This IBM Think Forum – A Conversation on Bringing Science to Leadership, moderated by Joichi Ito, winds through three examples of how leadership is changing. Don’t be intimidated but the “scientific” slant. All three share engaging stories and metaphors as they describe emerging, more collaborative leadership models.
Ferrucci was instrumental in the Watson project and he tells a story about how it was that Watson won on Jeopardy. More importantly he tells the story of how the computational pattern used by Watson to win provides a lesson in leadership. The Watson technology does what great leaders need to do; avoid individual biases, consider a wide range of possibilities, and weigh and balance the input from a wide range of experts. He says “Tools and technology can be used to broaden and cast a really wide net, bring in input from many sources with different perspectives to see the data differently.” He goes on to say “It’s a pattern for leadership. Think beyond limited individual expertise. We need to look at the collective knowledge and experience of the many…”
Professor Malone shares and equally engaging story about applying science to help understand leadership. He says, “Good leaders help the groups they’re leading act more intelligently.” He knows this becasue he’s studied group, or collective intelligence. His recent work involved identifying and measuring group intelligence. What he and his co-researchers found was that like intelligence tests that measure individual intelligence, there is a way to do the same for groups. There is a general cognitive ability for groups, called collective intelligence, that can be named and measured.
Perhaps counter intuitively, he found that having smart people in the group doesn’t really influence the collective intelligence of the group. What matters is the average social perceptiveness, evenness of conversational participation, proportion of women in the group. The last factor is explained by first factor as we have known for a long time that women, on average, are more socially perceptive. They pick up on and react more appropriately to social cues in a face to face environment.
Overall, collective intelligence depends on having lots of people who have social perceptiveness, male or female. The collective intelligence of groups matters more than the individual intelligence of it members. In this case, the whole is far greater than the sum of it parts. In some ways this also relates to bias. Women seem to have the edge on positive bias in a face to face encounter. I’m curious about how this plays out in an online, asynchronous environment. Does an online environment minimize the bias or at least level the playing field so that social perceptiveness is not as critical?
Schmitz also shares a story. The story of how a threat to the cocoa supply shifted the leadership practices of Mars Inc and how that shift resulted in the unprecedented mapping and sharing of the cocoa genome between, companies, governments and farmers. Schmitz and the Mars executives knew that they couldn’t save the chocolate supply on their own. They needed help from IBM to map the genome and then they needed to engage a diverse group of people to help fix the problem. Their solution, open the process and genome up to everyone. Distribute the knowledge freely and solve the problem collectively.
So what’s the moral of these stories? The big take away is that in all the stories of innovative leadership not once was the traditional top down model of leadership described. The stories talk about distributed leadership as the new model. Malone eloquently states that’
Leadership is too important to be left to the few at the top. It has to include the top, middle, bottom and everything in between. This is not a fad or a trend but a fundamental consequence of new information technologies. New information technology reduces the cost of communication enough that lots of people can have enough information to make sensible decisions for themselves. No need to wait for boss to tell them what to do. There has been a profound change in society due to the low cost of communication. This increase in freedom in business, due to the low cost of communication, may be as important as democracy was for governments.
Schmitz wraps it all up in a bow saying, “… there are so many smart people who are so well connected out there. We’ve got to draw on the bottom and [as leaders] play editing and enabling functions but that’s where it stops.”
So, how do you do this? Do you do this?
How do you reduce individual bias, increase diversity of knowledge and experience, engage both smart people and create smart groups? We ask this because this is our goal. It’s the reason we created THOUGHTstream, to help leaders, lead better by providing an environmental that reduces bias, facilitates the inclusion of diversity and engages smart people with local knowledge.