Andrew Rixon’s recent post on Anecdote regarding a book called ‘Improv Wisdom’ has got me thinking about about collective excellence vs individual excellence. I’m seeing lots of trends moving away from considering that intellect and productivity come from the individual to these coming from groups. Dave Snowden’s ‘From Atomism to Networks in Social Systems’, The Wisdom of Crowds, the increasing profile of techniques like Open Space Technology, World Cafe, Dotmocracy are all favouring collective wisdom. If you start translating that into excellence and productivity, the four maxims from Improv Wisdom begin to make sense:
- "Say Yes"
- "Be Average"
- "Make Mistakes, Please"
- "Take Care of Each Other"
These might be considered suboptimal behaviour in many organisations. Where the culture encourages individual excellence, and aggregates that up into what it believes to be optimal organisational performance these would be seen as signs of weakness. It seems possible thought that they might actually optimise overall organisational excellence in many cases. The last three especially perhaps add enough slack/redundancy in the system to enable more knowledge sharing, synergy, and the emergence of collective innovation. It’s well understood in designing networks that having a degree of redundancy (introducing cycles into the network, which ensures that nodes are connected by more than one path) both protects against failure and ensures more optimised system wide results in the long run. Is it possible that the above maxims might produce a similar effect in the complex social systems in the organisations we work in?