The Collective Intelligence of People Networks


I have attended a few conferences recently on Digital Transformation, and it’s interesting to hear what people and their organisations are doing and thinking about under that very broad banner.

Two things struck me as common at these events. One is that they all start (and sometimes continue) with doom-saying thought leaders warning established businesses against complacency; that they are all threatened by Uberization.

The argument goes “Who knows who might be lurking round the corner with the next great idea borne in the crucible of technology that will eat the lunch of Global Enterprise Corp?” The corporate Titanic versus the disruptive iceberg. Well, yes, we all get that now.

The second thing is that the delegates often start from a perspective of asking, “What can I do with…(name one or two current trending topics)… to get our company into better condition to compete against some as yet unknown or little known start-up who is going to disrupt my business model in ways as yet unforeseen?”

In those conferences I attended, three trending topics were especially popular: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Agile Enterprise, and User Experience. Many get very excited about (and often frightened by) AI with expectations of ground-breaking insight into new opportunities as well as identifying where disruptors might threaten.  Often bracketed with culture change, the Agile Enterprise wish appears to be a kind of appeal to the people in the business to be ready for whatever comes; the need to adapt through learning new ways, new skills, new jobs, new ways of dealing with each other, with suppliers, and with customers. And then User Experience which is about ensuring employees and customers both enjoy interactions with the organisation that are consistent, frictionless, friendly, attractive, enjoyable, accessible – in essence, fulfilling that magic adjective, engaging. Obviously important for customer relationships, but also important for employees if they are to welcome what is to come with culture change and Agile Enterprise.

All good so far. But these are Big Ideas and while technologies like AI have unimaginably huge potential, it is noticeable that delegates to these Digital Transformation events struggle with working out where to start, other than by hiring very expensive strategic consultants to advise them. What are the small steps that can be taken first? Can these first steps deliver benefits by themselves, and encourage their executive sponsors to stay onside to support the changes and actions that will come after?

So here’s an idea. Maybe it is not new, but even if that is so, it is worth repeating. As already intimated, digital transformation is about cultural and attitudinal change as much as technology. But it is also about fully leveraging the resources available – especially your people. Organisations have hundreds or thousands of eyes and ears observing and hearing how customers behave, how processes work/don’t work/could be improved, hundreds or thousands of minds assimilating observations and sparking ideas, and so on. There is a huge capacity for Collective Intelligence (CI) in your organisation if you harness it – human sensors of customer experience, and generators of great new ideas!

So how do you harness CI? Well, to make it possible, you have to provide the means – a platform that allows people to connect and collaborate. It must have these properties:

  1. Allows people to choose from different methods of non-disruptive, asynchronous communication (chat, blog, content sharing) with a single user interface. It does not complicate the internal user experience by adding to the number of tools, but can rather replace several of them (including internal email), reduce the number tools to make working life simpler, and foster conversation around knowledge, insight and ideas.
  2. Captures, organises and cross-references ideas and knowledge without adding to the users’ workload. This ensures full context is preserved, so others can get up to speed fully and add value without repeating history.
  3. Provides a “single source of truth” for all the conversation and content, i.e. a single, searchable knowledge base.
  4. Seamlessly allows for ideas to become accountable actions through workflow and task management.
  5. Has the integration capabilities through open APIs, integration bots and native integrations that allow it to become integral to the whole work experience, complementing existing collaboration tools and systems of record. Promotes inclusiveness by ensuring that, for example, legacy internal email users can be included in conversations.
  6. Is supported by a practical, experience-based methodology to ensure successful adoption. Experience says that viral adoption cannot be depended upon for success, there must be a plan with an executive lead, objectives and measurement.

To some, this might seem circular. Successful adoption of new digital tools requires a change in habit and attitude, and a more agile mindset, but to achieve more agile working requires new tools. To break that circle, and make the first transformation steps that deliver quick wins, it is much easier to provide the means first with a digital workplace platform that combines collaboration with knowledge management and supported by an adoption programme, than trying to start with nebulous concepts of wholesale cultural change.