SIR FRANCIS GALTON ONCE HAD A SURPRISING INCIDENT WITH A LARGE PIG. Maybe you've heard about it? This famous anecdote begins James Suriowieki's classic book The Wisdom of Crowds
which is an excellent introduction to the perils and possibilities of group intelligence.
The story is that an enterprising Englishman at a country fair was raffling off a plump porker to whoever could most accurately guess the pig's weight. After the prize was won and delivered, Sir Francis (a genocidally notorious cynic about the intelligence of the common folk) retrieved all the raffle entries. After subjecting them to various mathematical torments, he was quite astonished to discover that the average guess of the crowd was significantly more accurate than even the best individual guess.
The premise of democracy -- seldom fully realized -- is that the collective Will and Insight of the whole society is operationally superior to any autocrat, oligarchy or cluster of aristocratic families. Many minds are probably smarter than a few minds. If we can put them together properly, that is, because observations of mobs & groupthink make it clear that a collective can also be more mendacious, shortsighted and malicious than the individual participants.
So if social groups can be either smarter or dumber than individuals, then how do we favor the former over the latter? What principles might be involved? Who has even been thinking seriously about how to improve the wisdom, agility & intelligence of groups and organizations?
There are of course voting reform
movements in most countries. That might be a good start. Popular votes ought to be one of our best ways of engaging collective intelligence. Unfortunately, when a majority or plurality takes office, the intelligence from everyone else sort of... vanishes. Many alternative methods of voting exist.
There have also been waves of interest in socialism and cooperatives
-- since, for most people, the collective intelligence of the workplace is a much bigger part of their lives than any popular or legislative voting.
So these might be good and important places to start an exploration. However, we also have to think more clearly about how to evolve, upgrade and deepen the humane, short-and-long term wisdom of all kinds of social enterprises.
Our emergent transformational communities have numerous shoots that might grow into new forests. From Brian Robertson's work on Holacracy
to Laloux's attempt to developmentally reinvent organizations
, to the rise of interest in liminal DAO
s, we are seeing a slow emergence.
There is energy stirring toward the confluence of adult development, new technologies & new approaches to collective decision-making. And many of these are downstream from the ideas and intentions that went into the still-evolving Sociocracy movement.
Sociocracy (introduced here
& in this video
) is sometimes defined as "governance by those who associate together." A pretty broad definition. Here's what they say about themselves:After evolving to its current form in the 1980ies, the intention of sociocracy was to design a set of governance tools that would give groups a chance to organize and make decisions in a more empowered, flexible way. It was inspired by natural systems. It balances effectiveness and equal voice – the desire to move forward towards the group’s mission and making sure every voice can be heard in the process. People are interested in sociocracy because they want to make their organizations more human and improve their group decision making. Sociocracy is currently used in for-profits, non-profits, coops, schools, communities, and unincorporated projects. They often combine it with Nonviolent Communication, Agile, and various forms of personal and organizational growth.
Not bad. It is at least a place to begin thinking about the evolutionary upgrade of social organizations.
We are not proselytizing for Sociocracy BUT we are saying that the evolutionary upgrade of human patterns of social organization needs to be front and center in our efforts to cultivate the emergence of a planetary wisdom-civilization for full-spectrum, long-term flourishing.
Groups & events can either be smarter (more agile, coherent, insightful, antifragile, healthy, ethical, powerful, self-repairing, self-improving) or dumber than the individuals within those groups. Let's figure out why and start implementing the changes.