Collective Thinking

While visiting Maarten Visser’s Grid Thinking website yesterday, a couldn’t help but realize how similar my thoughts were to a lot of what he said there. Of particular interest, was a post about collective intelligence. Now why I found this interesting is because while discussing the Recovery 2.0 project, I indicated that whoever worked on the ideas for it should openly and continually relay their research discoveries and findings. By doing so, the collective minds of everyone on the project could come to bear so that if one group got stuck at a point, another group could take over with ideas that the first group hadn’t thought about it. In effect, what you create is a leap frog process for evolution and problem solving with multiple minds collectively working on a single goal, all ready to help push the development forward if it falters at a point.

The potential downside to this approach that I’ve seen in the past, however, is that people often have a difficult time agreeing on the best approach to take. Thus they sit around and argue instead of progressing forward. Well what if you agreed that there would be no arguments in the first place. What if instead you said that whatever approaches are determined ALL would be followed. Every person involved in the process would decide upon which approach they want to go with and then diverse variations in the development would be made and continued upon. Therefore, what you get is a multiprocessing effort that is working on a common goal in many different ways. As the development continues, each variation on the approach continues until it hits a roadblock which leaves the remaining variations to go forward by natural selection. And yet the beauty of sharing is that each variation can learn and utilize the knowledge of other variations even though that other variation didn’t fully succeed. In effect, you get a collective mind that allows each variation to learn and grow collectively from the mistakes of other variations.

As Jeff Jarvis indicated the other day, this creates a swarm effect that shrinks and grows based upon the obstacles before the collective group. Thinking from a natural viewpoint, imagine water flowing down a street. If it reaches an obstacle, it immediately spreads out looking for alternate ways around the obstacle. Even more so, multiple ways could be found around it but once passed the water swarms back together to collectively carry on its way. Therefore, both its diversity and its collectiveness are it’s greatest strengths. The irony here is that this strength can only be utilized because of its ability to break into smaller pieces. If it didn’t have this ability, if it could only act as a whole piece to move forward, then it would continually be blocked by obstacles. Only by working in smaller groups does progress occur. Therefore, small is allowing the collective swarm to act in a very big way.

Now the point of all this rambling is that this is a problem that I’m seeing out there right now. We have a bunch of small groups taking different approachs to solving a problem but they aren’t collectively sharing their knowledge. To me it is almost like a whole bunch of pieces to a puzzle are handed out to different people. They each hold that fragment of the puzzle but unless they work together, sharing the knowledge that they have, then the puzzle will never be solved. Therefore, what can be done to allow people to work on each their own independent approaches or variations, and yet still allow them to share their discoveries and setbacks so that everyone collectively can learn from them? If a way is discovered then hopefully this will allow each group in turn to lay down the small pieces of the puzzle until it is completed and solved. Yes, wikis and blogs are an approach but as David Weinberger apologized to his friends a few weeks past, he doesn’t have the time to visit all of their blogs. We need a way to collectively summarize the research and development of many into very small snippets of rich information so that everyone can scan the collective development but they only need to dig into a specific snippet if it relates to their current development. What could be utilized? A collective RSS/Feed streamlined to only relay the most crucial details of each groups development might work. But whatever solution is taken the obvious trick will be to relay the knowledge without overloading the collective mind.