Collective intelligence for a thriving and enabling ecosystem

I have been thinking more about “Collective Intelligence” recently, so as to build more thriving and enabling ecosystems. I would argue we do need to change the way we work, engage and participate in sharing what we know with others and then find the connecting mechanisms, to build from this collective engagement.

The future of work needs to be managed so differently than today’s designs. Although AI takes today’s headlines it is the collective use of human intelligence that will radically alter the way we eventually work.

Let me give you a little background first on what is triggering this.

For the past year, I have been privileged to be part of an external influencer community, centered on Siemens. Presently we have sixteen external influencers coming together about every three months with a range of Siemens people, internal experts in Cyber Security, Smart cities, digital transformation, communications, Artificial Intelligence and increasingly becoming engaged in conversations with Senior Management and Board members.

We are only scratching the surface of a very big organization but do have very exciting possibilities, if we continue to connect and are seen as valuable and worthwhile in exploring different ways of working and communicating. We do have the real potential to influence if this group becomes more embedded in aspects that can shape thinking.

The catalyst to this community lies within the Siemens Corporate Communications Group, one that is made up of a talented team that puts together the working agenda for these meetings that usually take place over two days.  How this group is forming and storming in new ways lies with Patrick Naumann, (@naumannpatrick). Patrick often does not have an easy task in this, as the group has so much diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and intent. Each influencer runs their own business or work within a given domain of knowledge and often we run into a conflict of needs and views.

The shifts taking place within the community

The group was initially formed around the social media make-up of amplifiers of messages, content marketers, consultants, thought leaders, experts in given subjects. We have progressively built a language of understanding and a framework to operate under. We talk often of “outside-in and inside-out” thinking to frame any debates or points of view. In my view, we are 10 to 15% down an evolutionary path in this community to shape, influence and contribute differently.

The present struggle we are all actually working through, often not recognized

We struggle in overcoming the existing collective mindsets and rigidities and we need to shift to a different change model that needs a high level of transition. For this, I believe we need to ‘unfreeze’ through recognition of our present rigidity > We should make a ‘transition’ through experiment and exploration > Finally we should notrefreeze’ as the recommendation of past views have suggested, we should build the adaptive, agile and fluid abilities required for today from learning, collaborating and embrace a constant change mentality.

Unleashing the collective capacity within the community

There is some real capacity within this Siemens Influencer Community to push present practices into new, highly collaborative ones. The question is “will we be allowed too or able?

To achieve this change into contributing into a more organic fluidity, moving from hierarchies to networks, from formal rules and high levels of coordination, into far more spontaneous interactions, improvised processes and open discussions that resolved specific issues, is certainly a complicated process. It makes many uncomfortable.

Today in any community, there is this need to constantly form, explore, propose and dissolve project teams where far more lateral organization-wide communications take place, becomes a set of real challenges. Large organizations are grappling with this, perhaps there is an emerging model somewhere in the construct we are attempting to build.

Presently, it is a real “perhaps.” but we continue to make progress, regretfully at a speed that is always caught up in the reactions to market needs of the day, or existing more traditional framing viewpoints. Large organizations respond in often a very ponderous fashion checking above and below, sometimes oblivious to “speed of decision” or necessity of market response.

Drawing different strands together

Just to bring this into further context, of where my thinking has come from, I have written different views on change but one is worth referring too, that I think is valuable here: “Fusion, Flow and Fluidity are needed in our Management Practices“.

I outline some opening thoughts of “We are caught in a real tug of war within much of what we do in business today; in our responses and reactions to many of the dramatic business conditions we are facing, many deteriorating or being challenged by greater global competition. We are facing a very uncertain future if we base our actions on past practices”

Looking to achieve a new operating model

So I feel we need a new management model, one where we are pushing to seek out, connecting up to increasing new knowledge found in ecosystems and network relationships. We actually are in urgent need of new management operating model, a new management practice to deal with our digital world”.

Partly, I think this community might help to explore and push concepts that offer a more experimental environment, a testbed to relate too, in the coming years for Siemens. Evolution for the future of business is just that; constant development, expansion, contraction, experimentation, and challenges, as a very different model and practice and within this community we can incubate differently, providing we can overcome present mindsets that all tend to hold onto past practices, by difference, habit, or rigidity of the structure.

Combining collective intelligence

According to MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Thomas Malone, in his book The Future of Work, the company of the future will look very different from the tight-rein, centralized management approach of today. Organizations that thrive will embrace democracy, loose hierarchies, and will focus on improving collective intelligence amongst their teams.


Emerging thoughts about this community

To give you some understanding of this community I have written before on this in this piece “How do we measure success in our digital transformation? A journey of discovery”. In many ways, this seems a lifetime ago, yet only written last October. Here, within this post, I needed to write again on my changing thoughts that have been forming in my thinking, after just returning from the latest meeting held in Berlin.

I did not share those in the group as I needed to reflect on them first. To be honest they are only emerging in a very early form but become radically different in eventual design of this community that may never materialize unless we recognize that the nature of all work is changing, in collaborating forms and requiring ecosystem design thinking.

