Freelancing is on the rise. According to a McKinsey study, 94 millions of Europeans became freelance by choice, with independence as a first motivation. This spirit has started to have an impact on collective intelligence within companies.
By definition, collective intelligence consists in being able to harness the power of the group to find innovative solutions to complex issues. It is about interactions: it is way more than the mere addition of individual intelligences. To say it quickly, collective intelligence means « 1+1= 3 ».
In a world where the definition of intelligence is expanding with the arrival of AI, this concept has never been so important to understand.
Arrives Geoff Mulgan, head of Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, who recently published Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World, at Princeton University Press. He explores the differences between environments that stimulate collective intelligence and those that hinder it.
Collective intelligence is not a given, and can regress. In ancient and recent History so many institutions and groups failed or even collapsed, despite being composed of brilliant individuals or having the best data.
For him, collective intelligence rests on five principles: freedom, diversity, reflexivity, focus and action. Let’s see how freelancers can impact these differents elements within companies.
Freelancers are free from space, time and groupthink. Consequently, they can help you create an environment that stimulates collective intelligence in your firm.
First, collaborative tools (GitHub, Trello, Todoist) enable freelancers to work remotely and liberate your company from space constraints.
Second, working with freelancers will also free your firm from time constraints: freelancers are quicker to recruit and to put to work. Moreover, the fact that they work on « project mode » is really adapted to agile methods.
Last, freelancers also enhance collective intelligence as they are free from groupthink, and can thus encourage a culture of difference in your company.
Such mindset has a tremendous importance on innovation. As a matter of fact, according to a 2018 Kalo platform study, today’s most innovative companies are also freelancers’ favorite firms to work with: Airbnb, Amazon, Apple and Google.
Freelancers also bring diversity, a key ingredient of collective intelligence.
They come from different backgrounds, and thus have a different mindset than employees. As their activity entirely depends on their skill set, they are therefore more exposed to skills obsolescence. Hence the necessity of continuous learning. This is why freelancers are often compared to entrepreneurs. They are aware that they can only count on themselves, especially in a fast-paced technological environment.
While they are first and foremost specialists and experts on a specific area, freelancers are very often endowed with interdisciplinary skills and a holistic vision. They are versatile, as they work on various projects in different industries. Consequently, they tend to be more innovative.
Moreover, this diversity also comes with different kinds of intelligences, like creative, practical or analytical intelligences.
These types of intelligences are complementary rather than opposed. For instance, having a group with only analytical intelligences would indeed be detrimental to its efficiency.
But more than diversity per se, what counts is to find the right mix between different kinds of intelligences for a given task.
Reflexivity means to be able to think about how you think, and to be aware of one’s own underlying assumptions and premises. But most importantly, it also means not to take for granted or self-explanatory any widely shared idea or belief.
Companies have a lot to learn from the way freelancers work before investing in onerous and theoretical executive training. Collaborating with them is the best way to have a closer look at their agile approach and methods. Freelancers are precious allies for companies when it comes to help employees grow both their mindset and execution.
Knowing how to focus is key, as we live more than ever in an « attention economy’. A crucial element is to know what matters in a given moment, but even more what does not matter. Against this backdrop, freelancers are also a key element of collective intelligence, as they can can encourage companies to shift to new work organizations.
For instance, working as a freelancer requires a strong discipline. They know themselves very well, especially regarding when and where to work in order to optimize their productivity. Their work methods and execution skills can benefit their coworkers and be scaled up to a team as a whole.
This list of principles would not be comprehensive without mentioning the need for groups to be able to get things done efficiently. While collective intelligence can help your company to reach higher and get better organised, it is also key to engage into action.
In this regard, freelancers can inspire companies. For instance, experimenting remote work with them can be a first step before considering its implementation for employees.
Accepting remote work within a company means to move from a monitoring system to a results-based management.
It is truly a laboratory for managerial innovation, resulting in happier and then high-performing employees.