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Issues & Implications
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What is “collaborative intelligence”?

Miriam Diez Bosch - published on 06/20/17

Leticia Soberón explains what it means.

We can’t get anywhere alone. A group of people—utilizing technology, the humanities, businesses, and institutions, etc.—has started to work on so-called “collective intelligence”; this is the origin of collaborative intelligence. An expert in the field, Leticia Soberón, who has worked in the Vatican for years in the area of communication, believes that we have to fight against “collective stupidity.” Now, she is applying her knowledge at the Innovative Center for Collaborative Intelligence and at Collaboratorium.

What is collaborative intelligence?

We’re all familiar with teamwork; this is a new way of doing it, empowered by digital technology, the connectivity provided by the internet, and the advantages offered by smart phones—devices which have become essential to our daily lives.

In 1994, Pierre Lévy dreamed of “collective intelligence,” a sort of “hyper-cortex” of humanity, formed by millions of connected individuals, thinking together about important topics. Knowledge is distributed. As he points out, “nobody knows everything; everyone knows something; we must mobilize everyone’s skills.” Not just any interchange is intelligent; and the intelligence of a team doesn’t rely only on the individual intelligence of its members. The dynamics are what have to be intelligent: listening to each other, appreciating what others say, agreeing or disagreeing (and expressing that), creating new perspectives, and making progress together.

Collaborative intelligence is a form of so-called “collective intelligence” that is manifested in working teams in any context, oriented towards action and decision making. It focuses, precisely, on working together, so the process of decision making is focused on a specific topic, has a specific duration, and is neither indefinite nor generic. It is not applicable to massive groups of people, either: it necessarily takes place in “clusters” or groups in which people can understand each other and think together.

We define collaborative intelligence as an orderly deliberation, assisted by social technologies, that allows a group of people to share, generate and refine knowledge, and to make decisions with a better chance of overcoming the challenges and difficulties posed by an ever-changing and increasingly complex environment.

Sufficient humility and intellectual integrity are necessary in order to accept that others can contribute something that I don’t know, so as to create something that includes something from me, but is not mine.

Collaborative intelligence, thus understood—and new tools that facilitate it, such as Collaboratorium—helps to optimize both in-person meetings and on-line work. It improves the former, because it contributes to the factors of distance and silence for solitary thought about a topic, so people can participate more peacefully. It improves the latter, because it counteracts the tyranny of the timeline that buries arguments and creates chaos and confusion.

Why do organizations need processes of this kind?

Most of our organizations were born before the internet and divide their work among isolated departments, compartmentalized into silos. Their formal structures are rigid, and their technological infrastructure is designed to perpetuate those silos and to atomize communication; in other words, they are designed for a society that no longer exists. We have to create new, much more collaborative and networked ways of working, if we don’t want to become obsolete very quickly.

But collaboration isn’t always spontaneous or intelligent; it has to be resolutely encouraged by a leadership team that understands the need to listen to everyone—to each person from his or her own perspective—and the need to favor this kind of work that crosses borders. It is necessary to favor the right kind of conversations in order to collect and filter each person’s knowledge and that which arises from the group as the result of deliberation.

Can I apply this at home, at work…?

It certainly can and should be applied in different contexts. With Collaboratorium, we apply a more orderly way of conversing so as to deliberate together and make more consensus-based decisions, and create knowledge using the contributions of each person… Professional life is where it is most applicable, and is where CI should be promoted most.

Why are you working in this area?

I work on this because for years now I’ve been studying knowledge networks: how we think together, the different ways we have of coming to an agreement, what makes us more intelligent together, and what gives birth to collective stupidity. But I study it by putting people, not technology, at the center, and by visualizing individuals and groups as the reference points for all these connected technologies. I also do this because I think that these ideas are good for any group of people: I see it as a way of working to achieve peace and communion.

The world is dysfunctional. Should we propose collaborative intelligence to the whole world?

Yes, I would suggest that the world engage in more collaborative intelligence. To that end, I would take advantage of the environments and technologies and infrastructure that does, in fact, work … trying to make them work even better, so as to eliminate, at least a little, the stupidity that causes so much useless suffering.

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