It is not those who talk about it the most who use it the most, and for good reason… The practice of collective intelligence is demanding, disturbing for millennia-old cultures rooted in the prevalence of the knowing, the powerful, the famous or the most visible over others.
How to attract and gather many people in a very short time around a subject without a “headliner”, without a “role model”, without a “guru”?
The Internet has disrupted business models by giving the masses a tool for global networking at marginal cost. It also makes high value-added information accessible to all, regardless of social status or rank in organizations. Management through the possession of information, through each other, wavers and knows it is doomed. The same destiny is threatening political structures, the media and trade unions, which until now have had a monopoly on the broadcasting of information to the masses.
Collective intelligence is gaining traction in all fields of life with the advent of the Internet. Open source developments, APIs, talent platforms (Creads, Comet, Malt, Fiverr or UpWork), supremacy of agile and cross-disciplinary teamwork, rapid emergence of new political and citizen movements, unlabelled, yellow jackets. The last autocrats resist with nostalgia in the face of a complexity and speed of the world that overwhelms them. The incantations of participatory democracy seem so disembodied when they come from self-centred people, the speeches to the nation by great political or trade union leaders appear so futile when they try to reformulate a truth that social media always ends up unveiling.
For my part, I have not escaped this transformation and must admit that after having been fed with economic models reputed to be eternal (electricity, transport, telecom networks, hotels, banking, etc.), with strategic management and the need for docile executives, with events around one or more stars, it was hard for me to imagine what we were going to achieve under the impetus of my friend Susanne Aebischer.
While working with Philippe Pinault, the founder of Holaspirit and Talkspirit, and Olivier Trannoy, a wonderful writer, to write our forthcoming book “The Next Generation Enterprise: from traditional management to adaptive, and purpose-driven organizations”, I felt the need to bring together this community we had discovered. An extraordinary community of pioneers, updated by Frédéric Laloux in his bestseller “Re-inventing organizations”. A community of next-generation leaders who bring the genius of agile to the scale of the organization after Scrum applied it to software development, thus to technological innovation, and then Lean Startup adapted it to multi-disciplinary tech + marketing + design teams. The first management disrupters are usually experienced managers who deploy the principles of self-management in a progressive but systematic way in their organization. They are rarely dogmatic and adapt the most popular methods (sociocracy, sociocracy3.0, holacracy, teal, organic, cellular organizations, aequacy,…) to their context, to the maturity of their social body.
After having made a short and accelerated world tour to meet them, I launched with my team the idea of “The NextGen Enterprise Summit” to bring together the world’s finest of these pioneers, unknown to the greatest number, in Paris, at the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, the symbolic place of the PACTE law and its opening to the purpose of company statutes. This is no small feat in the land of Napoleon and Descartes, great innovators if ever there were any, but anachronistic nowadays, by construction…
Just a few days before the opening of this summit, the virus struck Europe, and you know the rest. As I used to tell my students when I was teaching in business or engineering schools, “reality now goes beyond fiction, forget TV series, follow the news and especially economics and politics; particularly the economic leaders, they are the new politicians”. Who would have, indeed, predicted the Twin Towers, the timetable for the fall of the Berlin Wall, Subprimes, Lehman Brothers, Enron, the GAFAM at 1000 billion dollars (each) of valuation, the elections of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, this pandemic and our changes in behavior?
“The best health system in the world” had no more masks and tests than the French army of movement capability in 1940? And for good reason, its operation, like that of our major corporations and institutions, is dated.
But let’s get back to “The NextGen Enterprise Summit”. We had therefore planned to virtualize the event to minimize the risk of contagion and provide access to the speeches that would be held behind closed doors, by videoconference. However, the closure of public places has this time proved to be a blow to our ability to adapt.
Susanne Aebischer, the TRNSTN (Transition) association, including Melanie Wydler and Martin Schick, my team and I decided to take up the challenge again and reconfigure our system to contribute to the animation of the aforementioned pioneer community. While waiting to meet again for good in Paris, we scheduled two Open Space Forum sessions of 1h30 each, two days apart: no headliners, no heroes, or rather yes, only heroes, practitioners and pioneers willing to work together and learn from one another. This experience allowed me to live concretely what Emile Servan Schreiber describes in his book “Super Collectif” and his research. Consider that the average age of the participants in these sessions was 45 years old; with 80 participants, we are looking at 2,000 years of professional experience! What management star could compete? In reality, none, and for good reason: it has been shown that brains that are brought into interaction give off a cognitive and relational capacity far superior to the disjointed sum of their abilities. The results are, in my opinion, quite astounding. Not only has the community — brought together in this unprecedented way — forged real ties of proximity and complicity, but the intellectual production, in a very short time, is quite remarkable.
