The Birds and the Bees and the Innovators 

The birds and bees conversationThis story of the birds and the bees is not the one you heard as a child, unless perhaps your father is researcher and author Dr. Thomas Seeley.  Still, this one  is almost as amazing.

How do large collections of individuals make highly intelligent decisions which are more intelligent than any one individual could make?  It is referred to as swarm or collective intelligence and research shows that the way that swarms of bees make decisions is very similar to the way in which the human mind works.  Per Seely, though they’ve evolved independently, bees and humans have “converged on the same basic design which tells us that this is probably the optimal way to do it.”

The implication to leaders of innovation is the possibility of unlocking the collective intelligence of a company or enterprise in surfacing and developing highly intelligent solutions.

How Bees Make a Collective Decision:

Bees are periodically challenged to decide where to relocate their hive.  The process is straight forward and very similar to how leaders of innovation are currently engaging their employees in ideation and collaboration.

Step 1 – Present a challenge question:   For the bees, the question is, “To where do we relocate our hive?”

Step 2 – Present the criteria by which a good choice is identified:   For the bees, a good location is large enough to accommodate the hive but has a small opening so as to discourage predators.

Blue Hive

Step 3 – Accept ideas/proposals: Initially, scout bees find prospective locations, return to the swarm and communicate the location of their proposed new hive via “the waggle dance”.  The waggle dance points bees in the direction of the proposed site but it serves another purpose as well.

Step 4 – Voting:  Scout bees, and bees which investigate the site the scouts propose, vote on how suitable they believe the proposal to be.  Three waggles means it is a great site.  Two waggles, means it is not quite so desirable.

Step 5 – Commenting:  Though not verbally, bees who believe strongly in one site over another have a way of dissuading bees advocating the other location.  While a bee is voting, an opposing bee will head butt the voting bee trying to get them to stop advocating for their proposal.

Bee VotingStep 6 – Idea Promotion/Selection:  Once a tipping point is reached, the bees have consensus and, as a group, leave for the proposed site which has the greatest number of supporters.

Amazingly, the researchers find that the sites which the bees choose are indeed the superior sites.  To see this in action, view the nine minute PBS presentation on the Evolution of Intelligence

How Leaders of Innovation Can Harness Collective Intelligence

Seemingly by coincidence, in the advent of social work spaces, companies are starting to leverage collective intelligence in a very similar way via Idea Management Systems.  However, just as with your childhood story of the birds and the bees, groups of people do this just a bit differently.

Commenting in a human context is of course much richer with comments creating opportunities for collaboration where ideas are improved.

Selection criteria are more faceted and comments ideally speak to the degree to which selection criteria are satisfied or how an idea can be modified to better satisfy the criteria.

Voting can take multiple forms such as thumbs up/down, five star, bingo chip and others.

Most notably, idea promotion has multiple stages.  The crowd of participants culls through the initial surge of ideas promoting the most promising ideas via their means of voting.  The ideas which are promoted are then evaluated by an expert panel which more rigorously applies the selection criteria in an on-line manner.  Once the expert panel has culled the list of ideas further, typically a selection committee makes a final determination regarding which ideas to pursue.

Results of this approach are impressive taking advantage of the diversity of talent, experience and knowledge of the crowd.  While some individuals have sparks of inspiration, they are often not equipped to flesh out an idea.  Others excel in collaboration and idea development while others with deep experience can provide cautions based upon problematic attempts in the past.  Finally, many are good at identifying promising ideas voting and culling the many ideas down to a promising few thereby not overwhelming an always taxed group of experts.

To leaders of innovation who continue to “go it alone” based upon their sole intelligence and inspiration; caution.  Many have gone this way in the past but out of necessity.  With the advent of collaborative work spaces, it is no longer necessary.  At a minimum, pass your idea by the collective and see if it will fly.

For a demonstration of human collective intelligence via an Idea Management System, contact CrowdPowered.