A couple years ago I participated in a swarm intelligence session at a conference in Interlaken, Switzerland, and this event changed my direction of thinking – a lot. It was absolutely fascinating to observe how a large group of people starts developing it’s own collective thinking and achieves results that are above those of individuals in most cases, just as James Surowiecki indicates in „The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations“, first published in 2004. Earlier this year then I visited a speech in Vienna by Peter A. Gloor, Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Helsinki University of Technology and the University of Cologne. Peter Gloor developed the topic in „Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage Through Collaborative Innovation Networks“, published in 2005 and together with Scott Cooper in „Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing“ in 2007:
Apple with the iPod and iTunes, Google with its search engine, AdSense and a whole portfolio of innovative new products, Toyota with the Prius hybrid car, Nespresso with it’s trendy coffee machines and companies such as Whole Foods Market with breakthrough management models always seem to have an answer to the question „What will be the next cool thing and market trend?“ The search for the source of trends was coined as „coolhunting“ years ago.
Gloor and Cooper deeply analyse what „coolhunting“ is really about in a world of connected thinking, social networks and global online communication. Their discoverings are tremendously exciting and explain how groups of people work together to innovate. Many of the best ideas don’t come from single individuals or corporate research labs, but from the collective efforts of groups of people (Collaborative Innovation Networks – COINs). Those networks operate best under certain pre-conditions such as non-profit common goals (many open source projects work under the same principles). Gloor and Cooper developed a tool that allows to analyse communication in such COINs and identify trendsetters.
More and more business leaders around the globe start realizing the benefits and enormous potential of collective minds when it comes to innovation. The collective wisdom of crowds is all present in our today’s world. I therefore was not surprised when I asked the students in one of my innovation management lectures, if they can imagine studying in a world without Wikipedia and the answer was – „NO“!
by Bernhard Hoetzl