June 17, 2010

Elements of collective intelligence in organizational context

collective intelligence

"The capacity of a social organism, such as a corporation, to:

  • sense its needs and that of its environment (stakeholders)
  • generate choices that will satisfy those collective needs
  • anticipate the consequences of those choices
  • to make choices that best serve the well-being of those affected by those choices
  • learn from the consequences of those choices"

Source: The Infinite Games Distinctionary, by Bill Veltrop

January 27, 2008

CI through the "cognitive" lens, Pierre Lévy

"The expression 'collective intelligence' relates to an extensive body of knowledge and thoughts concerned with several objects that have been diversely labeled: distributed cognition, distributed knowledge systems, global brain, super-brain, global mind, group mind, ecology of mind, hive mind, learning organization, connected intelligence, networked intelligence, augmented intelligence, hyper-cortex, symbiotic man, etc. Notwithstanding their diversity, these several rich philosophical and scientific contemporary trends have one feature in common: they describe human communities, organizations and cultures exhibiting 'mind-like' properties, such as learning, perceiving, acting, thinking, problem-solving, and so on... Intelligence refers to the main cognitive powers: perception, action planning and coordination, memory, imagination and hypothesis generation, inquisitiveness and learning abilities. The expression 'collective intelligence' designates the cognitive powers of a group." (Frequently Asked Questions about collective intelligence, 2003).

The emphasis on CI's cognitive dimension is strong in the work of Pierre Lévy but he also acknowledges: "[E]mphasis on cognition does not intend to diminish the essential roles of emotions, bodies, medias, sign systems, social relations, technologies, biological environment or physical support in collective intelligence processes. The study of collective intelligence (abbreviated as CI) constitutes an inter-discipline aspiring as much to a dialogue between human and social sciences as with the technical, artistic and spiritual traditions. Its goal is to understand and improve collective learning and the creative process." (Strategy to build a CI network, manuscript by Pierre Lévy, 2003.)

May 31, 2007

CI 2.0 governed by meaning and evolutionary values

Tor Nørretranders, author of C i v i l i s a t i o n 2.0 has just opened Reboot 9 with an inspiring talk on what mae us human: Dare, Care and Share. To get his message across he emphasized the role emotions and relationships in Civ 2.0, a bit at the expense of intelligence, as the essence of to be human. After his talk, Thomas the main organizer asked the 500 people in the main hall, what questions would be interesting to ask from ourselves for the next two days. I offered this one:

What would it look like if we didn't pit intelligence against emotions but go for their synergy, for Civilization 2.0? If the forms of CI 1.0 (and social organization) led to the global crises we are in, CI 2.0 will need to be governed by what has heart and meaning for us.

January 22, 2007

A source document for Collective Intelligence

Collective Intelligence as a Field of Multi-disciplinary Study and Practice

by Tom Atlee and George Pór

In this paper we define intelligence as the ability to interact successfully with one's world, especially in the face of challenge or change. Human intelligence involves gathering, formulating, modifying, and applying effective knowledge -- often in the form of ideas, images, sensations, patterns of response and sense-making -- a process we refer to with words like learning, problem solving, planning, visioning, intuition, understanding, creativity, etc.

Anyone seeking to generate more effective groups, organizations, institutions, healthy communities and sustainable societies soon discovers that individual intelligence is an insufficient factor in their success. We need to explore collective intelligence and how it can address the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century. The global scale, interconnectedness, and potential impact of those challenges makes such exploration more than a matter of convenience and competitiveness. It is a matter of collective survival and potential evolutionary leaps.

What collective intelligence is

Collective intelligence is older than humankind itself. Here is a broad, straightforward definition:

Collective intelligence is any intelligence that arises from -- or is a capacity or characteristic of -- groups and other collective living systems.

Primal forms of collective intelligence manifest in the synergies and resilience of ecosystems. This is often referred to as "the wisdom of nature", which "learns from its experience" through the interactive create-and-test dynamics of evolution. Collective intelligence becomes more obvious in groups of social animals like ants, bees, certain fishes and birds, and many mammals, including wolves and primates. Members of the first human groups shared with those evolutionary ancestors the instinct to combine their respective information and expertise to meet survival tasks they could not possibly meet separately.

Those early forms of collective intelligence gave rise to language and tools which, in turn, enabled new forms of collective intelligence to evolve that were capable of absorbing more complexity. In today's world, collective intelligence serves diverse functions, comes in diverse forms, and has many diverse names. For example, there is statistical collective intelligence, also known as the "wisdom of crowds" (named after the book with the same title), in which people simply "act in their own self-interest by playing the game to win", and their compounded decisions keep markets running in a self-organized way. This is a useful example because markets can also generate disasters, so it behooves us to understand what is needed for collective intelligence to be benign.

