How many MBA students does it take to change a light bulb?

Leaving class after week one I must admit that I felt sense of trepidation at the uncertainty of the upcoming semester and the range of topics discussed for which I know so little about. However, after week two, that feeling has been replaced with enthusiasm. I have so many questions and there are even more unknowns in relation to digital transformation. But after our first real engagement as a group, I can say with some confidence, that whatever knowledge I develop over the course of this semester, will be the collective thoughts of a very talented and diverse group of individuals, and that is better than what I could have hoped for. Over the course of the next 12 weeks, I hope to not only witness the cultivation of ideas and the cumulative exchange of diverse thought, but also to steal from the cognitive surplus that is generated by the group.

Our class on collective intelligence provided a great segue into what lies ahead semester, but I could not help but reflect on its relevance and how it has re-framed my perspective on the events of the past couple of months. And so, what I have been left to wonder, is that the wisdom may not lie in the size of the crowd, but in the nature of the crowd.

I wonder has technology and the internet come too far in its quest to create, develop and nurture collective intelligence. The early headline-grabbing events of 2021 worry me that there is now a new problem. There is clearly the existence of some far-fetched, often dangerous ideologies across the world. Technology and the internet have given these ideas a means of aggregation, turning fringe ideas into dangerous movements, amplified by the power of social media. We were witness to an object lesson in collective action with the GameStop scenario. Through collective intelligence and audacity, users of the Reddit forum WallStreetBets executed a sophisticated “short squeeze”, taking wealth from the pockets of billionaire investors and giving it instead to indebted US workers, using the ironically named Robinhood trading app to do so. Another example of how precarious and dangerous uninformed groupthink can be, was when we witnessed the chaotic product of what happens when the imaginal breaches the real world; the deplorable attack on the Capitol Building on January 6th.

Scottish writer Charles Mackay took a dim view of collective intelligence as far back as 1841 and I think his prescient thoughts highlights the perils of collective groupthink and the destructive impact of pooling uninformed cognitive surplus together.

People, it is well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their sense slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay

And so, my concern with the future wisdom of crowds is if it will ultimately come down to the level of technology adoption, on both an individual and corporate level. As cognitive surpluses are being aggregated on digital platforms, I wonder will this wisdom be skewed in the favor of individuals who are adopting technology the fastest; is the wisdom correlated with digital maturity and is the more adoptive population dominated by an unevenly weighted distribution? Does this new dynamic represent a breeding ground for large scale groupthink to flourish at the expense of collective intelligence? The divergence in the levels of adoption means that wise members of the crowd risk being left behind, as the ill-informed mob continue on their dangerous path. A guess is a result of information plus error, but what if the numbers of errors are not cancelled through lack of diversity? Is faster universal adoption the crucial element to ensure that diversity is maintained among the crowd?

But as we discussed this week, there is still great reason to believe in the wisdom of the crowd, and we have seen numerous examples, one of which was mentioned in the blog post of our classmate Olivia on how Elon Musk is utilizing crowdsourcing to find a solution for the best carbon capture technology. And for those who are fans of the soft drink High C, you would endorse the wisdom of the crowd that have pushed for, and successfully seen its reinstatement at McDonalds restaurants this week.

While these scenarios have played out in the public forum, I am hoping that this class will help me to understand how to avoid such examples of unhelpful groupthink in the workplace, ensuring that the loudest voices will not be generated by a skewed crowd, lacking the diversity of thought required for the effective generation of innovative ideas. How can companies ensure that their actions are products of the wisdom of the crowd and not the anarchy of a mob? As we will undoubtedly come to see over the course of the semester, is just how important people are to digital transformation and how personal interactions will be changed in an increasingly digital world.
I learned a new term this week- Digital Nomad – when I saw how Nissan have introduced a means for a “work from anywhere” approach. But this represents a challenge that workplaces now have in creating the necessary means of cultivating the collective intelligence as we begin to return to physical offices, with some workplaces championing the prospect of a hybrid work environment.

