Change is often born out of frustration. Over the last few years, we have become increasingly frustrated that whilst building crowds of outstanding minds, we have been failing to capture their collective intelligence. Events are great for making connections and providing a dose of inspiration, but they are almost criminal in the opportunity they miss in intelligence sharing.
Let’s explore what efficient intelligence sharing could achieve. Imagine if we took what is for us a typical audience, 180 people from different sectors, functions and organisation types who are somehow engaged in sustainability. And if we wired their minds to a computer, transmitted questions and extracted their collective knowledge and experience. We’d be able to find solutions to pretty much any challenge.
We could extract the top 10 sustainability investments that their organisations have made, from product innovation to energy efficiency to communications. And get the approximate amount they invested, and their understanding of the payback period. With this, we could build a investment curve from over 1,000 real initiatives, which any company could then hold against their own strategies to identify opportunities.
Or imagine a retailer that wants to work out how to build trust, using a crowd of 300 stakeholders – employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and regulators. The crowd would determine the relative importance of its touch points with society, such as fair tax, transparency, carbon, youth apprenticeships and customer complaints. It would identify the biggest gaps in its strategy, and create a menu of initiatives to deliver change.
That advice could add billions to that retailer’s market capitalisation. If done across many organisations, it could play a major role creating an economy where business solves social and environmental problems as a way of doing business. The catalyst would simply be the more efficient sharing of knowledge.
The bad news is that Google is yet to develop the hardware that would allow us to physically connect up people’s minds. But the good news is that we don’t need it. Over the past 18 months, we have developed a variety of on and offline formats that capture the collective intelligence of crowds. It’s still early days, but the results have been outstanding.
We’re deeply grateful to all those who have taken part in these experiments. To Sainsbury’s and British Land for “Going Naked” on their 20x20 Sustainability Plan and energy strategy, respectively. To Dax Lovegrove, Stephen Greene and Mike Barry for being Changemakers. To everyone who submitted ideas to Idea Idol. To our sponsors who have funded our innovation. But above all to the crowds that have participated.
Together we have proven that the Wisdom of Crowds is a new and exciting way of connecting an organisation with society. There is a lot of theory behind why it works, which I won’t go into here. But it works for the same reason that in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, the audience gets the answer right 91% of the time, whilst phoning a friend has a 65% success rate.
The connection with society is one of the big prizes in business today. Society is becoming increasingly demanding of business, as the energy, banking, media and retail sectors are already finding out. Embracing your crowd, be it internal or external, offers a new solution, which in the process engages stakeholders. And thanks to your help, we have created leading expertise in this area.
We will continue to run our monthly Forum, which we see as an arena where everyone can experiment in change, and where those engaged in connecting business with society can meet on a regular basis. We will continue to put on our summit events, including our energy summit. And we have a rare chance to invest every fibre, including our name, in developing crowd-based solutions. That’s why we have become “The Crowd”.