Monday, November 9, 2009

Collective Intelligence or Colossal Distraction?

In another class I have with Dr. Robbins, we discussed collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. In short:

Collective Intelligence: pooling existing social knowledge through networking, enabled by communications technology, where users generate their own content. Think Wikipedia.

Crowd Sourcing: employers or organizations assign tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a “crowd.” The public may be invited to develop a new technology (remember when LG offered a reward for the best design for its new phone?); is a thriving open marketplace for solutions to problems of all kinds and at all prices.

We concluded that these phenomena are not only permanent, but are making permanent changes in the infrastructure of organizations. MIT even hosts its Center for Collective Intelligence to conduct research on how communications technologies are changing they way people work together. How do the leadership theories we have studied fare in today’s organization where CI and CS are on the uptake? For one thing, it provides a healthy check on groupthink. (Irving 1971). It’s hard to avoid an outsider’s perspective when idea development is open to the public.

But how does the exponential change in access to information that almost any “follower” has today look in the frameworks of, say, McGregor’s work?

McGregor would whole-heartedly support CI/CS. He says development within an organization should involve many rather than a few and that it should focus on unique capacities rather than common objectives (1966). While players in a CS network are working toward a common objective, CS hinges on the unique capabilities of crowd members. CI/CS opportunities count on Theory Y (1960) being in action – those who participate are doing so for self-fulfillment (even if that fulfillment comes in the form of money or glory). People are, as McGregor states, self-directing their own achievement of objectives that they are committed to.

But what abut CI/CS opportunities outside of one’s organization: Do these create a leadership dilemma? If leaders are motivating followers in their organizations toward a common goal or mission (Burns 1978; Heifitz 1994; Selznick 1957; Sashkin 1989) then do countless and easily accessible opportunities for collaboration and innovation pose dangerous competition for follower attention?

I think these trends that are altering the workplace, the university, and society present a whole new set of challenges for leaders in harnessing a focus in their followers while also fostering cognitive development. This opportunity would, I think, come back to the organization as a value in the form of an effective, critically thinking, active follower (Kelly 1988), but one who spends time and energy on goals unrelated to the organization.

For Burns (1978), as another example, it seems the leader should be open to his/her followers’ pursuit of such opportunities as an enabler of self-actualization. But where does that leave the follower’s devotion to the organization’s goals?

This dilemma has no doubt been around for as long as the theories in the form of any kind of distraction. But CI/CS presents a developmentally valuable, monetarily rewarding, structured framework for distraction. How might other theorists respond to this challenge?

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