Just ask

I attended a job interview a few months ago. One part of the assessment was to give a presentation to the CEO and other members of the executive team, on a task that the company had previously set me. The subject highly interested me, but as I began conducting the research and structuring the information, I began to lose my way a little. I couldn’t see how to move my mini-project forward.

I believe that the key reason I could not progress was that I was unable to bounce my ideas of anyone. The last few presentations I have conducted were all in group environments. In these situations, we were all set the task, we all structured our plans together, and we all reached the same conclusions…eventually. I know I am effective at working alone when required, but I also recognise the value of being able to ask someone a question: a friend; colleague; or even family member. That way you are accessing your collective intelligence – a term that states that the group is more knowledgeable than the individual.

You would be surprised with the variety of fresh ideas and perspectives these individuals could contribute to your work. Talking through my thought process with a family member of mine, added a great deal of value to the presentation I gave. The point I want to make is that you should always be willing to test the water a little. You can waste a great deal of energy on preparing something on your own, only to turn up on the day and realise you missed out something crucial. Don’t feel too proud to ask for help. Invite critique. Take it humbly. You never know, it could greatly enhance the final outcome.

Have you ever been stuck in a rut and a small input maybe helped you pave the way forward? What are your thoughts on collective intelligence?


Andi Thompson


Categories: Andi, Core Business Skills
  1. Dolly
    November 19, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Do you think it also depends on the level of expertise?

  2. November 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

    It’s a very interesting question! In my opinion, the higher the expertise level the less team input is needed in standardised activities (for example bookkeeping). However, if the task is creative in nature or non standard, then the higher expertise levels lead to greater need for interaction. Classical examples in this category include artists and musicians since they cannot exist in vacuum. High level business people should also be included, although they accomplish their knowledge sharing through conferences and the like.

    Another dimension, I thought about, would be the criticality of the task. You do want team input during the diagnosis stage, because questioning and alternative view may improve the outcome. But you probably should block out suggestions during the surgery stage, since improvisation creates additional risks.


  3. Dolly
    November 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Exactly. I think the scale of the task also comes into play. Smaller scaled, high expertise level projects tend to show less collective intelligence, that too much less multidisciplinary. Like scientific research projects. Only people with background knowledge in the area of interest tend to allow any input at all. There can be times when too many cooks spoil the broth. Large scale projects especially those which are tech oriented have much more multidisciplinary collective intelligence like Samsung R and D for instance, their teams not only have engineers, but also artists, marketing, OR, product development professionals.

  4. November 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    It’s totally true, what you just said…
    I think there are two dimensions of collective intelligence, when it comes to the expertise-level – horizontal and vertical integration.

    Most of the times you would share your knowledge with people on a similar level of expertise. Especially in the field of research and R&D-projects as you already mentioned.
    But the value of vertical integration, by inputs from lower levels of expertise, is often underestimated. Even in such, quiet complex environments, like tech-development questions or suggestions from people knowing less about the specific topic, can sometimes give you the impulse needed to accomplish your task or to improve the outcome.


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