Collective intelligence and the human condition

Continue reading "A source document for Collective Intelligence" »

November 25, 2006

Web 2.0 marries collective intelligence

I've just come across yet another interesting, simple but somehow limiting definition of how collective intelligence is achieved, in the The Hype and the Hullabaloo of Web 2.0 by Ellyssa Kroski:

"Companies that adhere to Web 2.0 principles understand how to harness the collective intelligence to make their systems better. A collective intelligence is achieved when a critical mass of participation is reached within a site or system, allowing the participants to act as a filter for what is valuable. The user reviews on sort out the worthy resources from the inadequate. Citysearch’s user-created reviews identify quality restaurants..."

It was then picked up by Five Great Ways to Harness Collective Intelligence of Dion Hinchcliffe, which lists:

Continue reading "Web 2.0 marries collective intelligence" »

May 1, 2006

Forms of Collective Intelligence

There are many forms, manifestation of CI, and correspondingly, many "tribes" of its practitioners. This is an abbreviated overview. A more detailed inventory by Tom Atlee can be found here.

a. Dialogic CI – A diverse group of participants suspend their old mental models and engage in dialogue that values the emergent whole higher than its parts. Variations of this approach include Bohmian dialogue, "generative conversation" (Otto Scharmer) and "enlightened communications" (Andrew Cohen).

b. Co-evolutionary CI – This form of CI builds on the power of such evolutionary mechanisms generating intelligence over time as trial and error, differentiation and integration, competition and collaboration, etc. Its examples include: ecosystems, sciences, and cultures.

c. Flow-based CI – A group of people become so absorbed in a shared activity that they experience being completely at one with it and one another. Ensembles, high-performance sport teams, astronauts, and others in that state of communion, report on both an enhanced state of autonomy, and collective intelligence.

d. Statistical CI - Individuals thinking and acting separately in large crowds can reach successful conclusion about their collective cognitive, coordination or predictive challenges. Examples include the "intelligence" of markets and cases popularized in the "Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki.

e. Human-machine CI – This form of CI leverages the synergy of the human mind and its electronic extensions, drawing on the best capacities of both. The "collective" includes symbiotic networks of humans and computers working together and developing compound capabilities. It can also support all other forms of CI.

This post is a seed for collaborative taxonomy development. I will follow and contribute to conversation ensuing it, as time permits.

June 5, 2005

A local-to-global definition of CI

I found yet another definition of CI worth to consider, on the "Leadership Decision Making" site. It says:

"Social Cognitive (SC) is the property of systems whereby the collective behaviors of entities interacting locally with their environment cause coherent functional global patterns to emerge. SC provides a basis with which it is possible to explore collective and distributed decision making without centralized control or the provision of a global model. To tackle the formation of a coherent social collective intelligence from individual behaviors, it must consider concepts related to self-organization, and the social bounds. It also includes the role played not only by the environmental media as a driving force for societal learning, but also by positive and negative feedback produced by the interactions among agents. The results will be the collective adaptation of a social community to its dynamic cultural environment."

Loads to ponder, isn't it? I'll come back to it when I will have more time; just wanted to put it here so that I don't loose sight of it.

March 26, 2005

Another definition of CI. What difference it makes?

I'm invited to design and deliver an executive seminar at the Lucina center ofthe Catholic University of Leuven on boosting CI in organizations. I use new speaking engagements for reviewing some of the distinctions I use, and seeing how they may or may not make sense in the new situation

Doing so, I've just updated for organizational leaders my CI definition as follows. You may want to compare it with the more complete one in the upper left corner, and tell us what do you think of the difference.

We call "collective intelligence" the fit-ness of human groups, small and large, to:

1. Enable their members to reach a fuller potential

2. Co-evolve with their environment toward more complex integrations through mutually supportive relationships and permanent innovation

August 9, 2004

Defining "Collective Intelligence"

"Collective intelligence" is a richly diverse domain of study and practice. Having an inclusive definition may help more diverse practitioners work and explore together. (see George Por's entry re CI definition) One such definition might be simply:

   Collective intelligence is the INTELLIGENCE of a COLLECTIVE,
      which arises from one or more SOURCES.

Below I expand on each of the highlighted terms in the definition to paint an inclusive picture of the whole domain. (Another application of this definition: We can compare diverse perspectives on CI by clarifying the unique meanings that advocates of those perspectives assign to each of those three highlighted terms.)


"Collective" refers to any entity constituted by other entities. In this case, it usually refers to human social entities such as groups, organizations and communities. But it can also refer to animal collectives such as flocking birds or nesting ants, or to groups of virtual artificially intelligent agents in computer environments or to even broader entities.


