Nobody is smarter or faster than everybody

Nobody is smarter or faster than everybody

If business executives want to build smart companies in a rapidly changing world, they will need to think differently and discover the most untapped resource in their organizations: the collective intelligence of their own people. Innovative organizations, such as Wikipedia and Google, have made this discovery and have leveraged the power of collective intelligence into powerful business models that have radically transformed their industries.

The struggling online encyclopedia Nupedia rescued itself from oblivion when it serendipitously discovered an obscure application known as a wiki and transformed itself into Wikipedia by using the wiki platform to leverage the power of collective intelligence. In less than a decade, Wikipedia became the world’s most popular general reference resource. Google, which was a late entry into a crowded field of search engine upstarts, quickly garnered two-thirds of the search market by becoming the first engine to use the wisdom of crowds to rank web pages. These successful enterprises have uncovered the essential management wisdom for our times: Nobody is smarter or faster than everybody.

Two other companies that understand this management wisdom are W. L. Gore & Associates and Morning Star, both of whom have designed their organizations to leverage collective intelligence by eliminating all bosses. In both of these organizations, no one has the authority to make assignments or to control the work of other individuals.

Rather than building top-down hierarchies, the founders of these companies designed their organizations as peer-to-peer networks that leverage the collective intelligence of the people who actually do the work to decide what to do and how to do it. And both have achieved remarkable success. Over its six decades, W. L. Gore has made a profit every year it has been in production and is perennially on Fortune’s list of the Best Companies to Work For. Morning Star, which was founded in 1970, has used what they term “self-management” to become the world’s largest tomato processor.

What all of these organizations have in common is a shared value that the smartest organizations are not the ones with the smartest elite individuals, but rather the ones who have the capacity to quickly aggregate and leverage the collective intelligence of everyone in their organizations.

The New Organizational Challenge

In a digitally disrupted world, the new challenge of managing large numbers of people is not about finding an elite few smart individuals and giving them the power to command and control the work of others; it’s about building an environment and a culture that naturally and rapidly integrates the intelligent contributions of everyone within an organization. This is what Wikipedia, Google, W. L. Gore, and Morning Star have done very successfully over the span of several decades. Each, in its own way, is a highly developed knowledge network with the capacity to leverage the wisdom of crowds to keep up with a relentless accelerating pace of change.

As we progress deeper into the Digital Age, more managers will come to understand that they can no longer survive by assuming the role of engineers and controllers manipulating the levers of order and authority. Managing at the new pace of change means that managers are now pathfinders and facilitators leading their organizations in partnership with their workers on collective quests for knowledge and speed in service of their customers. Managers skilled in both the social and the systems technologies of collective intelligence understand well that the smartest company is the one with quick access to collective intelligence and they also fully appreciate that, now more than ever, nobody is smarter or faster than everybody.

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