The power of connection is so poorly understood

Secondly, as background, I am partly working on the building of “connected stories” within a recent Siemens initiative around Smart Cities and specifically their “Atlas of Digitalization. In my research, I recently was reading a great report “Future trends for innovative cities” from Seoul’s Social Innovation Global Advisory Committee offering some collective essays. Here, they share what Seoul can teach other cities, what it can learn and what different cities around the world can tell us about innovative ways to solve today’s problems.

Following two strands of thought

Two strands of thought, one by  Ezio Manzini, the Distinguished Professor on Design for Social at the Elisava-Design School and Engineering, Barcelona and the other by Geoff Mulgan, the Chief Executive of Nesta, the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts triggered my connection and reflection for this Siemens Influencer Community (just launched even further under #SIEx)

So, let me explain what seems to come together in my mind

In this Siemens Influencer Community (#SIEx), we have had some demanding debates, discussions and a good few disputes. When you are forming something new, often experimental and challenging parts of an existing way of doing business it often conflicts. I have been amazed at how much constructive energy has gone into this first year.

Recognizing within this community we are clearly on a journey of discovery.

Sometimes we get lost as individuals, we need constantly to be brought back to the concept board of recognition of where we are against where we would like to be. This post is on where I would like us to go.

So let me first show the “classic” Tuckman stages of a team (or community development in our case) and the stages we are going through. It seems to sum-up the Siemens Influencer evolution. I see us (aspirational perhaps at present) of getting to stage 5- as embedded resources in the near future.

So we have been passing through the initial stages of forming and storming. Perhaps after the Berlin workshop, we are in the Norming and Performing stages. Not bad over (just) five meeting so far. The aim, well in my view, is becoming more the external embedded resource for Siemens to call upon.

My light bulb moment based on forming a community of collective intelligence

As I was reflecting from this last workshop (#SIExBerlin) I felt we were going through a new structural phase that I only recognized after the event and this is partly based on the thoughts of Ezio Manzini, referenced above. We are passing through different learning points and forming a “collective intelligent ecosystem“. Why? well…

** We are learning to collaborate in deeper ways. The whole rationale of this group is developing collaborative projects that amplify, project or show different thinking. These are driven by a Siemens need, or in one of the influencers that “spot” a real gap in the internal thinking that needs resolving. Presently selling this to multiple “gatekeepers” is really hard, in getting them to think differently, to change the status quo and be prepared to experiment and recognize alternative thinking can have a real new value.

The end objective is providing practical results and social and mutual commercial value. The (paid) work undertaken by the community members gives value, prising lose the purse strings is another, as often the default positioning is “we have no (new) money!” as it is easier to stay with the known and accepted. Only when a culture feels totally comfortable in experimenting will it shed much of its past rigidities.

The learning of this value within Siemens and within us, as an outside-in community, still has to be fully articulated, explored and recognized. That is, in my opinion, our next “work-to-be-done” and will be built on these four pillars as work-in.progress that need deepening and building out in a more ecosystem design:

** We are bridging and connecting diversity. The SIEx community is cultivating and connecting diversity through engagements in social media, in advisory, in amplification, in content delivery and thought leadership.  The constant intent is to improve social and commercial engagement. We are learning to relate to Siemens, hopefully, Siemens to us. The constructs we have in place are still in need to be more robust, open and flexible and simply faster to materialize.

** We are weaving people, stories and building a broader set of communities of understanding. In seeking out projects or supporting already existing Siemens work, we are extending the collaborative process from being “internally produced only” or through traditional channels into a partnership of external and internal contributors to build a better-connected story. This is our “outside-in” approach. We aim to change the Siemens perspective and add new value in thinking and outcomes.

** We are building out our active participation. Ezio Manzini calls this “project-centered democracy”. This is providing an environment (or collaborative spaces) where individuals and communities within Siemens can best develop a more cohesive, connected set of stories. This becomes an “enabling ecosystem” where participants can build out ideas and needs in more connected ways. I feel we are achieving some progress as more within Siemens are having some level of curiosity arise from this Siemens Influencer Community (#SIEx). They are quickly recognizing we are way beyond “amplification” of their story, we aim to connect them and give them greater meaning, value, and impact. We see things differently. We are only just at that point of recognition but it can become viral if we continue with the momentum and recognition that this last meeting up may have given us.

A #SIEx community that is recognized for its diversity, individual and possesses collective intelligence

The end result is a venue or resource where collective intelligence focuses on solutions that build connection into the wider world. Having a collective intelligence community that contributes to mobilizing creativity and solve issues differently can become a “regenerating resource” as it constantly brings inside, the outside perspective.

This comes through this idea of Manzini’s of “promoting, cultivating different forms of collaboration, that recognizes and values the collective intelligence available within this community and offers a collective design capability”, in this case into Siemens, that perhaps offers them their alternative design studio, for engaging out into the world, being more adaptive and responsive

So my emerging, maybe whacky idea, is this community becomes a rich enabling ecosystem, where the diversity and variety of mutually interesting initiatives of different nature and scale can emerge, contribute and thrive. A shared intelligence of the people within a room (the community design studio) that is the catalyst to new collective thinking.

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