Monday, August 3, 2009

Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence

I recently came across this excellent academic paper from Dr. Thomas Malone (of "The Future of Work" fame) and others from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (a fancy term for radical decentralization, crowd-sourcing, wisdom of crowds, peer production, and wikinomics - defined very broadly as groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent). They examined 249 examples of collective intelligence such as Google's search engine, Wikipedia, Linux, and others to come up with a classification framework for different approaches to collective intelligence.

Here is the high-level framework they came up with:
  • Who is performing the task? Hierarchy or the Crowd?
  • Why are they doing it? Money, Love, or Glory?
  • What is being accomplished? Create or Decide?
  • How is it being done? Collection, Collaboration, Group decision (voting, consensus, averaging, or prediction markets), or Individual decision (markets or social networks)?
Taking these "genes", you can assemble the "genome" for any specific instance, and they include examples for Linux, Wikipedia, Innocentive, and Threadless. Table 5 on page 14 has an excellent chart of when each gene is useful.

Of course, in most every organization today, everything is channeled through the hierarchy gene, even though others could be more appropriate and effective for different tasks, especially innovation. It's a superb framework for measuring up against your organization to see which pieces are missing. It also outlines many of the "genes" we want to include in Organization 2.0. Great stuff. Highly recommended.