When community intelligence becomes market intelligence…

Have you ever wondered what is common in “community intelligence,” “swarm intelligence,” “smart mobs” and “tipping points”? According to market intelligence guru, Britton Manasco, they are all about a “drift toward potential innovations that draw on the unspoken and unanticipated knowledge of today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers.”
Frankly, I would have never thought of them that way. First, I was shocked by the concurrent obviousness and trickiness of his statement. Then, I got fascinated by the fertile questions that his thoughts give access to. I will tell you why, but to give you a fuller context, I suggest that before that, read his short but very insightful entry on “Wise Crowds” in the “Customer Intelligence” blog of Corante.


Living in a rich web of ongoing conversations about such phenomena as “community intelligence,” “swarm intelligence,” “smart mobs” and “tipping points,” I see tremendous differences among those concepts. They all refer to quite different aspects of the Emerging Planetary Reality. (Just google them, and you’ll see what I mean.) Yet, through the lens of market intelligence, they all have a common essence: they can contribute to the correct prediction of demand. Looking through that lens, I can see Britton’s point when he writes:
“Surwiecki suggests problem solving approaches that leverage collective intelligence may turn out to be the best way to determine whether demand truly exists for new products and services.”
Reading that, I wouldn’t be surprised if “collaborative commerce” would lead to the emergence of an “anticipatory commerce” driven by the customers’ collective intelligence about their collective aspirations. Wouldn’t that market be hugely different from today’s market driven by the profit-hunger of the producers?
The power of the unspoken and unanticipated knowledge of customers
That future is present already. It is here in what Britton calls “innovations that draw on the unspoken and unanticipated knowledge of today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers.” The story of some of the most successful “new economy” companies—E-bay, Amazon, and Google—is built on such innovations. Of course, community intelligence is much more than just market intelligence. It is the capacity of human groups—at any scale—to evolve towards higher order complexity and integration through collaboration and innovation.
How can we reconcile these two quiet different perspectives on community intelligence? I found a very illuminating answer in Tom Atlee’s reflections that you can read if you click on the “Comments” link, right below my entry on “The Wisdom of Crowds” and the colors of collective intelligence.
It’s a long comment that deserves your full attention, so read it when you can give it to it. Below, I quote two paragraphs which are particularly nutritious food for thought:
“I’m personally fascinated by the seemingly blind collective intelligence power of mass self-organization-through-self-interest (as contrasted with “collaborative dialogue towards wisdom for the common good” which is the primary factor in my theories). Although my own theories do not adequately address market-type collective intelligence, I think that the self-organizing power of markets is fairly obvious and potentially very useful….
The trick with markets (as with other social systems) is to design them so that individual actors acting in their own self-interest NATURALLY act in the interests of the whole, as well — or at least their collective actions add up to benign/beneficial outcomes for the whole. The fault with current markets is with their design. The current design alienates, fragments, and destroys. But that is not the fault of market operations, per se, even though they are based on self-interest. It is the fault of the particular market designs we use.”

Can self-interest-based markets be designed to serve higher-order collective intelligence?
Juxtaposing Britton’s and Tom’s thoughts on one another, and seeing into them through Spiral Dynamics lenses, will lead to the discovery of surprising possibilities. In fact, Tom points to one:
“I believe that self-interest-based markets can be designed to serve higher-order collective intelligence.”
“Since systems manifest emergent phenomena over and above the phenomena associated with their individual parts (e.g., water has wetness not characteristic of its component oxygen and hydrogen atoms separately) I think it is possible to have social systems (such as markets) operating at a different level than their individual components. To use SD language, a Yellow market can arrange things so that Orange individual and corporate behaviors add up to Yellow outcomes. ”
(“SD language” refers toSpiral Dynamics .There’s also a just-released, inspiring DVD with Don Beck and Andrew Cohen, in which Dr. Beck presents SD in more depth.)
Tom, let me check my understanding of what you say, with an example. So, under certain circumstances, the Orange individual and corporate behaviors driven by the motivation of individual and corporate gains can add up to a market with such Yellow qualities as:


