It was on a beach-front bar towards the end of last year that I had one of those casual conversations that leaves you with a lasting impression and plenty of ideas to ponder. On holiday and without too much interest in being in work-mode, I met a chap who happened to be the former COO of an international holiday operator.
It was over a beer on a sunny day that I (unfortunately at the time) sprung straight back in to work mode as he told me what felt like a nugget of intelligence that we could use at Jump.
During his time running said operator, they had worked with staff to carry out some psychometric testing to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. What came out of that research was pretty profound – that those at management level were excellent at identifying problems and issues but pretty weak when it came to finding the solutions need that would provide the fix.
This was in stark contrast to those who worked in the ‘Kidz Club’ – who admittedly, weren’t employed to be looking for strategic insights and problems – whose creative eye and understanding of how decisions would make an impact on the ground, meant that they were found to be first class problem solvers.
“What we found was, if we want to identify a problem, speak to the managers,” the former COO told me. “But if we want to solve them, speak to the guys in the Kidz Club.”
This felt like the definition of collective intelligence – different characters with different skillsets coming together to identify and solve problems for the benefit of themselves, the organisation, and the customer. And it changed the way we did things at Jump.
We didn’t think of ourselves as ignorant to anyone’s thoughts previously, but after this conversation, when we had an issue or a challenge worth looking at, we went out of our way to harness the different lenses we all look through. How would one of our uber-analytical and mathematical developers look at that? What would our designers see compared to our project managers? It completely changed how we were able to come to solutions – helping us come up with more robust answers, more quickly.
When I speak to people about the holiday company example, everyone seems to get it. You have your creative Kidz Club-ers, who are used to flexing to changes in the weather, the mood of the kids, groups sizes and who are working in the live environment and understand the impact of changes for the customer. And you have your managers, who understand guest complaints, the effect of changes on high-level operations and the main business objectives. Put them together and you have a much fuller picture.
To try to harness the power of collective intelligence, Amazon have introduced rules in their meetings that ensure the most junior employees share their thoughts and opinions first, to avoid what often becomes an echo chamber once the most senior person in the room has spoken.
Basecamp deliberately keep their meetings throughout the organisation to just three people, often in three different job roles but at the same level in the company hierarchy, to avoid the ego-pleasing nature of meetings and to harness the collective intelligence of the three people that matter on the project.
On the flip side, I’ve told this story many times and often heard the much-peddled line ‘great story – but it wouldn’t work in our organisation.’
Why not? Though I understand that every organisation is different and has its complexities, if a company as big as Amazon can carry-out organisation-wide cultural change, I’m betting it can be done in yours, too.
There is a world of organisations out there who have strong aims for business growth and evolution but the key to achieving those things it to actually grow and evolve. That all starts with evolving culturally to harness the collective intelligence at your disposal and ends with growing as a result.