Judge for yourself: the launch of these two sessions of the Virtual Open Space Forum was announced on April 14, exactly 7 days before the first session. In one week, therefore, with no media budget, 120 registered participants from exactly 14 different countries. 80 of these 120 registered participants took part over the two days with a dropout in the first 10 minutes of the first session of 15 participants who probably came to “see” or were perhaps destabilized by the experience presented. For the rest, 50 people attended the entire session on the 21st and about the same number of participants were there on the 23rd, with about ten participants renewing their participation from one session to the next.
We carried out these two events with an excellent multidisciplinary team and top tools: Zoom for simultaneous videoconferencing allowing up to 500 participants (this will be for the next time) and Talkspirit to connect, share information, collaborate and communicate.
Unlike the face-to-face events, we noticed that late arrivals were minimal and certainly never exceeded 5 minutes. There was therefore no need to plan for the famous 15-minute welcome to get started.
The very trendy radio of the TRNSTN association distilled the first vibes and Martin Schick, bow tie and fitted cap, launched a giant inclusion round by chat. Susanne, host of the Open Space Forum sessions and a specialist in holding them in physical space, experimented with their virtual format for the very first time. In this new context, everything becomes easier and more complex at the same time; one thing is certain, the reliability of digital tools is no longer an option. Easier, therefore, because the logistics of room reservation, reception, catering and sound system are no longer necessary.
More complex due to the need of:
> master a precise technological device:
- registration and waiting-room management,
- massive videoconference including a plenary room and group work rooms,
- communication, collaboration and co-editing,
- live music broadcasting,
> manage the timing with no “dead time”, of several different sequences in format and group size, and on a necessarily shorter, rhythmic slot,
> coordinate between several facilitators each on a separate site (in this case each at home),
> promote networking in a totally innovative context.
Martin’s dynamism and Susanne’s empathy to make participants discover every country represented by the participants and the communication functionalities of the two tools finished the “icebreaking”. The sessions in groups of 4 allowed our heroes to get to know one another and to address the issue of the next generation organizations in the face of the crisis. The feedback from this first exchange and work was enthusiastic: “too short”, “the personalities in my group are impressive”, “the topic is perceived as being crucial everywhere in the world”.
The event really took on its dimension and rhythm at the end of the second plenary and the second phase of group work. The pitches from these groups drew up 43 key ideas that were prioritized by the Talkspirit votes.
Ten work topics emerged and were worked on two days later:
- The role of the non-monetary economy, free services, citizen engagement — Charles Poretz
- How to help leaders let go to evolve towards a more agile and autonomous organization — Marie-Thérèse Maeder
- How, as a leader, can one feel secure and confident in a decentralized and constitutional organization? — François Richer
- Trust in our teams — how can we (as horizontal organizations) rely on our teams to get through crises? Trust is a way to experiment, to let go, to act quickly. Inviting collective intelligence to reach its full potential — Betina Van Meter
- Organizations focused on people rather than profit alone? — Xavier Bianne
- The importance of values (trust, responsibility, etc.) for new generation organizations? Will a greater eco-responsibility be implemented? — Beat Vonlanthen
- The promotion of an internal culture of caring, empathy and consideration for the individual as a whole, professionally and personally — Ilan Cohen
- How do we manage the tension between total uncertainty and the need for a goal and purpose to motivate and guide each individual and organization? — Delphine Desgurse
- What are the new relational and self-management skills in future adaptive enterprises? — Jean-François Vermont
- Fear/anxiety and the role of leaders in the transition from ego to ecosystem — Bibiana Jurado
I have to admit, we were really happy to meet again 48 hours later. The confinement and the difficulties of the moment certainly contributed to this feeling, but a frank closeness motivated us in spite of the very recent connection. We quickly developed the conviction that we shared the same values and that we were working on the core subject of the future of work and therefore of society…
The adaptability of human beings is such that our second session on April 23rd took full advantage of our learning from the day before. Intense chats, sincere and warm atmosphere for a very rich intellectual and concrete production. The pitches and syntheses of each group received spontaneous and nourished applause.
We had a hard time leaving each other! TRNSTN’s music kept us in motion and kept us in informal exchanges 30 minutes after the work was finished.
We were not only in collective intelligence but also in collective intuition.
The syntheses of the working groups are currently being edited in article format for an upcoming redistribution within the community.