Can we Influence Outcomes Together?

MIT_collective intelligence This research interests me at very personal level. I've been learning about group behavior and collective intelligence since middle school.

And by now, you should have figured out that my interest in influence is broader than just online — or just buzz-worthy.

Back then, with the proportional wisdom of the pre-teenage years, finding a way to get over individuals and focus on group gave us plenty to chew on.

I naturally gravitated to the leading role. I had vision, and could facilitate the plan easily. Was I too bossy?

I'm sure it was perceived that way more than once. How do you explain to a pre-teen that doing the work is for their own good? The experience taught me to become a better listener lest I face mutiny on a regular basis.

In a stroke of genius, our Italian literature teacher, who drove the team assignments and composition, designed projects so that there would be a regular rotation of duties or roles within the group and across groups. So you got to cross-train and work with many others, not just very few.

Can we influence outcomes together?

Tom Malone, an MIT management professor, has been conducting research to uncover how groups could be harnessed to solve problems. Can collective intelligence save the planet?

The the goal of the Center, which he founded in 2006, is to “is to combine pooled human brainpower with new information technologies to solve problems in ways that would never have been thinkable before.”

What Malone found so far is that things like group cohesion, satisfaction, “psychological safety,” and motivation matter to solving problems collaboratively. A happy group, a close-knit group, or an enthusiastic group don’t necessarily equal a smart group.

You need someone who cares. And Malone's own words, “More females, more (emotional) intelligence.” 

A genetic answer

In fact, quite a specific one — which makes sense as influence is not generic. As they explain in a paper that looks at the structure you need to create yo determine groups' outcomes, Malone and his colleagues Robert Laubacher and Chrysanthos Dellarocas are looking to map the genome of human collectivity.

This research (link above) into who, why, and how people both create, and decide will be useful to guide how you plan and set up opportunities or entry points for people to collaborate with your brand in social media.

The behavioral levers you use to figure out who to involve, and when, what you're going to organize need to map to why people will do it and how the experience will play out for them to sign up. For example, the crowd gene should we used when (empahsis mine):

  • Resources useful in performing activities are distributed widely or in places not known in advance.
  • Activities can be divided into pieces satisfactorily (necessary information can be shared; gaming and sabotage can be managed).
  • Crowds can do things cheaper, faster, with higher quality or with higher motivation.

Conditions for crowd are not met when hierarchy and management get involved. You see right here where one of the disconnects is when campaigns go south. People don't mind rules, when they can affect outcomes with their actions — see games. They mind control.

Another reason for lack of success is usually a miss on connecting to motivation, why people decide to do something and how they create.

How motivated are you?

And how do you get motivated? What motivates you? As the reaserchers say, many factors apply to motivation, too complex to list here.

But there are two rules of thumb:

  • Appealing to Love and Glory, rather than Money, can often (but not always) reduce costs.
  • Providing Money and Glory can often (but not always) influence a group’s direction and speed.

This second point, without digging too deep into it for a blog post, relates to my take on influentials and speed.

Creating collaboration

I was reading a different article about strategy and execution and the bridge you need to build with behavior to make the first succeed or pay off in the second. Nilofer Merchant writes (emphasis mine):

If we didn't also address the organization's ability to change, to behave differently, to believe in the new direction itself, then any good idea would simply fail. Strategy without an adaptive context to absorb the idea into its fiber would fail. Winning once wasn't enough — organizations had to build the ability to co-create solutions and thereby win repeatedly.

How do you create collaboration with your teams? How do you marry what with how? From the research, creating collaboration is useful when:

  • Activity cannot be divided into small independent pieces (otherwise Collection would be better).
  • There are satisfactory ways of managing the dependencies among the pieces.

The organization's approach to decisions can be situational. However, the decision about how you're going to make decisions, if you'll pardon the pun, needs to be transparent and communicated.

In my experience, communication and dialogue are useful tools to bridge the potential gap between where a business is, and where it needs to be. You can find further thoughts on my take on strategy as motivation, if interested.

Comparing motivations

Motivation is a key factor in productivity, which is another way to say influencing outcomes. From the MIT paper, the Threadless example is a great one to see how we need to start looking at stages in the process with more granularity and clarity.

To create the t-shirts, you want the crowd involved. They will be motivated by money and love. So you do a contest. To decide which designs are best, you involve/engage the crowd. People vote for love, and you average the votes. To decide which designs you produce, management steps in, motivated by money — which makes the venture sustainable — and decides by hierarchy.

Compare that to the InnoCentive example, where the crowd helps with scientific solutions, motivated by money and through contest. Then management gets the rewards of decisions made based upon money and by hierarchy.

Different objectives. How do you decide which way to go? If the decision involves judging what the crowd will like, involve the crowd. However, if the company with the problem that needs solving would not want the crowd to see all the entries, you probably are better served by not going that route.

We still have too many promotional campaigns that start with "let's crowdsource xyz", and not enough bridges between motivation and execution. Understanding the nuances is key to influencing outcomes, together.


[hat tip Nieman Journalism Lab]

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