Collaborative Intelligence: How to liberate minds and transform enterprises through social networks
After doing all the research for my doctorate and writing my thesis (“The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving”), I swore I would never do anything requiring that kind of effort ever again! So here I am, a few months later, hard at work on a new book that captures my key findings and presents practical ideas on building collaboration through social media in a format that is brief, readable and useful for people at all levels, in all kinds of organizations. Clearly I am incorrigible…
The book, “Collaborative Intelligence” is due to be published in late 2012. As a teaser, I am putting a brief summary of a few of the book’s ideas below, so readers can get an initial sense of the contents.
Collaborative intelligence: the more sensors, the more signals you pick up
There are many forms of intelligence that relate to business and organizational life. Teambuilding intelligence, competitive intelligence and social intelligence are just a few. One of the most important, yet least understood, is social intelligence. Loosely defined as the ability to correctly assess your surroundings and act appropriately, social intelligence involves sensing what is going on around your enterprise, both inside and out, making the correct inferences about the signals being received, and then responding in a way that leaves your organization better off. The increased pace of change, thirst for innovation and the democratization of knowledge have resulted in an environment where understanding the environment and reacting to it effectively and quickly are critical. Looked at as a whole, we can think of these organizational intelligences – teambuilding, competitive and social – as collaborative intelligence. Your use of social networks can either enhance or diminish your collaborative intelligence.
A challenge: Grab a piece of paper and quickly map out all of the signals that your organization receives from its environment, both external and internal. Don’t overthink it – just scrawl away. Can you see any signals that aren’t being received that would be useful? Are there any existing signals that you could be capturing and organizing more effectively? Is everybody in the organization equally able to pick up on useful information and signals, or is this function quite centralized?
Keep what you need, and share the rest
We have grown used to operating environments where it is extremely important to guard competitive advantages by keeping secrets. The widespread adoption of social media means that there are fewer and fewer secrets. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users I surveyed are connected to people in other organizations, and they rely on these inter-firm networks to share information, come up with new ideas and jointly solve problems. Lines have been blurred between competitors, and between customers and the organizations they buy from. Smart organizations understand this, and are attempting to harness this increased interconnectedness, rather than trying to restrict it. Imagine a world without secrets. It is coming rapidly due to social media. Organizations can focus on protection, and fighting infringement in every jurisdiction around the world, or they can prepare for a post-secrets landscape, and find better ways to keep customers.
A challenge: What is your organization’s “secret sauce,” the one thing that would drive you out of business if it were known to the competition? What percentage of all your organization’s knowledge does that secret sauce represent? One percent? Ten percent? Of the remaining knowledge, what aspects could you trade with other organizations for your mutual gain?
The power of many individuals
Collaborative intelligence: the more minds on the problem, the better
Teamwork and social networks are nothing new. Guilds, for example, have existed since pre-industrial times. More recently we have seen communities of practice and knowledge management as attempts to gather and share expertise. Guilds have been described as groups that are drawn together through similar interests and shared passion for a topic. Sounds like a LinkedIn Group, doesn’t it? Similarly, there is nothing new about social networks, as they have always existed. You only have to watch the HBO series “Rome” to see the power of alliances and connectedness in a historical sense. In recent decades, study on social networking has pointed out the importance of weak ties; that someone who is weakly connected to you may actually be more helpful to you than someone who is strongly connected to you. How perfect is that for social media, where we may never have met someone we are connected to?
Online social networks: way more of a good thing
So the key with online social networking is not that it is a new concept, but that the technology is now freely available to build networks on a massive scale with minimal effort. Unlike communities of practice that tended to focus around a specialized job area, and attracted people of a similar profile, today’s social networks can contain vastly different individuals, from CEOs to artists, allowing a radically greater knowledge base and sources of new ideas and innovation. How do you consciously make use of this pool of talent though?
A challenge: Jot down the names of people in your organization who are super-connectors. It shouldn’t be too hard: If you needed someone to brief the team on Twitter, who would you tap? What about LinkedIn or Facebook? Do these people know each other? These individuals need to be aware of each other so they can work together to help the organization harness the power of “edge connections,” those networks that employees are tapped into in their own social lives. Support them with time to work together to identify other people who are highly connected and let this group develop a connectedness approach for the organization.
Implementing a collaborative intelligence strategy: liberating the individual
One of the worst things most organizations can do is to prohibit the use of social media in the workplace. Doing so telegraphs several very unfortunate messages to employees:
- that you will steal time from your employer given the opportunity
- that you are distractible by nature and will fool around rather than work
- that the people you know are of no value to our organization as customers, potential employees, sales facilitators, goodwill ambassadors or idea generators
Smart organizations understand the power of their employees’ own networks, and that these edge connections can be extremely helpful to the organization provided the right structures and guidelines exist. Check out my post here for a suggested framework of best practices around the conscious use of online social networks in organizations.
Encouraging collaborative behaviors: leadership begins at the bottom
Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams
Your staff at all levels should all feel empowered to serve as what I call Collaborative Engagement Officers or CEOs. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users are connected to counterparts in other organizations, including both customers and competitors, and that they make use of these connections to help solve problems and generate new ideas. Add to this the fact that the most connected person in your organization may be the newest hire or somebody who isn’t even known well by the top leadership, and you have the ingredients for a shift away from top-down style management. The true locus of power has shifted from the top of organizations to being more diffused among highly-connected staff at all levels. So where does that leave senior management? Smart organizations will create cultures where engaging with networks is a part of the daily routine, and will scope out expectations of social network usage clearly in order to minimize risks of communications mistakes and manage the amount of time spent on social networks as opposed to other duties.
Transforming the enterprise: goodbye to hierarchies and silos
So what are the benefits of embracing a networked staff and promoting the development of relationships beyond the walls of your organization? Here are a few:
- improved customer service and customer input
- greater access to innovation collaborators
- reductions of the inefficiencies caused by silos
- better staff engagement with the organization’s mission, at all levels
- enhanced serendipity through a more varied mix of minds and approaches
- speedier and more nimble competitive responses due to improved signal sensing
So these are a few of the ideas that will be explored in Collaborative Intelligence. I hope you will read and enjoy the book when it comes out!