The Life of a Digital Nomad

I am now left wondering if these new flexible work situations and a hybrid workforce results in fewer serendipitous exchanges, the type of casual collisions of innovative ideas that take place at the water cooler, or in the cafeteria. Is there a digital alternative to ensure that these cues to firm culture are not lost in cyberspace? In a post-COVID world, it will be interesting to see the companies that can exhibit their nimbleness and successfully adapt to the new organizational challenges posed by the pandemic and those firms who can harness the power of technology to improve organizational knowledge flows, whether that be through the effective design of workplaces or in ensuring synchronization of the schedules of their hybrid workforce.

And so, I may not know the answers to these questions, a discomfort I will undoubtedly become more familiar with over the course of the semester. I may not even have the answers upon graduating either. But I now know that I will be equipped with the collective talents and intelligence of the class of #ISY8621. And after our discussion this week, it’s clear that our collective understanding will be far greater than anything I could have come up with on my own.

So how many of my classmates do I need for that light-bulb? While this time last week I would have had to take a guess, I am now confident in the knowledge that together as a group we will be able to come up with the best solution. And if not, then I can always turn to the r/lightbulbMBA thread on Reddit for help…..

Chance favors the collective mind


  1. Scott Siegler · ·

    This is a good reflection on both the exciting and dangerous power of crowds. I think a good analogy for crowds may be fire. When it is kept within the boundaries of a controlled environment like a hearth or fireplace, fires have the power to create warmth that helps sustain people. However, when it is left on its own, fire can run wild and destroy everything it its path. i feel like so much of the burden of what happens with crowds rests on the shoulders of the people who organize and manage them. I think this goes for every type of pursuit crowds can be used for from businesses to cultural movements.

  2. olivia_levy8 · ·

    First, I am happy to see that Hi-C has been reinstated at McDonalds, and it serves as a great example of the power of the crowd. We have been talking a lot about the benefits of the crowd this week and it is great to look at it from a different angle as you have done. Especially when speaking of the power of social media, groupthink as seen during the Capitol Riots, can become deadly.

  3. I like how you’re relating topics we’re discussing in class with relevant current events, further proving the practical and importance of understanding digital transformation that will not only impact our jobs but even in everyday life. The concept of groupthink and the dangers of extreme movement will definitely need to be addressed better. I’d be interested to see how will different social platforms adapt and how will they change the way we use them going forward.

  4. therealerindee · ·

    As fellow classmates have said, I really like the use of current events to really highlight both the good, orange drink back at McDonald’s, and the bad, Capitol riots, as the opposite ends of the groupthink spectrum. However, I want to hone in on how groupthink and collective intelligence in the workplace has shifted with the move to virtual. I agree with you that it will be interesting to see how companies adapt to the huge gap in collective intelligence that they have lost over the last year, but I also believe that there is no true digital experience that can replicate being in room with people and brainstorming. Call me old school, but I just don’t think that platform exists and even if there was one that came close, I still don’t think it would be as productive as seeing your peers face to face. However, I believe the flexible work week is here to stay and I agree that companies are going to have to get creative to be able to continue to create “culture” thats brings together its workers.The next 2 years are going to be very interesting.

  5. This is a really great post! One thing I want to mention that when I was working at AWS, McDonald’s just partnered with AWS to use technology to help retail stores deliver the food while the food is still warm. Their biggest pain point is that the food was cooked a long time before the customer arrived and picked it up. McDonald’s is trying to provide the best experience to customers through various technology revolutions. They would use a geofence to detect which customer enters the store or nearby and send recommendation notifications to customers. e.g on a cold/snow day, when you are near the McDonald’s store, your phone will be receiving a notification saying McDonald’s has warm coffee for you. This is an example of how digital transformation can help companies improve their customer service.

  6. I like how you challenged the benefits of group thinking, recognizing that it can serve to good but also to bad consequences. Some of the negative consequences of crowd-thinking can be how we bend the truth. Can something become “truth” because it is repeated over and over? Or, as you said, because someone is louder?
    Similarly, while the internet has allowed us to expand our horizons, I could not agree more with you on how much we will have to adapt once we go back to the office or at least once all offices become “hybrid”. Many of the problems I encountered at work were resolved in a coffee break and a Zoom meeting just doesn’t cut the deal. I understand some are trying to make use of tools such as Microsoft Teams to encourage online exchange, I just think creativity needs human interaction.

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