Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Reflection on "Growing Collective Intelligence" The New Social Learning chapter 5

I am right now reading the fantastic book The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner. For those of you that haven't heard about this book go check out the website
In this post I will reflect on the fifth chapter called "Growing Collective Intelligence", simply because I found this chapter really interesting and it got me thinking.

Collective intelligence in my world basically means that a group of individuals working together creates more and better outcomes than the same people would do working by themselves. To me this is common sense. There are so many examples of how bringing a group together over a specific subject creates things you could never have come up with yourself. And sometimes it doesn't even have to be a group. Just think about all the times when you are stuck with an issue and ask someone to come and help you. Often the other person just have to enter the room and all of a sudden the solution pops up in your brain. Or when you sit in a meeting and suddenly someone says "the magic word" that gets your brain working and you realize the solution to problems you have been struggling with for some time.

Working together creates new ideas, innovations and learning for all involved. After all, this is why we usually set up teams, groups, projects, workshops, meetings, trainings, conferences and so on. If this wasn't the case we wouldn't even have to go to a workplace to work. We could just as well sit at home by ourselves, creating things and then occasionally connect and send the material we've been working on to whom it may concern.

I am a hockey fan simply because I like the pace and speed of the game. And the most amazing thing in hockey (and other team sports as well of course) is when a team with maybe not the best individual players all of a sudden starts working together becoming a team rather than a number of individuals. Every pass is right on the blade of the stick, everyone works together in offense and defense, every player contributes with their skills creating something completely unique. It's an amazing thing to watch when this happens.

Ok, so back to the book. This chapter focuses on the use of wikis and other collaboration tools in different organisations and companies. The whole idea of using a collaboration tool is that by letting people share their knowledge and create things together the final product will be greater than it would have been if everyone was working by themselves. The main focus when using these kinds of tools is not the end product but the actual process that happens when people start working together. In one sense you could say that there is no real end product as long as the content is in the tool.

This scares some people who argues that content that isn't finished shouldn't be made public. To me that is somewhat strange. If I am asked if I want to receive a document as a draft that I can comment on or if I want the document when it is finished, I surely prefer to have the draft version. Simply because this gives me the chance to share my ideas on the subject. Documents that are considered to be done are simply not as interesting to me.
   Take a report from a project that is closed as an example. When you read such a report you often find a number of conclusions (what went wrong/right and why) but it doesn't give you the full view of what has been going on in the project (decisions taken, mistakes, good ideas). You don't get the full picture. If you instead could go to the project's wiki page you would have the whole timeline of the project. You can go in and analyse actions they took and what it lead to that maybe wasn't crucial for the outcome of the project (and therefore is not in the project report). But it might be crucial for you in your work.
   The same thing goes for a summary of a workshop. Being part of the workshop gives me so much more than just reading the outcome of it. Because then I get to take part in all the discussions instead of just being fed with the final conclusions.

Medieval dinner party
In the book the authors discuss some things that are needed for a collaboration environment to be successful. It has to be vibrant, social and relevant. To understand what is meant with vibrant the authors compare it with a party:

"Envision a party. When you walk in, it takes only a few seconds to judge if you want to be there and if it has taken off" (page 113)
I like this image and will extend it a bit. The important thing with a collaborative environment is not the tool itself. Sure the tool can help by being easy to use and so on. But the main thing is the people who uses the tool. If a party is a success or not isn't depending on if you use a $200 knife to chop the salad or if the wine is served in fancy glasses, it depends on the people attending it. So to get the collaboration environment a success you need to get the right people in there from the start. Well then, who are the right people? To me anyone who is ready to share their knowledge, ideas and even lack of knowledge is the right person. My suggestion would then be: when starting up a collaboration environment search for people who you find interesting and who are ready to share their stories and let them do so. Once it's up and running more people will start to share.
   Back to the party analogy, if you are having a dinner party at your place you probably won't post an Event on Facebook inviting anyone and everyone. You will most probably invite a number of people you find interesting and who will find each other interesting. That way you create a good environment for sharing. Then next time you host a dinner party maybe you ask the guests to bring a friend along to create an even more vibrant environment.

This turned out to be a rather long reflection, but this chapter really struck a nerve in me and I wanted to share that with you. What is your view on this subject? Am I completely out there? Are you using wikis and other collaboration tools? How did you start? What are the main issues with this way of working?
I would love to read your thoughts as well.

Thanks for taking the time,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mattias, I would like to congratulate you first for your blog and the very interesting articles in there. I apreciatte much so, your coment about "Collective Intellingence" althougt is not my specific area studys, I think you had an exelent ideia of bringing up an actual and complex issue as this one. My simple opinion, stays in a line of thought similar as yours: Colaborative working in different areas of action is fundamental to get more suceeded and is arinsing luckly in erlay ages, primary and secundary schools but... you focus an interesting point: the group cooperation trought a ludic and informal way - games. I remember now two authors that have a strong vision about the power of group learning trought digital games:Hand and Moore(2006)menthioned by Gareth Schott on the book Understanding Digital Games, speacks on the the positive side of learning experiences on social contexts, that promote a reforce valoration on cognition skeels by the new knowlege that came up from a different way of participation - inside a communitie whit interconnected way of communication. But what could happen inside a community, virtual one or not, when the individual interests could be upon the group ones? What could be the implications of this new ways of learning in the social relacion of individuals?

    Luisa Miguel


    Hand, Martin & Moore, karenza (2006). Community, Identity and digital Games. Edited by Rutter, Jason & Bryce, Jo in Understanding Digital Games.