In this social media-dominated age, we are increasingly warned of the perils of sharing too much information. From cautionary tales of unwise Facebook posts by teens to confidential customer information being hacked into at major retailers such as Target and Nieman Marcus, examples exist in abundance. I was pleased, then, to come across a report produced by IBM that focused on a more positive aspect of our hyper-networked world for facilitating what they are calling “Collective Intelligence.”

The concept is a simple yet powerful one: creating the opportunity for “the aggregated knowledge, insight and expertise of a diverse group” to provide a continual source of learning for the whole organization. In my role as CEO, I am a big advocate of ‘leading while learning’ and am particularly attracted to this approach which recognizes the value and potential of individuals across the company and the company’s network to contribute ideas and knowledge to help drive innovation and improvement.

I have written before about how one of the major benefits of becoming certified to ISO 14001 and as a San Francisco Green Business was that it became a source of individual and collective pride for the whole team, as it requires the contribution of each staff member. I believe an equally powerful benefit exists with the “Collective Intelligence” concept.

The topic of social media is a case in point. Providing the opportunity for – often the younger – staff members (dare I say digital natives?) to give insight into new developments helps keep everyone informed and allows the business to use them to its advantage. Or there may be an employee in logistics who can see a glaring opportunity for innovation but is unsure how to flag it.

In terms of providing a repository for the intelligence-gathering, it’s important to find what works for your company – whether it is creating an online community, having ‘town-hall’-style meetings, targeting individuals to submit ideas to a central document, or – hey! – asking your employees for their ideas on the best solution.

Equally, encouraging a culture of information-sharing across the company’s wider network can pay dividends. I regularly attend networking events and conferences in the sustainability and diversity communities, and these are wonderful ways of forming strong relationships and fuelling new ideas. We stay connected in between visits on Twitter, email and other online forums.

What “Collective Intelligence” essentially comes down to, for me, is the importance of nurturing and valuing your business community to help strengthen your company for sustainable growth.

What does “Collective Intelligence” mean for your business? Let us know in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter @BarbaraWichman1.


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