by Petro Poutanen
The collaborative capacity of the Web might bring about a new era of human intelligence: the social singularity. The social singularity refers to collective human intelligence enabled by a huge number of interconnected individuals. Imagine the possibilities of an enormous information pool that the millions of web users comprise. Some examples are Wikipedia and more recently Aardvark that provides an extended social network for answering people’s unique questions. Also firms are seeking ways to benefit from the collaborative capacity. For example, a firm called InnoCentive provides a common platform for companies looking for solutions and people willing to solve companies’ problems. What is important here is that people are contributing creative outcomes without centrally planned organizations. So the question goes: How the emergence of social singularity makes collaborative creativity possible?
Momentarily, we are lacking a common, coherent theory of network-based collaboration but having multiple terms for the phenomenon (crowdsourcing, collective intelligence, open innovation, the wisdom of the crowd – to mention but a few). Clearly, we are talking about some kind of “self-organizing” – an uncoordinated behavior of a large mass that produces something coherent and cogent collectively – yet we don’t know if there is a single logic behind the different kinds of self-organizing systems, such as ant colonies and human brains.
I have tried to figure out how to describe a system of collaborative creativity in online. What happens when people solve problems collaboratively? I have come to think about this as a system of creativity. The famous systems model of creativity suggested by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi is constituted of three parts: the cultural domain, the field of experts and the individual. For creativity to emerge, the individual must produce a novel variation of cultural information, which is then subsequently selected by the field for inclusion in the cultural domain. Thus, creativity is the product of all constituent parts in the system and emerges from the interplay of them.
What would this model look like in the collaborative online environment? First of all, the creator (individual) and the evaluator (the field of experts) can be the same person. A person participating in a project of programming might contribute the project with a single line of code and simultaneously, by that very same contribution, act as a peer to another contributor by suggesting a modification to the code made by that participant. So, in a collaborative field anyone can be an expert and a creator at the same time. Secondly, we have knowledge that on the one hand belongs to the cultural background of a participant, and on the other hand to the field of continuous negotiation.
This perspective opens up a dual nature of both the contributor and the knowledge in a collaborative field: the contributor as a “creator” and “modifier”, and the knowledge as a “cultural” and “shared/negotiated”. And when thinking about this collaboration on the systemic level, it is the group in collaboration that decides whether a variation produced by an individual (on the basis of the collective work) is selected or not. The picture below illustrates that dynamics.
Figure 1. A model for Creative Collaboration in Online Environment. The process starts when a problem or a need for change occurs. An individual contributor proposes a solution to it in a form of a variation drawn from the cultural knowledge. Subsequently, other participants work as peers to the proposed variation and give feedback to participants. Then variation is modified, if necessary, and finally selected. After the requisite amount of iteration, the final solution is moved to the area of cultural knowledge.