Emergent knowledge is equal to so much more than the sum of its parts. Collective intelligence allows enterprise to harness the power of the group, to find innovative solutions to complex issues. Here at Comet, we propose that tomorrow’s world of work, defined by a scalable and agile workforce of freelance experts, presents the prime conditions to nurture collective intelligence within an enterprise environment.
For Geoff Mulgan, head of Britain’s National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, collective intelligence depends on five fundamental aspects: freedom, diversity, reflexivity, focus and action. In his recent book, Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World (Princeton University Press) he explores the differences between environments that stimulate collective intelligence and those that hinder it.
“Large entities are at risk of becoming trapped in their own abstractions and believing their own myths,” yet despite this warning of the bubble effect, Geoff also reminds us of the simple truth: “If power is defined as the power to make mistakes, size appears to give more freedom.” While these two ideas may seem contradictory, they are in fact complementary within the framework of a new world of work, where a scalable and agile workforce of freelance experts are integrated for a necessary time period.
Not only do they bring added expertise, freelancers enhance collective intelligence by encouraging a culture of difference within enterprise. This results in a positive impact on innovation. According to a 2018 Kalo platform study, today’s most innovative companies are also freelancers’ favorite firms to work with: Airbnb, Amazon, Apple and Google.
Freelancers incarnate one of Geoff’s key ingredients of collective intelligence: diversity. “In framing understanding of an issue or mapping out options, diversity brings many advantages as does tapping into many minds. Translating that diversity into good decisions requires the added element of common grounding or culture.” This is exactly how our freelancers add value to enterprise, their unique backgrounds, and different mindset from employees is a massive advantage. They bring much needed diversity into secure enterprise environments that provide a framework of standardised processes and common culture.
This little considered soft-skill has new relevance as digital disruption preys on industries and enterprises that lack self awareness. Reflexivity means an awareness of how you think, function and react, and being conscious of one’s own underlying assumptions and beliefs. It also means not taking any idea or belief for granted. Freelancers have to know themselves well, especially regarding when and where to work in order to optimize their productivity. Companies may have something to learn from the contingent workforce’s resilience and accountability, collaborating with them is the best way to have a closer look at their agile approach and methods.
In our attention aka experience economy, knowing what matters and even more importantly knowing what doesn’t, is more valuable than ever. Against this backdrop, freelancers are also a key element of collective intelligence, as they can encourage companies to shift to project-focused organization mode. Often compared to entrepreneurs, freelancers are aware that they only have themselves to count on, so they treat their time as more valuable than money. This means focus. Freelancers are also versatile because they work on various projects within a diverse array of industries. This cross-industry exposure means they tend to be more innovative. While they are first and foremost specialists and experts in a specific area, freelancers are very often endowed with interdisciplinary skills and a holistic vision, the facility they have of integrating into a new company, especially in a fast-paced technological environment, depends on their soft skills and a capacity for fast learning.
Collective intelligence can help enterprise optimise processes and offers. Integrating an agile workforce can function as a laboratory for managerial innovation, in the quest for overall happier and higher-performing employees throughout the organisation. For instance, experimenting with remote working conditions using freelancers as the test population is a useful first step before considering its implementation for all employees.
In a world where the definition of intelligence is expanding with the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the exploration of what intelligence really is, how it can improve and shape our world has never been so important. To find out more about the complex benefits, both tangible and intangible of our freelance community here at Comet, download the comet index below (in French).
Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World, Geoff Mulgan
Princeton University Press, 12 novembre 2019 - Économie & Finance