Collective intelligence, emotional quotient, stigmergy...

In 1905, French psychologist Alfred Binet published the first modern intelligence test, the Binet-Simon Scale. It was a metric scale of intelligence that returned a single total score called the INTELLECTIVE QUOTIENT (IQ). Its purpose was to be able to identify at an early age those pupils who needed special help in school subjects.

This type of intelligence assessment method is soon outdated, as it is understood that there are different types of intelligence that the IQ does not take into account.

An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University, William Muir, did a study on chickens. He wanted to know how to make his chickens more productive, so he devised a nice experiment: chickens live in groups, so he selected an average colony of them and let them grow for six generations. At this point, he created a second group composed of the most productive individuals, which we will call super chickens. These were combined into a super colony, selecting from each generation only the most productive individuals.

After six generations, guess what he discovered? The chickens in the first group, the middle group, were doing just fine. They were all nice and plump and well feathered, and egg production had increased dramatically. And the second one? All dead except for three survivors who had pecked everyone else to death. The most productive individuals had achieved success only by eliminating the productivity of the others.

What is it, then, that makes some groups evidently more effective and productive than others? This question was asked by a group of researchers at MIT.

After recruiting hundreds of volunteers, they divided them into groups and assigned them difficult problems to solve. 

As might be expected, some groups were much better than others but, significantly, the best did not prove to be those that contained one or two individuals with exceptional IQs. Nor were the groups with the highest overall IQs. 

Instead, the best teams had three characteristics. First, they had a high degree of reciprocal social sensitivity, an index that is measured by the Gaze Reading Test, generally believed to be a test of the degree of empathy. Groups with high scores on this test were better. Second, in the better groups everyone had equal time to talk, so that there was no dominant voice, but no passive participants either. And finally, the best groups were those where there were more women.

Could it be because women usually score higher on the Gaze Reading Test, eventually doubling the empathy quotient? Or because they bring a diverse perspective? It is not known precisely, but the most relevant thing about this experiment, besides what we know, namely that some groups are better than others, is the demonstration that the key element is their social connection to each other. Several studies are therefore now showing how social sensitivity increases collective Quotient (Q) (C)

EQ refers to the concept of emotional intelligence. The latter is defined as the ability to know and understand one's own and others' emotions, to know how to manage them, and to know how to consciously use them in everyday life. From this concept comes the C= collective emotional quotient.

When we speak of collective intelligence, we are referring to the ability of a group to self-organize and exhibit overall behavior that evidences a cognitive capacity greater than that given by the sum of the intelligences of the individuals that make up the group.

The term stigmergy was introduced by zoologist Pierre-Paul Grassè in order to explain the behavior of termites during nest building; it is derived from the Greek words "stigma" and "ergon," meaning "sign" and "work," which means "stimulus-driven work." 


"Stigmergy is a form of communication that occurs by altering the state of the environment in a way that will influence the behavior of other individuals for whom the environment itself is a stimulus." (J. Kennedy, R. C. Eberhart,"Swarm Intelligence," Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2001).

Stigmergy provides a high-level view in which N agents cooperate to achieve some goal, thus we get a general mechanism that relates individual behavior to that of the "colony." In the animal world there are countless such examples. Humans in turn have more or less unconsciously enacted processes of stigmergy, which go right up against the broader theme of collective intelligence. 

We can easily observe a classic example of stigmergy in the international scientific community or in more untethered platforms such as Wikipedia or the Linux developer community and other "open source" generated products. Thus, a stigmergic system can be active or passive and generally has the following characteristics:

- Scalability;

- Fault tolerance;

- Adaptability;

- Speed;

- Modularity;

- Autonomy;

- Parallelism.

Collective intelligence can benefit companies in several ways:

- can help improve communication and collaboration among employees, fostering innovation and creativity. According to the Global innovation 1000 study, published annually by Strategy& de PwC, companies that innovate the most are those that massively involve their employees in the ideation effort.

- can provide companies with a wide range of perspectives and expertise, which can be used to find solutions to complex problems that cannot be solved by a single individual. 

- can help companies become more flexible and adaptable, enabling them to respond quickly to market changes and new business opportunities.


Let us also dwell for a second on the size of the potential connections we have today, far greater than even a decade ago. We usually start by admiring the computing powers of supercomputers, but let's see what we are actually comparing them to: computing power of a human brain = 30 state-of-the-art supercomputers = 300million smartphones

All the computers in the world come to equal the computing power of about 1,000human brains...And there are nearly 8 billion of us... connected...all the time...everywhere.

The new age of intelligence is not one in which computers and machines are increasingly powerful, but one in which the collective comes to express itself on a scale unimaginable compared to previous generations, thanks to the size and (potential) quality of networks.

Improving the quality of a network starts with the concept of the wisdom of crowds and, more specifically, the characteristics of a "wise" crowd. While enormous, the potential of the network can in fact be a source of conformity and bias. It is no accident that Le Bon argues that: by the mere fact of belonging to a crowd, man descends several rungs on the ladder of civilization . The phenomenon of crowds is initially studied, in order to understand large collective phenomena (e.g., wars and riots) and how to prevent them. People in crowds may be characterized by impulsivity and influenceability. They can also:
- develop a single collective mind
- undergo mental contagion
- nurture a sense of power
- create suggestibility
- function in a regressive manner
Crowds can therefore be conforming, uniform masses. This is not the concept of Crowd we understand in a network that thinks collectively, but rather the opposite. Crowd means a collection of diverse, emotionally intelligent individuals and people. And therefore open and ready to listen and immersed in a network of exchange. It is this kind of crowd characterized by people with different points of view that brings richness to the community. It is only when everyone reflects independently that the collective can be intelligent. This might contradict the concept of social sensitivity, emotional intelligence and empathy, but it is only a superficial contradiction. In reality, listening and empathy are not the end goal but the means. That is, they serve to fluidize communication, so that each person can express his or her differences and make his or her own point of view, without being pressed into conformity or a false consensus dictated by the loudest speaker.

This collective-thinking-oriented mindset, on scales ranging from small teams to a corporate population, to a community, to the planetary population is helpful to new generations of leaders, who operate in the highest interest of organizations and the challenges of the Planet by fostering fertile environments for the contamination of diverse viewpoints and fostering the growth of teams working in synergy with the world and in strong networks of exchange.

By abandoning the Cartesian idea of Cogito ergo sum, (i.e., of having an indivisible, individual, coherent brain) and rather accepting being an aggregator of the collective, one becomes smarter.

Thinking together gets us far. 

Collective intelligence starts here