Ideal Outcomes

Collective Intelligence Outsmarts Artificial Intelligence

by Mike Richardson, Cofounder, The One Advantage

If you think that the pace of disruptive change over recent years and decades has been fast, buckle up… you haven’t seen anything yet! ChatGPT gained hundreds of millions of users in a matter of months and is the fastest growing app of all time, making TikTok look like an hourglass.

Azeem Azhar, author of The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society, says that complexity scientists refer to moments of radical change within a system as a “phase transition.” He writes, “When liquid water turns to steam, it is the same chemical, yet its behavior is radically different. Societies, too, can undergo phase changes.” 

No matter where ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are on the Gartner Hype Cycle, it is undoubtably a phase change akin to that of the introduction of the Internet itself. 

We also know that artificial intelligence is still narrow in scope, specific to a particular kind of task. It is likely to be some time before it is broad in nature with general intelligence able to tackle a diversity of tasks. For that we need the collective intelligence of humans and computers. Did I turn to ChatGPT for some inspiration for this article? Yes I did! It allowed me to enhance my productivity. But what it couldn’t do was thread together what I wanted to say the way I wanted to say it. Microsoft is a big investor in OpenAI (the developers of ChatGPT) and is launching its own offering embedded in Microsoft 365 called “Copilot,” as “your copilot for a whole new way to work.”

As we know, the more things change, the more they remain the same. While we go through phase changes, the fundamental chemistry remains the same. We still need humans in the cockpit as the pilot.

That was the inspiration for the new e-book I’ve coauthored with Leo Bottary and Jason Richmond, The One Advantage—Introducing a Peer-Powered Culture of Agility to your Organization. As everything else gets disrupted at an increasingly exponential rate, the one and only competitive advantage you have that has any permanence is a peer-powered culture of agility. Everything else is quickly becoming increasingly temporary—probably bigger, faster, and sooner than you think!

A peer-powered culture of agility is at the heart of your collective intelligence as an enterprise, an organization, and as a team. Without it, you are much more at risk of being collectively unintelligent, to put it mildly! We see case study after case study of organizations who became collectively unintelligent. We are all familiar with the downfall of Kodak,  Blockbuster and Blackberry. Now add General Electric, whose share price is languishing. A corporation previously held up as one of the most collectively intelligent is now one of the most collectively unintelligent.

How does that happen? That is the question that Leo, Jason, and I set out to answer in triangulating our respective specialties of peer-power, workplace culture, and leadership agility. Even more importantly, we set out to answer: How do you turn around collective unintelligence to collective intelligence?

One of the biggest and most recent corporate turnarounds holds the answer. Alan Mulally was CEO of Ford Motor Company from 2006 to 2014, pulling off one of the most agile, culturally transformative, and peer-powered turnarounds in corporate history. It was all based around his “Working Together” Leadership & Management System,  a rich example of a peer-powered culture of agility and The One Advantage at work.  

(Alan, by the way, has some kind words about our book: “I love The One Advantage as an expression of the “Working Together” approach I used at Ford and Boeing. It is the only competitive advantage you really have.”)

Shortly after Alan joined Ford they posted record losses. That was a great example of  collective unintelligence. They were mired in a lack of agility, poor culture, and negative peer power. He immediately started turning things around into their one advantage. We explore how he did this in our e-book.

Recently on a trip to Boston I  took the opportunity to visit the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I didn’t realize that JFK had toured Europe in 1939 prior to WWII and in 1940 published a book, “Why England Slept” in which he examined the reasons for the UK’s lack of rearmament preparations.

This is of great interest to me because I am English originally (American now) and finished my book, Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifest (2011) with the story of the Battle of Britain and how we found the depths of a collective intelligence and a peer-powered culture of agility to survive despite being the underdogs.

Pivotal to that story was Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding who was born in my wife’s hometown in Moffat in Scotland where we were married, with a memorial to him in pride of place in the town park. He conceived and oversaw the development of the ‘Dowding System.’

This comprised an integrated air defense system which included (i) the race to develop and deploy radar, whose potential Dowding was among the first to appreciate, (ii) human observers, including the Royal Observer Corps, who filled crucial gaps in what radar was capable of detecting at the time, (iii) raid plotting, and (iv) radio control of aircraft. The whole network was tied together by dedicated phone links buried sufficiently deep to provide protection against bombing, including links to Winston Churchill’s secret underground war rooms bunker.

That’s a great example of the collective intelligence of humans and technology coming together as an agile system, with a can-do culture of peer-powered invention and innovation of brand new methodologies. And look at the result! It turned around the war against all the odds.

My grandfather was appointed as the Chief Engineer of the Post Office Telephone Service in London in 1940, responsible for maintaining the telephone and telegraph networks that were used by the British government and military and ensuring that communications remained open to Churchill’s bunker.

Several times I had tried to research more details about him from afar, but to no avail. I couldn’t find any leads. Using ChatGPT for 15 minutes the other day, I was able to come up with half a dozen leads to related listings, newspaper articles, and awards, which I can now further research to verify. I’m excited to plan a trip back to the UK to do so. In this exponential age of artificial intelligence collective intelligence is the copilot that is here to stay.

By the way, The One Advantage e-book mentioned earlier is available on Amazon this Thursday, May 11. Get your copy today.