Collective Intelligence #3 — Mapping the Intelligence Terrain

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In my previous article, Collective Intelligence #2, I briefly traced a journey that began in my teen years when I led groups in the Israeli youth movement and subsequently developed into working globally with executive teams in some of the most admired companies in the world. In this third part we will begin to map the intelligence terrain.

Worldwide, organizational systems of all sizes that are unable to adapt to the pressures of volatile, complex, and ambiguous change will experience breakdown and implosion. To meet these challenges and opportunities, I proposed that inquiring into, and discovering how to facilitate the emergence of collective intelligence has become critical.

Listen here: Episode 90 — Collective Intelligence #3 — Mapping the Intelligence Terrain

How can an organization address fast-moving ambiguous change and crisis? How can a group of people escape the collective dysfunction and breakdown syndrome? Under stress and threat, as people feel unsafe, they tend to pivot into amygdala-triggered cortisol powered behavior. Such fight-flight reaction locks people into a polarity that becomes the biggest obstacle to wisdom and intelligence. The transformational work required to answer these questions involves developing a new organizational operating system. An essential part of this upgrade compels us to engage people in a way that taps into and elicits their collective wisdom and intelligence.

My assertion in the earlier article was that approaching collective intelligence as a general idea was unsatisfying and insufficient. To instantiate the point, we outlined several “collectives” that generate intelligence. In particular, we categorized collectives through three lenses: content, character and cause.

We now can begin mapping the intelligence terrain. A fuller rendering of the categories of intelligence requires one or more books. In this short article, I present an abbreviated starter into this vast territory.

The Intelligence Terrain

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A useful approach to the search for collective intelligence requires that we first define what we mean by intelligence. In my work, I use the word in two ways that have different meanings: as a capacity and as a source.

a. Intelligence as a capacity: the pace at which you move along the continuum from data to insight-guided action depends on your ability to advance along the following five steps. Draw an arrow that goes from left to right, to represent a continuum. Add and label these points from left to right:

1) Unstructured data on the left end of the line

2) Information (organized data) to the right of the unstructured data point

3) Knowledge (connected patterns of information) at the mid-point of the line

4) Wisdom (applying context and experience to knowledge) to the right of the mid-point

5) Insight-guided action (potentiated action/actionability) at the right end of the line, the head of the arrow

Intelligence is the capacity to move along this continuum, converting data and information to knowledge, and then to wisdom and insight. Intelligence defines the velocity of this metabolic process — that is, how quickly you move along this continuum to potentiate action. This flow renders the term “actionable insight” redundant. By definition, an insight is actionable. When the process resultant is not actionable it may be knowledge or wisdom, but it is not an insight. Forward momentum along this continuum is the capacity application of intelligence.

In this capacity context, any group or system can ask itself:

  • How effectively are we moving along this continuum?
  • How well do we gather and organize data?
  • How well do we allow the organization to become knowledgeable about itself by connecting patterns of information?
  • To what extent do we enable wise leadership and decision-making?
  • How well do we apply experience and context?
  • What insights guide our decision-making?
  • How aligned are our activities to our insight-inspired purpose?

b. Intelligence as a source: several dimensions emerge when we define the intelligence landscape as a source. Today we will focus on two starter delineations.

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1) Intelligence source as a stream. The collective may be seeking to access and bring forward the intelligence of a specific stream. Examples may include educational intelligence, healing intelligence, inter-personal, psychological, or social intelligences, organizational intelligence, structure and system intelligences, geopolitical and diplomatic intelligences, creative intelligence, aesthetic and artistic intelligences, somatic intelligence, musical intelligence, theological and storytelling intelligences, developmental and spiritual intelligences, and strategic and business intelligences.

Some of these streams flow into each other while others are contained. In all cases they encompass and represent human aggregated and naturally arising intelligence. Some streams have been explored and codified by various pioneers in these fields while others are yet to be codified. These intelligence currents carry their own evolutionary impulses, whereby an intelligence stream contains its own propulsion to become more conscious of its own development through the people championing these endeavors.

Imagine that streams of endeavor represent living, breathing spheres that develop an aggregated consciousness and evolving intelligence through the people who become their champions. A case in point: after Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier in 1954, the “intelligence” of that performance became accessible for others who quickly followed to run the mile in less than four minutes. Similarly, in other domains, once a performance wall is breached or a stop situation is broken, the intelligence stream expands. I propose that each intelligence stream has its own frontier where its evolution occurs.

In pursuing collective intelligence, the group’s efforts to clarify the thrusting inquiry and focus it seeks to source can direct its quest for intelligence and enhance its results.

In the context of intelligence source as a stream, any group can ask itself, “What specific intelligence are we seeking? Why?”

2) Intelligence source as an ecosystem and environmental context

1. Ecosystems: Every ecosystem brings its unique requirements, support, and possibilities. For example, the information and resources required to survive and thrive in the desert are different than those required in the Amazon rainforests, and both are different than those needed in the Pacific Ocean. Each ecosystem provides the desert intelligence, the rainforest intelligence, and the ocean intelligence, the resources and the know-how to support its efforts to survive and thrive.

Similarly, you can imagine different organizations and markets in which each ecosystem brings forward its own intelligence.

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2. Family spaces: Another simple way to consider an environmental context as an intelligence source is a family unit as a collective that navigates a range of spaces in which it operates. A highly functional family finds and applies a full spectrum of collective intelligences. There is the kitchen intelligence, the living room intelligence, the bedroom intelligence, and the recreation and games room and the reading room intelligences. And, there is a different intelligence activated on an outdoor hike. Each of these spaces promotes its own behavioral intelligence. The space, its opportunities, requirements and purpose offer context and intelligence about how to be and what to do.

Similarly, you can imagine other personal and collective spaces and the intrinsic intelligence they offer.

There are other dimensions to consider when appreciating intelligence as a source, such as altitude, level, and stage of development. We will reflect on these in a future article in this series as we explore ideas about collective intelligence.

In every endeavor there are times that feel like you are swimming downstream and then there are times where the experience is one of swimming upstream. Begin each venture by seeking to understand the collective you are called to serve by appreciating its content, character and cause. Then proceed with clarifying the inquiry that guides the effort and the intelligence stream your group hopes to source.

To meet the challenges now facing all organizations and humanity at large, we must find ways to engage and access emergent realms of collective intelligence. For too long humankind largely has been separated from the sources that bless and support life’s higher potential, limiting people’s ability to operate and express themselves to a very narrow range of their immense creative capacity. The sources of human intelligence go far beyond a Google search. When facilitated and approached wisely, any human endeavor can be supported spontaneously by fantastically broad natural realms of intelligence. How will you play your part in this development?

You can listen to an audio version of this by subscribing to the Create New Futures podcast

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