How to tap into the global social brain to solve problems at work

How to tap into the global social brain to solve problems at work

No matter how smart any of us is, collectively we are smarter. Of course, this goes for behaving stupidly too, which is why we need to understand the conditions that create collective intelligence.

By bringing billions of people and ideas together in real time, global digital and social media platforms allow us to tap the global brain instantly, they:

  1. Expose you to new ideas and diverse people
  2. Allow you to road test your thinking
  3. Generate multiple solutions to difficult problems
  4. Produce the conditions that allow creativity and innovation to flourish.

Used well, digital and social media can help create better systems and better business.

1. Exposes you to new ideas and diverse people

It’s easy to get stuck in rut. We tend to befriend and hire people who are just like us, and while there’s a comfort to being around those who share our views or values, it can lead to stagnation.

We have numerous cognitive biases that make us more open to, and better able to, recall information we already agree with (confirmation bias). That means we reinforce what we think, irrespective of the quality of our original thinking. The brain does this because it’s efficient — a mental shortcut (heuristic) takes less energy than processing every input.

Technology is similar. It helps reduce overwhelm by learning about our preferences and filtering results. For example, we could both do a Google search for the same term and come up with a different set of results. This is because Google takes search history and personal information like location into consideration. It’s handy but unchecked creates an echo chamber.

Algorithms are also not neutral. According to Cynthia Dwork and others, algorithms contain the biases of the coder. We should not assume that what we find online is ‘the truth’ but rather, just more information to look at.

If we want to expose ourselves to new ideas and people, we need to choose to, but once we do, there are many, high quality sources available, most of them free.

If you want to know what’s at the cutting edge of scientific and intellectual thinking, this site provides succinct answers to fascinating questions. Often the essays are counterintuitive and challenge ‘known truths’.

  1. Do you still divide your team into right and left-brain thinkers? That’s a dead idea according to neuroscientist Sarah Jane Blakemore. Is it time for a rethink, in particular if you’re trying to create innovative teams?
  2. Do you think more money will make talent stay? That may be a consequence of focusing illusion. According to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman income is an important determinant of people’s satisfaction but it is far less important than most people think. If everyone had the same income, the differences among people in life satisfaction would be reduced by less than 5%.’
  3. Do you believe life is a struggle for existence in a Darwinian dog-eat-dog world? Have you developed your work persona accordingly? Consider Roger Highfield‘s view that cooperation is central to evolution and that we should think ‘Snuggle for Existence’ instead. Could this impact behaviour? Structure? Incentive schemes?


TED is a hub of short, powerful talks on a wide range of topics from technology and science, to business and global issues. Like Edge, it exposes you to thinking and ideas that challenge preconceived limits but also give research-backed ideas for how to get the best out of yourself and your team.

  1. Will a reward motivate staff? Dan Pink shows how complex motivation is. It’s not always about the dollar.
  2. Has productivity declined even though you’ve streamlined or created lean processes? Dan Ariely’s experiments show that drudgery of repetitive work saps motivation, and that purpose and progress give meaning to work. How do you create a purposeful culture?
  3. Kathryn Schultz shows how important it is to create a culture where it is okay to be wrong and why.

These insights and many others could impact the way you do business.

Open Culture

Open Culture is a rich source of cultural & educational media that you can use to keep your thinking fresh, create group learning, or integrate into executive leadership programs. Here you can find:

  1. 950 free online courses from top universities around the world
  2. 675 free movies from classics to noir
  3. 550 free audio books and 600 free eBooks
  4. MOOCs from great universities
  5. 46 language courses, from Chinese to Spanish and English
  6. 200 free kids educational resources

There are many other rich sources of information including:

  • – instead of wasting your life watching TV, watch something mind opening and educational.
  • – a resource that connects students of all ages to free lessons from a curated list of web tutorials and courses
  • CrashCourse –video crash courses in everything from anatomy and physiology to government, politics and economics.
  • r/DepthHub – DepthHub gathers the best in-depth submissions and discussion on Reddit with high quality discussion and theory.

2. Allows you to road test thinking

One of the great advantages of putting a question or idea out there is that people with different histories, cultures, educations, and insights can agree, disagree, subtract from or add to what you think. This adds to the intellectual pot and road tests your thinking, making it layered and more rigorous.

These social media websites bring people together around topics to do just that


Quora is a social media site that aggregates collective insights into questions to provide broader, richer insights. Like many crowd-sourced sites, the community tends to self-correct wrong information.

  1. Want to know the best social media apps in boutique retail? Heard of Nanoshop, Shoptab, or Ecwid? F-shop? Shareright? Etsy?
  2. Want to know if your WordPress blog is safe for ecommerce? Then you may want to know about SSL certificates or what plugins make a site safe to shop.


Twitter connects you to news, companies, people, interests, and cutting edge information and ideas, all in real time. Put simply Twitter is a like texting on a global scale. Twitter is like an index for the global brain processing billions of bites of information and synthesising them into an important but imperfect representation of reality, much like the brain.

3. Generates multiple solutions to difficult problems

Difficult problems need out of the box thinking. Many organisations realise there’s a competitive advantage to getting different kinds of brains together because unexpected insights or synergies emerge.

There are free and paid crowdsourcing platforms where problem-solvers come together to generate ideas.


InnoCentive is a global network of millions of problem solvers that crowdsource innovation solutions from the world’s smartest people, who compete to provide solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges like –

  1. What are the insurance risks for 2025 and beyond?
  2. How can we use technology to provide education in crisis zones?

Brands can also use this to gain deep customer insights as well as credibility.

MasterCard, for example, provides a prize for identifying the most customer-focused organisation working to enable poor people in developing countries to access formal financial products and services. The advantages for MasterCard are obvious but as a brand play, it puts them at the edge.

Chaordix allows people submit, discuss, refine and rank ideas to discover the most-likely-to-succeed solutions.


Here, volunteer citizen scientists help researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them by providing them with opportunities to contribute to real discoveries in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology.

4. Produce the conditions that allow creativity and innovation to flourish

Counterintuitively putting a bunch of smart people in a group is not what makes a group smart, says Thomas Malone, head of MIT Sloane’s Centre for Collective Intelligence.

Instead to create a smart group you need:

  1. Social perceptiveness
  2. Even conversation (a group where one person dominates is on average less intelligence than one in which everyone is allowed to speak)
  3. Groups that include women and men, importantly, socially perceptive people.

Social media provides all of these things because it:

  • Opens networks — you do not need to belong to a particular university or club
  • Gets your foot in the door — irrespective of who you are or where you are from
  • Gives everyone a voice — not just those confident enough to put up their hands
  • Makes you visible 24/7 — meaning you can participate when you have the time, allowing you to fulfil your other responsibilities.

Social media opens up networks that allow you to connect with people who have shared interests around the world and with two billion active social media users; the potential for synergy is huge.

More reading:

How to tap into connected communication to super-charge your career
5 reasons why knowledge will fast track your career
How becoming an expert can boost your career


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