The CEO is dead. Long live the Collective Intelligence Officer

Referendums are driven by everything but collective intelligence. Let’s look at Brexit in the UK, an incredible exercise in collective co-decision-making at a national level.

The Brexit? Far from a process in collective intelligence

Mobilising millions of people, this decision was actually anything but an example of collective intelligence in terms of methodology.

The referendum, the prehistory of the democratic process

The referendum is the prehistory of the democratic process – one question with a YES/NO vote and no real debate between the participants. What level of collective intelligence and trust did the question “Should we stay in the European Union, yes or no” generate? Little intelligence from the new understanding provided by the “wisdom of the crowd”; reduced confidence in leaders who admitted to being at the limit of their capacity to find solutions and the trust they had in citizens to help them.

An anti-Brexit protest in London, 2016 (CC FlickR)
An anti-Brexit protest in London, 2016 (CC FlickR)

Let’s image that Brexit had taken the form of a 2-month debate to collectively answer the question, “How can our country maximize the benefits of being in the European Union?” The aim? Reach a collective recommendation based on dozens of new solutions developed through dialogue with millions of contributors.

The decision to leave the European Union would without doubt have been one of several solutions in the form of a concrete action plan with high levels of appropriation and support. This would have enabled the country and leaders to feel more confident. The leaders would have demonstrated their capacity to mobilise the collective intelligence of their citizens and their innovation potential. Citizens would have felt confident about their creativity and collective resilience, as well as the transparency and humility of their leaders.

New kinds of collaborative processes

At a time when all sectors are evolving under the influence of innovation and new digital technologies, and the challenges facing the planet have never been greater, why shouldn’t changes be based on the democratic processes of co-creation and co-decision-making?

Parliament, the ideal place for effective decision-making? (CC FlickR)
Parliament, the ideal place for effective decision-making? (CC FlickR)

We are more intelligent in large numbers

We are more intelligent in very large numbers – several hundred or thousand people – than a handful of experts in any given domain. Innovation therefore needs to be driven by methods and technologies defined and tested by new kinds of collaborative process to:

  1. Understand complex questions
  2. Co-create new solutions
  3. Co-decide and implement the most important

Intelligence has become a choice

The technologies already exist. The choice of using them (or not) lies in the hands of decision-makers. Yes, intelligence has become a choice. We are reaching an important turning-point. Decision-makers – whether the mayor of a town, the prime minister of a country or the CEO of a large industrial group – are slowly adopting this approach.

In the near future, the performance of large public or private organisations will be evaluated based on their capacity to mobilise collective intelligence within their ecosystems. Alongside financial performance measured by classic accounting and economic models and new Corporate Social Responsibility metrics, KPIs for the effective mobilisation of collective intelligence will emerge.

A major impact on management

Yes, investors will choose the most committed, open, intelligent and collective companies, as the best guarantee that their investment will still exist in 20 years. The impact on management will be major – the era of CEO will be replaced by the era of the CIO, Collective Intelligence Officer. This new kind of leader will drive and manage the most sophisticated and powerful collaborative processes within the organisation and with external stakeholders.

Are we more intelligent together? (CC FlickR)
Are we more intelligent together? (CC FlickR)


Strategic planning will change. There will be no more strategies created by a handful of board members during a couple of meetings to build a 5-year vision that the communications teams then feed down to employees. The scale will also change. The CIO will draw the broad outline of a vision that will be opened up to debate via an adapted online platform over several months. This will be shared with clients and priorities will be chosen by all the participants. This will enable us to take a giant leap to make our ideas and recommendations more innovative and qualitative.

Decisions will be driven by collective intelligence rather than a simple vote. We will develop collective online forums where thousands of participants will be given green and red virtual tokens to choose the top recommendations produced during the debate. The concentration of green points will represent the “quick-wins”; the clouds of red points will indicate the ideas management needs to improve before implementing them. And, the recommendations generating a large number of red and green tokens (the most divisive) will probably be those with the highest disruptive innovation potential.

Opening up to collective intelligence is a necessity

The end of “follow my leader”? Asia Director in 2017 (CC FlickR)
The end of “follow my leader”? Asia Ford Director in 2017 (CC FlickR)

Forbes magazine demonstrated that during mergers between large companies, it takes on average 3 years for the level of employee commitment to return to pre-merger levels and plunges by more than 23% in the first year.

Imagine the return on investment if a collective intelligence approach was implemented as soon as the merger was announced. This would open a vast debate to define, over several months, the values and structuring elements for the new culture and facilitate a successful merger. The impact on regaining employee motivation levels would be huge.

It will become increasingly difficult for companies and public organisms to ignore collective intelligence

The leaders of companies and public institutions will find it harder and harder to ignore collective intelligence. Rejecting it could generate mistrust in the transparency and good faith behind their motivations. It could also be interpreted as the leaders lacking faith in the creative capacity of their own teams, clients and partners.

Launching a collective intelligence process is the greatest sign of trust and confidence leaders can give their employees, citizens and ecosystem. This is not just a passing trend, but rather a question of survival. Successfully managing collective intelligence processes to mobilise key stakeholders will become the key skill for tomorrow’s leaders and guarantee the trust they inspire.