working remotely, can you measure an online group’s intelligence? It turns out that you can measure and predict group intelligence, and that the same factors affect both face-to-face and online groups.

In a prior study, my colleagues and I took the same statistics techniques used to measure individual intelligence and applied them to measure the intelligence of groups. As far as we know, nobody had ever before asked if groups had an “intelligence factor,” just as individuals do.

We found that there is indeed a single statistical factor for group intelligence that predicts how well the group will perform on a wide variety of tasks. We called this factor “collective intelligence,” and it is only moderately correlated with the average individual intelligence of people in the group. In other words, having a bunch of smart people in the group doesn’t necessarily lead to a smart group. Instead, we found three other factors that predict collective intelligence.

The first was average social perceptiveness or social intelligence of group members. We measured this with a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes.” In this test, you look at pictures of other people’s faces and try to guess their emotions. When people in the group are good at that, the group on average is more collectively intelligent.

The second factor was the degree to which people participated equally in a group conversation. When one or two people dominated the conversation, the group was on average less intelligent than when the participation was more evenly spread among the group members.

Read the full post at Quartz. 

Thomas W. Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern (1959) Professor of Management, a Professor of Information Technology, and the Founding Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

 

The new frontier of work: Hyperspecialization

For the past five years, our work at MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence has looked at how new communication technologies—particularly the Internet— enable large numbers of people all over the planet to work together in new and different ways. Last year my colleagues and I unveiled our first attempt at
“mapping the genome” of collective intelligence* by identifying the building blocks of how companies can construct productive and efficient collective intelligence systems.

Our newest addition to the genome is  hyperspecialization. The idea, which we have written about in the latest edition of Harvard Business Review,** refers to the way in which work that was previously done by one person is now being broken into more-specialized pieces done by several people.

Hyperspecialization is not the same as outsourcing or offshoring, though it is enabled by the same technologies. Here’s a way to wrap your brain around the idea: Read More »

Egypt: Collective Intelligence, Distributed Leadership

Events in Egypt offer a real time lesson in the continued trend of the global decline of the single leader and the emerging power of collective action taken in support of freedom.

The convergence of technology with political and economic factors has generated a formidable opposition with distributed leadership.  Opponents of the Mubarak regime used Facebook and Twitter to share and vent their frustrations with oppressive rule and increasingly desperate economic condition – resulting in the initial “day of rage” on January 25.

Yet, the organization and collective action of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians continued even after the government shut down the Internet.  Crowds still appeared, information was shared, food and medical care were provided and attempts at violent intimidation were resisted.

All this was accomplished without a single, unifying face for the opposition.  This is not Iran in 1979, with the Ayatollah Khomeini returning to lead the overthrow of the Shah.  There is no Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner kept under house arrest in Burma for the “crime” of winning an election. Read More »