Sitting on untapped potential – The power of your organisation’s collective intelligence

In the autumn of 1906, 85-year-old Sir Francis Galton made a fascinating discovery on the judgment power of crowds: The accuracy of groups is far greater than of individuals. It’s a well-known story yet worth recapping. Surprisingly, the central character is a fat ox.

While he was attending a farmers’ fair in Plymouth, a guessing contest intrigued the British scientist. The goal was to calculate the weight of the ox. Around 800 people tried their luck. Butchers, farmers and plain enthusiasts with no knowledge of cattle whatsoever wrote their bets on tickets.

Galton later borrowed the tickets and ran a series of statistical analyses on them. He found that the average of participants’ guesses was incredibly close to the true weight of the now butchered ox: an estimate of 1,197 pounds to the 1,198 pounds officially listed. The collective guess was far more precise than the estimate of the winner, closer, too, than any appraisals made by cattle experts.

This principle of the ‘wisdom of crowds’ was further scrutinised and later named by James Surowiecki. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few, he explains, ‘Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them’.

Back to business
But what can weighing cattle tell us about the corporate world? It tells us that, collectively, each organisation has the answers to many of its current challenges. That we, as managers, sit on an untapped potential of key importance: the ideas and experience of the people working with us.

Instead of using substitute brains, why not harness this collective intelligence to solve business problems? If you want to improve a process, enhance customer experience or create and perfect a product or service, the solution likely lies within your organisation.

Internal crowds – your employees and stakeholders – are truly a valuable source of insight and ideas. They:

Most probably, they have something to say. This doesn’t mean that they always give the final answers. Yet they do have valuable points of view about existing business challenges – comments, contributions and hunches on which to build ideas.

So, if it’s so valuable, why aren’t companies tapping into this treasured asset?

to be continued…

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder

Collective Intelligence – making it real
What role is left to managers today?