29 May 2018

It’s surprising what gets tucked away in your thinkeree over time

Currently we are undergoing a rebranding exercise which has been lots of fun, due to the fact we have survived 10 years in business, and working with the talented and creative team at phd3 www.phd3.co.nz who have been guiding us through the process.

What strikes me is the amount of knowledge I tucked away as CQ (Collective Intelligence) evolved, and haven’t yet shared.

So, I wanted to get down some of these forgotten insights and learnings, as we embark on the next 10 years.

Some years ago, I heard the term Social Entrepreneur for the first time and thought WTF is that? Sounded rather precocious and some new buzz word. Then I had the pleasure of hearing Alex Hannant give his TED talk live in Wellington about the rise of Social Enterprise – people building companies to bring about environmental and social change. It was compelling and seemed a smart idea.

This meant that Collective Intelligence was a Social Enterprise, as we were in the business of social change, and so I was a Social Entrepreneur.

When the phd3 team presented some new logo concepts, one jumped out at me as it represented a theory I learnt years ago.

The theory is called ‘The Adjacent Possible’ which is a biological term coined by scientist Stuart Kauffman to describe the evolutionary process. Simply put, it means that every evolutionary step follows an order. You cannot miss out steps in evolution – it doesn’t work that way. (My old Biology teacher Don Brauho would be bemused – saying what would he know after spending two years in his 5th form biology class!!).

The phrase also captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.

The Adjacent Possible is highly relevant in technology and business because you cannot leap ahead and develop concepts/products that have no building blocks in place.

By way of example, the first programmable computer was designed in 1837 by the British inventor Charles Babbage, and was called the Analytical Engine. It was meticulously designed, and he toiled on this contraption for 30 years. It would have revolutionised the world if it had the building blocks in place. But 25,000 pieces of wood was never going to cut it as a computer. That didn’t happen until WW2, when the supporting technology was in place.

However, the analytical engine was reproduced at a later date once they had the technology, and it worked!

AnalyticalMachine Babbage London

I digress – the adjacent possible is also where good ideas come from – building on existing knowledge, accumulating and colliding concepts. And this is where Collective Intelligence is so powerful as a model for innovation.

Often we are presented with an issue or opportunity, and it’s like being in a vacant room, with a couple of doors to choose between, both lead through to the adjacent possible. What Collective Intelligence offers is the chance to explore many other doors that would otherwise not be able to be seen. And I love that our new logo absolutely nails the Adjacent Possible process, which you all get to see next month.

The other piece of knowledge that was awakened in me, was the work undertaken by Stanford Business School professor Martin Ruef, who was intrigued by the relationship between business innovation and diversity. He interviewed 766 graduates of the school and measured their level of innovation through an elaborate and wide ranging scoring system.

He then studied their social networks, not just the number, but also the ‘kind’ of acquaintances.

What Ruef discovered was a ringing endorsement of the coffeehouse model of social networking: the most creative individuals in his survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organisations and industries, covering a diverse range of professions.

The result was that this group, who mixed in a horizontal social network, were 3 times more innovative than the uniform vertical networks. Three times more innovative!

Which makes me wonder, what multiple of innovation is Collective Intelligence generating?

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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