This morning received an email from a friend with “Re: something’s emerging:” on the subject line. It called my attention to a new book on The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki, a columnist at The New Yorker. I googled it and found out that it is not published yet but has already 425 pages carrying its reference, as of today.
The message threw off what I was planning to do today because I instantaneously became very curious of what’s happening, went to the Q&A section of the booksite, and found reasons for both some concerns and joyful anticipation of the book. (I will follow this entry about the concerns with one about the joyful anticipation, in the next couple of days.)
Responding to the question “under what circumstances is the crowd smarter” Surowiecki gave a list of four key qualities. According to the Publishers Weekly’s editorial review:
“If four basic conditions are met, a crowd’s ‘collective intelligence’ will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don’t know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. ‘Wise crowds’ need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions.”
In the Q&A, Surowiecki says: “the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.” The examples he gives are: “On the one hand, big organizations–like a company or a government agency–count as crowds. And so do small groups, like a team of scientists working on a problem. But just as interested–maybe even more interested–in groups that aren’t really aware themselves as groups, like bettors on a horse race or investors in the stock market.”
That raises an interesting questions. Can collective intelligence really be created from individuals acting at their the common denominator of greed and personal gain at the expense of others?
I guess it depends whether we define CI through Orange or Yellow, in Spiral Dynamics language. According to Dr. Don Beck’s “Never-Ending Upward Quest”, the basic theme of what he labels as the “Orange” value meme is “Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win.” The basic theme of the Yellow is “Live fully and responsibly as what you are and learn to become.”
My concern has to do with the possibility that the meaning of “collective intelligence” meme–enriched by the lifelong work of Doug Engelbart, Tom Atlee, Juanita Brown and other CI pioneers–will get associated with the version by which people striving for collective intelligence or wisdom are encouraged to not pay attention to one another. When that happens, then lots of confusion about the CI meme–and the evolutionary capabilities that it could unleash–will settle in. Given the dominance of orange in the culture, it is almost unavoidable. In fact, it has already started. Take a look at this appraisal on the book cover:
“It has become increasingly recognized that the average opinions of groups is frequently more accurate than most individuals in the group. As a special case, economists have spoken of the role of markets in assembling dispersed information. The author has written a most interesting survey of the many studies in this area and discussed the limits as well as the achievements of self-organization.” [Kenneth Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Stanford University]
I don’t doubt that Professor Kenneth Arrow knows what he is talking about when refers to self-organization from average opinions of groups with dispersed and disconnected members. I even admit that I need to understand better his perspective.
However, when we want to seed and grow CI from a “Yellow” or “Turquoise” perspective, we will need to target very different enabling conditions. According to Don Beck, the basic theme of the Turquoise value meme is “Experience the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit.” Its characteristics are:
- The world is a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mind
- Self is both distinct and a blended part of a larger, compassionate whole
- Everything connects to everything else in ecological alignments
- Energy and information permeate the Earth’s total environment
- Holistic, intuitive thinking and cooperative actions are to be expected
So, a Turquoise CI will be very different from an Orange one. There’s nothing wrong with either but labeling two so widely different phenomena with the same term calls for enhanced awareness of the color of CI that we are discussing. And one more thing:
Fans of 2nd Tier (Yellow and Turquoise) CI need to step up their efforts to collaboratively cultivate and spread the theory and practices of CI with a 2nd Tier meaning. That is, if we prefer to not have the CI concept anchored in the public mind as the newest Orange fad.