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How does NASA maximise collective intelligence to drive innovation?

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Steven Rader
NASA, Deputy Manager of Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation
Published on
7/21/2020

We’ve all heard the saying teamwork makes the dreamwork, but for our client, it’s more than just an idea – it’s a way of working. 
The theory of collective intelligence and the benefits of crowdsourcing have been a hot topic for some time now, with organizations looking to work in a more agile way and solve some of their most pressing business concerns. So, what’s the appeal of collective intelligence and why is teamwork and collaboration in the workplace so important to its success?

We are finding that the new way of doing business is really agile.
Steven Rader

The future, but not as we know it…

We live in a time where technology, in particular automation, is rapidly changing the way we work.  The pace is extreme and, in a solution driven environment, traditional models of working are not able to keep up. 

NASA have been using crowdsourcing to shape their work for some time now, with an in-house community as well as access to over 40 different crowdsourcing groups, which represent about 110 million people around the world.

They believe it can be difficult not to fall into the trap of siloed ways of working and that projects can stagnate if they are too inwards focused.  Indeed, getting the best out of any team and finding the right skills and experience to solve hard problems can be a struggle – and a costly one too.

According to the traditional model of corporate employment, companies are spending on average £1000 dollars per year per employee on training and upskilling – but with the amount of change coming over the horizon, this is simply not sustainable.

Creative problem solving

Is there a solution to this?  Well, by harnessing the knowledge of people all over the world who have unique interests, skills and perspectives, collective intelligence is being touted as one of the most significant ways that organizations can prepare for the Future of Work.

By allowing people to connect on a much more global scale, crowdsourcing and collective intelligence can shape not just who we work with but how efficiently we work.  What’s more, employers are able to seek out particular knowledge and skillsets without having to go through the more traditional HR recruitment pathway. 

Building a team from scratch is not easy, and at NASA, they know that getting the answers they need is the hardest part of the process.  But that with all the pieces of the collaboration puzzle working together, it is possible to set yourselves up for success.

This is what we do at Klaxoon.  With a focus on teamwork and collaboration in the workplace, we are changing the way meetings are held so that everyone is a participant.  And with reliable systems and tools in place, the challenges of geography are suddenly non-existent: brainstorming your most pressing issues with the whole team on board can become second nature and getting the best out of your teams is the expected norm.  Working in real time builds connections and strengthens trust - which helps to bring the magic (i.e., solutions to problems) to the table.

Our brainstorming features have been designed to test your team’s knowledge and learn from each other, breaking down the barriers that can hinder more traditional and ‘office only’ ways of working.

If like NASA, your organization is striving to innovate – something which is ever more important in the current post-pandemic climate – having the right tools for the job is essential.  Why?  Because the key to success is being able to connect innovators with problems that need solving – there needs to be a conduit and platforms need to provide access to global markets in a very low friction easily manageable way. 

The perfect starting point for every solution

According to NASA, it’s all about being able to pull people together on platforms and match a capability to a need.  They do this by using challenges on innovation crowdsourcing platforms to match people to the problems they know they don’t have the answers for in house. What’s fascinating about this is that the people who respond to the challenges are people who would never normally meet. 

It could be argued that this is similar to what happens in the gig economy and the way that freelancers work. But now instead of hustling to get what you need; collaboration platforms make it easy to match people to work. 

Another point to note is that the average productivity inside a company is 37%, which equate to roughly 3 out of every 8 hours.  By most standards, this is very inefficient, especially when you factor in additional overheads. Conversely, by enabling a more flexible way of working, you are also ensuring a culture of lifelong learning through collaboration and setting your organization on the path to success.

NASA has used the power of collective intelligence to find the solution to many different problems, including algorithms to predict solar flares (and thus protect astronauts), and finding a better use for ballasts on a Mars descent vehicle. In fact, 94% of the challenges placed by NASA have been successful, and of those with cost – 80% have shown savings over and above the traditional way of doing things in house.

To truly drive innovation, collective intelligence relies on empathy, diversity and the ability for everyone to have their say: a kind of innovation 2.0!  And if organizations can truly harness that diversity of thought,  – by building teams and eco-systems where there is trust alongside the knowledge and passion – then the possibilities are vast.

But it’s worth remembering that there is no magic pill.  Collective intelligence and innovation rely on both expertise and diversity and both sides are very necessary.  

At NASA, teams have started to view innovation not as the end point, but a much better place to start.  By using the latest technology and the most up to date tools and systems, you’ll be able to find the approaches that work for you and have the most impact.

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