Intelligence is variously defined as "the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge," "the ability to effectively adapt," or simply "the ability to solve problems." But for our purposes it may be useful to list characteristics, capacities or functions that are variously ascribed to intelligence -- problem solving, learning, adaptation, reasoning, prediction, reflection, imagination, etc. -- and then welcome into our domain anyone who is exploring the collective expression of any of these.


Intelligence can also be defined as strategically useful information such as the kind of intelligence that intelligence agencies generate for decison-makers in government and the military.


Practitioners differ on where collective intelligence (as a capacity) comes from and where it resides. Making these differences explicit may reveal useful overlaps and complementarities, as well as facilitating mutual understanding. Some of these different perspectives include

* Collective intelligence belongs to or is a property of a whole in which individuals are embedded or of which they are an expression, which existed prior to them.

* Collective intelligence is a background field of intelligence co-generated by the minds that make it up.

* Collective intelligence is an emergent property of collective social systems.

* Collective intelligence is a group phenomena (often experienced as "group magic") in which the intelligences of individual participants who are in tune with each other merge into a group intelligence through which meaning and action flow smoothly.

* Collective intelligence is cognitive synergy among appropriately diverse perspectives in conversation such that new insights or more inclusive pictures of reality emerge.

* Collective intelligence is a phenomenon associated with distributed individual intelligences who have access to their collective output and thought processes through their co-generative participation.

* Collective intelligence is a natural product of the independent opinions or behaviors of diverse individuals or groups in a decentralized system (flock, market, guessing game) that aggregates those opinions or behaviors.


There are many definitions of collective intelligence available online. I've listed seventeen, all of which can be seen as specific expressions of the above broad definition.

[All the points above are expanded in the full document which follows...]

Continue reading "Defining "Collective Intelligence"" »

August 4, 2004

What is CI? - a community approach to define it

In a recent conference call of CI practitioners somebody brought up the question “what collective intelligence really IS”. Here, I suggest an approach to define CI in terms of a domain of practice shared by a community of peers.

Continue reading "What is CI? - a community approach to define it" »

May 27, 2003

"Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All"

In February, I wrote about Tom Atlee, pioneer of "co-intelligence", whom I have the honor to call a friend. Tom talks about the following 5 dimensions of co-intelligence: multi-modal intelligence, collaborative intelligence, wisdom, collective intelligence and universal intelligence. His definitions are rich, reflecting decades of engaged research as a philosopher and social activist. He says, "If we are to know life at a deeper, more engaged level, we'll need to develop a deeper, more engaged intelligence that includes all these dimensions." and I tend to agree with him.

What prompted this blog entry is Tom's soon-to-be-relased book, the "The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All". I think the book is a must read for every student of the emerging interdisciplinary field of collective intelligence and particularly those who want to apply its principles, models, and practices to build a better world.

May 25, 2003

Explaining collective intelligence to non-specialists

Here is below how I explain to non-specialists what is collective intelligence and why it deserves to become a science.

Continue reading "Explaining collective intelligence to non-specialists" »

May 7, 2003

Collective Consciousness

Collective Intelligence (CI), Collective Wisdom (CW), and Collective Consciousness (CC) are all very different phenomena. All of them have many definitions and descriptions, through the lens of various disciplines. To use them effectively, in ways that enable coherent discourse and action, we need to develop an understanding which reflects those differences. Here's my small contribution to that.

The concept of CI is most elaborated in the work of Pierre Lévy and referred to here:

CW is primarily a group dynamics, group pscyhology meme that has a good book exploring it, referenced here. I contributed to that research, but that's not the main merit of the book :-) There are additional comments about CW here.

CC too has lots of web sites and I am in particular resonance with this one. However, my perspective on CC is more sociological. From that perspective, CC exists in the context of a community or social movement and it reflects the evolutionary stage of that community or social movement. Here the Hegelian pair of terms of "thing-in-itself" and "thing-for-itself" apply. The "thing-in-itself" refers to the objective existence of a movement that doesn't have an awareness of itself as such; thus, its members don't realize that they are members in it. The "thing-for-itself" refers to the shared awareness of a movement or a culture with members realizing that they are part of it.

March 22, 2003

"Collective intelligence" is defined

"Collective intelligence" is defined as the capacity of human communities to co-operate intellectually in creation, innovation and invention.

from the news announcing the research program on "Collective intelligence" at the University of Ottawa

What is Collective Intelligence

- “Intelligence” refers to the main cognitive powers: perception, action planning and coordination, memory, imagination and hypothesis generation, inquisitiveness and learning abilities.

- The expression “collective intelligence” designates the cognitive powers of a group. These cognitive powers are closely related to the group’s culture.

excerpt from the
Frequently Asked Questions about Collective Intelligence