    1. Reducing waste of all sorts, including the waste of human intelligence, talents, and creative aspirations.
    2. A concern for positive results on the long run rather than only in the life span of the current generation.
    3. A capacity for creating abundance. I use the term “abundance” in the SD sense:
    “In creating this abundance YELLOW looks for ways to range of options, available niches, maneuvering space, and expanded opportunities for each of the vMEMES. This maybe essential if each of the systems is to be expressed in their healthy rather than destructive form. By ‘abundance’ we do not mean the materialistic splendor or conspicuous consumption defined through the ORANGE worldview. Rather we refer to the increase and subsequent distribution of whatever it takes for people ‘to have enough’ of what is needed at the various levels of human existence.” (page 283-284 in Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership, and change)

So what would be a good example to illustrate the possibility that Orange drives for individual benefits–when taken together in a well-designed system–can, indeed, produce the three Yellow outcomes mentioned above? Let’s look at the Amazon story. People buy books and other goods there for the value/benefit that they would like to get from them. The cleverness of the system turns their individual preferences into a wealth of information about –among other things–what people read and why. The result is a typically Yellow “Win:Win:Win” situation:

  • Amazon customers can have an enriching, some times transformative shopping experience. When I go to Amazon, I don’t always buy things, but always come back with some useful, new information tailored to my rich profile in their databases.
  • Amazon is gaining from each of our transactions some information that its algorithms turn into value for us. In exchange, it gets what most cybercompanies only dream of — customer loyalty and high level of “switching cost” that lead to increasing revenues and returns.
  • In our book-buying transaction and unbeknownst to Amazon, or us humankind is growing its collective intelligence about what choices are the most meaningful to us collectively, in all areas of knowledge.

Google, another company that ushers Yellow markets is built on the same “Win:Win:Win” model with triple benefits:

  • Google users get the best currently available search results on the market. Google advertisers get an extremely well targeted mass audience, the members of which can be reached through the very search pages that they are looking up with attention and interest.
  • The financial interest of the company is well served, as illustrated by the stampede to buy Google stock, which will provide the company with the resources they need to defend their market leadership from the looming attack by Microsoft.
  • Google became one of the most potent enablers of our emerging collective intelligence. I gave a brief and very incomplete description of how, by sharing a personal experience in the blog entry on “Collective intellect augments individual .” It may serve as a starting point to a deeper inquiry in to these issues.

Questions for an inquiry into designing Yellow markets
To stimulate such inquiry, I suggest to consider the following four questions:

    1. How do the Amazon and Google examples stack up against the three qualities of Yellow markets outlined above?
    2. What other “Win:Win:Win” examples of Yellow market-making can you all think of?
    3. What do these examples tell, if anything, about how to design markets so “that individual actors acting in their own self-interest NATURALLY act in the interests of the whole, as well — or at least their collective actions add up to benign/beneficial outcomes for the whole” (Tom Atlee) ?
    4. What other questions do we need to ask that would further this inquiry?

This entry was posted in Collective Intellect Augments Individual, Spiral Dynamics & the Colors of CI. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When community intelligence becomes market intelligence…

  1. Flying the colours of collective intelligence

    When community intelligence becomes market intelligence…

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  2. Very insightful perspectives…I look forward to the continuing conversation on the interaction between customer and collective intelligence. You can count on me, George, to remain simultaneously “obvious” and “tricky” in my future posts.
    And thanks for surfacing Tom Atlee’s interesting point view. It brings to mind some of the writings of Adam Smith. He promoted the view that individuals acting in their own self-interest would ultimately deliver superior outcomes — as explained it in his famous parable of the butcher, baker and brewer.
    However, Smith’s other views about the proper “division of labor,” while brilliant in terms of ushering in the Industrial Revolution, have arguably contributed to poor performance and employee alienation in modern times. Such thinking, which was later adopted by Henry Ford to introduce assembly line manufacturing to the auto industry, broke organizations up into discrete and distinct tasks — hostile to collaboration and “collective” process.
    We now seem to be in the process of reversing those trends for an agile, collaborative and customer-driven era…this site is obviously a powerful resource for understanding these transformative forces and gaining visibility into what comes next.

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