“There is one mind common to all individual men,” Emerson in “History”
The term collective intelligence, as Emerson too testifies, has to be defined if there is to be clarity and discipline in the organizations availing themselves of the new technologies. Hence the point is made: Collective intelligence has to be understood in terms of these new technologies, even if there is nothing older in human history than the pooling of information. In recent decades, IT has been committed to a couple of kinds of systems. There has been the transactional system, dedicated to the processing of orders and management capabilities as well as facility in the organization of relations with customers, suppliers, and partners in commerce. The other system is collective intelligence, which is fundamentally about the expansion of the space in which solutions are possible, a sowing of the future with unforeseeable possibility. Two associated concepts one hears employed in this regard are those of cloud and crowd.
Some maintain that collective intelligence has always been the order of the day. It is often objected, “But we have always been talking to customers. We have always solicited input from all credible sources. We have demolished the barrier between the business and the technology sides. Vendors and academic institutions have been supplying their two cents at every turn.” Yet two factors need to be considered. The first is institutional entropy. Nothing is more natural than for an institution to endeavor to father the “great ideas and methods” of the past on a new generation, and thus nothing is more common than a fundamentally defensive organizational culture. Such an entity may believe that it is openness itself with respect to the public square of ideas, but it unwittingly is only open to echoes, to what it is willing to hear, to what is without the traces of ideational dissonance. The other factor is the self-liberating potential of collective intelligence, a self-liberation that is the necessary condition of authenticity and a credibility with ontological roots.
The new technologies properly adopted can serve as a check on entropy. Collective intelligence is a paradigm that permits the institutionalization of openness and disclosure, and the technologies can be implemented quite deliberately to make self-defeating corporate projection and defensive evasion more difficult. In other words, collective intelligence institutionalizes change. It isn’t enough to opine, “Oh, but we have always talked to people.” Collective intelligence can be employed in such a way that people are not inclined to reveal only what they believe will be well received. It can be a device for the probing of unprecedented depths of candor in the gathering of data.
The business world has never seen anything with the same potential for reality-testing, and with the thoroughgoing commitment to reality-testing one belongs to the flux, but in the best possible way. As the famous theorist Bergson has it, the true nature of all things is change, but only human beings can think flux in its conceptual purity, as they must to also think both mobility and immobility. No force of nature or machine can have these thoughts. A computer, whatever the prophets of Singularity hold, cannot do the thinking only by which we are what we are. Any company that would adopt the technologies of collective intelligence must cognize both mobility and immobility and, drawing solely upon human judgment as informed by data aggregation machines and processes, retain its self-concept—the immobility of itself as the business it is and no other—while changing, while harnessing the forces of immobility, to better prosper in that self-concept. As James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras compellingly argue in Built to Last, truly lasting and successful or “visionary” companies are less anxious about making profits than about being true to who they are. A company can have an identity crisis, especially in the midst of the unmatched flux of our epoch. A person can have an identity crisis. A computer will never know “who” it is, and as such it will never know what it is to doubt it. Human intelligence—reason, judgment, intuition—will always be required. The pure concepts of flux and immobility (just as of time and space) are necessary organizational fundaments of experience, and it is only human cognitive capacities that will not only preserve us from the flux-- but digest it, transform it into orderly progress (00-15).