Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

10 December 2008

Collective intelligence patterns

Clark @ 8:42 am

I had the good fortune to get to meet Tom Malone way back when he was working on what makes computer games fun (cited in my book).  I stopped by PARC (then the geek’s Mecca), and got to bask in the environment that produced the GUI on top of Doug Engelbart’s mouse.

I knew Tom then went on to be a thought leader out of the Sloan School of Management, studying office work and then higher levels of activity, leading to a recent book “The Future of Work”.  I happened to meet him again at an event at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, and he was gracious enough to remember me and discuss his work (I challenged him about his ‘guilds’, since they still can’t get reasonable healthcare that businesses can get, don’t get me started).

I mention this backstory to show the trajectory of thought leadership he’s had (and yet still remain a really nice guy).  He just spoke at the celebration of Doug Engelbart’s work, and while I couldn’t attend, I was looking for blog postings and found his slide deck.

You (should) know I like models, and he’s gone beyond talking about how web 2.0 social networking can facilitate work, to actually analyze and distill some underlying principles. In his presentation on The Landscape of Collective Intelligence, he comes up with four characteristics of design patterns (or genes, as he calls them): What (strategy), Who (staffing), How (structure & process), & Why (incentives/alignment).  This is a really nice systematic breakdown into patterns tied to real examples.

For Who, he distinguishes between a hierarchical arrangement and a crowd, the latter being a more random structure.  He focuses on the latter.  For Why he breaks it out into Money, Love, & Glory.  For What, it’s Create a solution or Decide on an issue.  How is whether you’re having it independent or dependent.  The latter two work out to a nice little matrix with collection, collaboration, many-to-many, and group decision.

I really liked his statement that “failure to get motivational factors right is probably the single greatest cause of failure in collective intelligence experiments”.  That’s insightful, and useful.

The implications for informal learning are obvious, I’ll have to think more about formal learning.  Still, a great foundation for thinking about using networks in productive ways.  Definitely worth a look.


  1. I loved the slides. I was not there at the conference, either. I was wondering whether those slides have creative common license? I would love to take a couple of his diagrams and blog about them. This is the first coherent model of Collective Intelligence I have seen.

    Comment by Dorai Thodla — 10 December 2008 @ 10:39 am

  2. [...] And fellow NextNow Collaboratory pal Clark Quinn’s Learnlets blog (learnings on learning) who posted his take on Collective Intelligence Patterns [...]

    Pingback by Shaping Youth » Program for the Future.org: Human/Media Toolsystems Timeline — 10 December 2008 @ 10:36 pm

  3. Dorai, don’t know about the license, unfortunately. I too would like to use them, but I figure maybe one under the ‘fair use’ doctrine? :) Yes, the best systematic analysis I’ve seen. Nice to hear from you!

    Comment by Clark — 11 December 2008 @ 9:06 pm

  4. I think the motivational factors for formalized learning are more obvious. Career credit. Required by your supervisor. Can’t advance in your job until trained for new equipment. Etc.

    I suspect what Tom refers to applies in both business and informal settings – namely, that unless everyone is motivated to participate, they won’t, and even worse they might throw a monkey wrench into the works. Can’t count the number of times I’ve run into this.

    Comment by Sky — 12 December 2008 @ 10:24 am

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