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Collaborative vs. Collective Intelligence: What's the Difference?

Written by 
Brianna Hansen
 and 
  —  
May 23, 2022

You might’ve heard the saying, “great minds think alike!” That couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Many of the most productive partnerships throughout history worked precisely because two great minds thought differently in complementary ways. 

Case in point: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In one of the most well-known co-founding stories ever, Jobs was more sales-minded and more of a “big picture” guy, while Wozniak was the more technical electronics guru. Clearly, their partnership worked out well for Apple — despite Hollywood portraying the two Steves as constantly butting heads.

Great minds don’t think alike. They think together. And yet, when you ask leaders about the biggest barriers to innovation, they say disconnection prevents teams from coming together in a productive way. 

This is what makes collaborative intelligence so important. Organizations can no longer afford to leave collaboration to chance. But, what is collaborative intelligence and how does it solve the disconnection problem?

What is collaborative intelligence? 

Collaborative intelligence is a systematic approach that connects teams to unlock their genius — taking insights and ideas from possibility to reality. Collaborative intelligence combines proven methods with [digital] collaboration spaces and insights into how teams work together. The result gives a whole new meaning to teamwork.

Before collaborative intelligence, organizations tried to solve the disconnection problem simply by adding more tools to their already overflowing toolbox. When that didn’t work, the next knee-jerk solution was, “we need to go back to the office.” This misses the point though. The problem isn’t about where your team is working. It’s about how they’re working. Collaborative intelligence solves for the isolation and disconnection many employees feel by making collaboration intentional and measurable. 

Principles of collaborative intelligence

1. People are greater together than apart

From Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to Orville and Wilbur Wright, examples of great partnerships abound. The idea that innovation happens when isolated geniuses work alone in their offices or labs has been debunked over and over again.

According to Duncan Watts, a Wharton professor of operations, information, and decisions, teams work more efficiently than even the most productive individuals. Whereas individuals working alone are limited by their own experiences, biases, and blindspots, individuals working in a team can borrow strength from others. Collaborative teams are more than the sum of their parts.

2. Teams can’t exist without connection

Of course, gaining efficiency requires more than tossing a group of great minds together. Leaders also have to facilitate connections among team members. 

There are three levels of connection needed:

  • Psychological safety: team members must feel supported in speaking up and taking risks.
  • Group commitment: strong teams feel a sense of trust, respect, and commitment to common goals.
  • Team actualization: when teams achieve outcomes together, their connections deepen and everyone experiences the satisfaction of actualized potential.

3. Collaboration should not be left to chance

For decades, design thinking has influenced everything from office spaces to computer hardware to careers. Why shouldn’t we turn our attention to designing collaborative experiences too?

Drawing on design thinking, Agile methodologies, and the principles of facilitation, collaboration design codifies the available expertise from each of these fields. It is possible to elevate teamwork, you just need to know how.  

4. Collaboration spaces power connected teams

Teams can only work well together under the right conditions. At one time, the right conditions meant everyone huddled together around a conference table hashing out the details of the next product launch. Today, collaboration spaces can be physical, digital, or both.

With carefully crafted spaces, teams can communicate freely and dynamically. And when teams have more productive collaboration sessions, there is more time to innovate.

5. Measuring collaboration is possible and essential

Finally, when it comes to investing in collaboration, leaders need a way to measure success. Data about collaboration effectiveness is plentiful, but too few organizations know how to put the insights into practice. The proof is in measuring behavior change over time.

Collaboration data can be pulled from different levels:

  • The individual
  • The team
  • The organization
  • The ecosystem

👉🏽 Download the principles to get the full scoop on ✨ collaborative intelligence ✨

The framework for the MURAL Collaborative Intelligence System

What is collective intelligence?

Collaborative intelligence is not to be confused with collective intelligence. Collective intelligence is shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and collective efforts of individuals. One goal of collective intelligence is consensus building.

Principles of collective intelligence

According to theorists Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, collective intelligence is an outcome of group behavior they categorize as mass collaboration that is founded upon four distinct principles: Openness, Peering, Sharing, and Acting Globally.

1. Openness

Simply put, this condition implies that all participants approach their work or a project without thinking “this idea is mine.” Open sharing and proliferation of ideas is prioritized over intellectual property. 

2. Peering

Peering implies that collaboration on work or projects will happen “horizontally,” without the need for a hierarchical structure of approval. Allowing all to be equal contributors sharing their ideas, this self-organizing principle can be more efficient.

3. Sharing

Sharing clarifies the need for individuals to freely exchange ideas and feedback. This condition is essential for collective intelligence because when team members hold back, they deprive the group of ideas and critiques that could steer them toward innovation.

4. Acting Globally

Groups acting with collective intelligence in mind are focused on advancement. And siloing can prevent teams from advancing. This principle encourages groups to reach out across their entire network of collaborators, overcoming barriers like departmental borders, in an effort to capture new ideas, talents, and markets.

The framework for collective intelligence.

Collaborative intelligence vs. collective intelligence

Collective intelligence is a term primarily used within sociology, political science, and educational settings to describe the amplification effect that happens when many minds come  together to share knowledge. While these synergies are often realized through the aid of artificial intelligence, what is emphasized is the symbiotic relationship among individuals.

On its own, however, collective intelligence cannot yield the results organizations desire. For too long, leaders have put teams of individuals together hoping those synergies and symbiotic relationships would emerge naturally or serendipitously. But without a clear framework bringing together technology, collaboration design, guided methods, and more to support departments and teams, the collective just isn’t all that intelligent.

Enter collaborative intelligence. Its purpose-built design helps enterprises unlock the pre-existing collective genius within their teams. With collaborative intelligence, teams know how to work together in specific ways to manifest the promised benefits.

Collaborative intelligence reliably yields benefits like:

  • Smarter teams
  • Improved creativity
  • Identification of new markets
  • Increased productivity
  • Stronger coordination across departments
  • Reduced costs

To further understand the difference between collective and collaborative intelligence, take for instance, how teams at Autodesk have improved their decision-making by implementing collaborative intelligence. When Autodesk transitioned from traditional installed software to cloud-based subscriptions, they needed a way to synchronize the entire company. Autodesk brought in MURAL as a shared workspace and LUMA Institute to teach collaborative problem solving.

Prior to using collaborative intelligence, Autodesk had a strong culture of openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally. However, bringing it all together into a system they could use was the real game changer. With this new system, they were able to connect across distances, have a pervasive source of truth, and get insight into how content was shared.

Collaborative intelligence sparks collective intelligence 

The spirit of collective intelligence lives within collaborative intelligence. By not only creating the conditions under which teams can work well, but also giving them the tools, training, and motivation to unlock their potential, collaborative intelligence enables your greatest minds to think together.

Collaborative intelligence is the spark your team needs to stoke the fires of innovation. 🔥

👉🏻 Learn more about collaborative intelligence here. 🧠 💫

About the author

About the authors

Brianna Hansen

Sr. Integrated Content Manager
Brianna is a storyteller at MURAL. When she's not writing about transforming teamwork, she enjoys swimming, cooking (& eating) Italian food, reading psychological thrillers, and playing with her two cats.