Collective Intelligence
February 2014
A lot has been said about the supposed stupidity of crowd behaviour. Disaster movies have filled the screen with multiple examples: mass panic, people screaming and running in every direction and mercilessly trampling over each other.

However, several psychologists believe the opposite; a crowd will most frequently react calmly and ensure support to those in need. In fact, the events of September 11th, 2001 provided an ideal demonstration: even if they knew they were in danger, the large majority of people behaved in a responsible and courageous fashion.

Not only is crowd behaviour not stupid, but it seems that, under certain conditions, it generates a collective intelligence. This was first discovered, officially, in 1906. Statistician Francis Galton analyzed the results of a contest requiring visitors to an agricultural exhibition to guess the weight of a bull. To his astonishment, he noted that visitor guesses were, on average, 1,197 lb, while the actual weight of the bull was 1,198 lb! This amazing collective guesstimate, which came from the common visitor, beat the guesses of experts present at the exhibit.

Several similar experiments were then conducted that allowed group intelligence to be verified once again. Scott Page, scientist in the study of complex systems at Michigan University, made an important scientific contribution when he established the first condition for emerging group intelligence: diversity. According to Page, when the time comes to make an enlightened decision, diversity is just as important as competence. A group presenting a wide cognitive diversity (knowledge, perspectives, mental models, etc.) will have excellent chances of producing an optimum solution to a given problem.

Supported by other researchers' theorems and thoughts, Page's work was also able to establish some group effects that could destroy collective intelligence. For example, collective intelligence's worst enemy seems to be conformity in which individuals are entrenched for fear of displeasing the group or looking foolish. Individuals must be able to assert their independence from each other in an environment where they feel confident.

When attending this year's general meeting, I invite you to examine intelligence through this prism of considerations. What kind of diversity do you see? Do you see a mix of young people, women, people from different farming operations, business partners? Do these participants express themselves objectively, and are they able to share their personal opinions? Have we been able to create a friendly and respectful ambience for this large gathering where everyone feels comfortable to intervene?

The answer to these questions will tell you if your general meeting has the capacity to materialize collective intelligence, which improves your cooperative's creativity. We sincerely hope it does…. Imagine the added value that would be made available completely free of charge! We would be foolish to pass up such a possibility. When you stop and think about it, the best strategy for the common good of the company is to always make this meeting more intelligent. Encourage as many people as possible to attend, interact with others in such a hospitable fashion that each person will feel that their participation is unique, important, and most of all appreciated.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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