Collective intelligence continued...
We've been doing a fair amount of work on collective intelligence. It's one of the most fascinating fields of investigation today, looking at what makes groups smart, how to collaborate and how technologies can help us think.
A lot of the academic work in this field has been pretty disappointing so far, with rather uninspiring typologies, little insight and little empirical evidence (and none of the many organisations and centres with 'collective intelligence' in their title has yet to make its mark). On the other hand the popular science has been pretty unreliable.
One piece of work that is a helpful pointer to the future is Thomas Malone's empirical study of correlations between individual and collective intelligence. Lots of factors didn't correlate with the collective intelligence of groups. But three factors did.
One was what he called social perceptiveness, a variant of emotional intelligence (evaluated through testing how easily people can guess other's emotions by looking at pictures of their eyes). A second was how much conversation was shared. Groups in which one person dominated the conversation tended to be less intelligent. A third factor was gender: the higher the percentage of women in the group, the more collectively intelligent they were.
This doesn't bode well for our Cabinet, or for most boardrooms, or for any organisations dominated by arrogant alpha males. It's another good reason to be glad that our board (at Nesta) has moved close to gender parity. Of course it remains to be seen what other research finds. But as the field of collective intelligence progresses I expect that we will find many new insights of this kind. We all come across organisations and committees full of clever people that act in dumb ways. But in the past there has been little science to guide them a bit closer to wisdom.