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Strategic planning to boost the Collective Intelligence Quotient of a large-scale community or organization is a long-term goal. When you are talking about computers, many people dive right into the computer system. What often happens is that tactical rather than strategic plans are implemented.

Consider a community’s “Collective Intelligence Quotient” as the scaling of individual Intelligence Quotient. Imagine the benefit if an entire group’s perception, thinking, and ideas about how to take action could be immediately available when needed to understand a problem. What if groups of people could access their collective knowledge quickly when faced with a decision, sorting through all other “noise,” and keying in on the most relevant information? It would vastly improve our ability to deal with complex, urgent problems—to get the best possible understanding of the situation, including the best possible solutions.

My interest in interactive computing, even before we knew what that might mean, arose from this conviction that we would be able to solve difficult problems using computers to extend the capability of people to collect information, create knowledge, manipulate and share it, and then put that knowledge to work. Organizations that respond to disasters are tremendous examples of organizations that must learn to adapt and use new information quickly. Disasters are, by their nature, unplanned and surprising. Responding requires rapid access to other information, geographical and mapping information—information about local resources, local communications, the availability of outside resources and organizations—sometimes even about the location of buried mines and unexploded munitions.

It turns out that it is difficult to share information across systems—where “sharing” means both the ability to find the right information, when it is needed, and the ability to use it across systems. Even harder is the ability to use computer networks to monitor and reflect a complete picture of any given situation. Anyone who regularly uses e-mail can readily imagine how the chaotic flow of messages between the different people and organizations during a disaster falls far short of creating the information framework that is required for an effectively coordinated response. It is striking how the capabilities of today’s personal productivity and publishing systems are mismatched to the needs of these organizations as they work to coordinate effective response flexibly and quickly.

These problems are due to structural factors. We have the opportunity to change our thinking and basic assumptions about the development of computing technologies. The emphasis on enhancing security and protecting turf often impedes our ability to solve problems collectively. If we can re-examine those assumptions and chart a different course, we can harness all the wonderful capability of the systems that we have today. People often ask me how I would improve the current systems, but my response is that we first need to look at our underlying paradigms—because we need to co-evolve the new systems, and that requires new ways of thinking. It’s not just a matter of “doing things differently,” but thinking differently about how to approach the complexity of problem-solving today.

Networked computing has the potential to increase the human’s capability to share and manipulate ideas leading to phenomenal change for knowledge work. But market forces driven by an invisible hand, as described by Adam Smith,6 are unlikely to invest in strategies that evolve new ways of working, managing work, and knowledge. Organizations must strategically change their approach to harness the power of this new medium rather than adapt the medium to mimic other media. A community’s collective IQ represents the community’s capability for dealing with complex, urgent problems. Some of the capabilities include the ability to:

• adequately understand problems;

• unearth the best candidate solutions;

• assess resources and operational capabilities and select appropriate solution commitments;

• effectively organize and execute the selected approach;

• monitor the progress and be able to adjust rapidly and appropriately to unforeseen complications.

I contend that a strategy for “facilitating the evolution” of our organizations’ collective IQs will be the optimum approach. The measurement of a society’s capability to problem-solve is based on the infrastructure that supports it. The culture, training, organizations, tools, artifacts and physical infrastructure all determine the capability of any individual or group to perform. If we don’t improve our infrastructure, it is unlikely there will be significant progress. Let’s say you could build a measurement of how well a company interacts with its external environment. Suppose you start getting measures of things like:

• How sensitive was the company to what was happening in that environment—opportunities or threats?

• How quick and effective was the company about making a plan for taking advantage of an opportunity or avoiding a threat?

• How directly and quickly and effectively did the company go about marshaling?

• How well was the company able to watch what is going on in their arena?

• How rapidly could the company readjust its plans and resource allocations to take advantage of new opportunities?

There is some measure in there that you could call the collective IQ. Research with the explicit intent of collectively solving complex and urgent problems merits serious investment.

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6 Adam Smith wrote a book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, describing the “invisible hand” as one of the underlying forces driving supply and demand in the free market.”


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