A Call to Action 0


PREFACE: Doug Engelbart is perhaps best known for inventing the computer mouse and the "mother of all demos," credited with laying the founda­tion for the interactive computing and personal computing revolutions, and "demonstrating the power and the potential of the computer in the information age." However, his most profound accomplishment lay in the visionary strategy that drove all his disruptive innovations – a strategy for dramatically increasing humankind's collective capacity to address its most challenging problems. His call to action from the beginning was not simply to get everyone on the web using a mouse, hypertext and groupware so we could all interact online. It was and still remains a wake up call to public and private sectors to recognize the exponential trajectory of humankind's challenges, and to respond accordingly with the vigorous, proactive, strategic pursuit of meaningful gains in 'Collective IQ' throughout business and society – facilitated by highly evolved paradigms, organizational practices, and information technologies. This is the legacy he left for us to pursue, his 'unfinished revolution,' the E=mc2 of organizational and societal transformation. — Christina Engelbart, Executive Director

Augmenting Society's Collective IQ 1

By Douglas C. Engelbart[1]

Watch Doug share his vision on JCN Profiles: Visionaries of the Information Age (1995)

Visit the Engelbart Academy for more

The complexity and urgency of the problems faced by us earth-bound humans are increasing much faster than our combined capabilities for understanding and coping with them. This is a very serious problem. Luckily there are strategic actions we can take, collectively.1a

Consider a group's Collective IQ to represent its capability for dealing with complex, urgent problems – to perceive and understand them adequately, to engage the stakeholders, to unearth the best candidate solutions, to assess resources and operational capabilities and select appropriate solutions and commitments, to be effective in organizing and executing the selected approach, to monitor the progress, to be able to adjust rapidly and appropriately to unforeseen complications, and so on.1b

I contend that a strategy for facilitating the evolution of our organizations' Collective IQs will be the optimum approach. 1c

"Collective IQ" is a special set of capabilities, built upon our innate human capabilities, such as sensory, perceptual, cognitive, motor, etc. Any significant capability is achieved by augmenting these basic human capabilities with training, enculturation, etc. in the operational use of:
     (a) coordinated systems of tools and artifacts (i.e. the Tool System); and
     (b) vocabulary, conventions, roles, organizational structures, values, paradigms, rules of conduct, methods of cooperation, education, etc. (i.e. the Human System).
Together the Tool and Human Systems comprise the Augmentation System.

To maximize our Collective IQ, the key is to accelerate the natural co-evolution of our Tool and Human Systems toward ever-more powerful Augmentation Systems enabling increasingly effective Collective IQ. I call this strategic approach a bootstrapping strategy, an important aspect of which is that the teams that are accelerating the co-evolution use what they are developing in support of their own collective work. They are thus simultaneously improving Collective IQ capability for themselves, and for their end customers, thereby continuously enhancing their own ability to further improve the Collective IQ capability (improving how they improve).

To clarify such improvement activities within an organization, I find it useful to differentiate the day-to-day operations of an organization, or 'business as usual' (call that the A Activity), from the efforts to improve how 'A' gets done (call that the B Activity). Most organizations are fully immersed in A, with B Activity efforts that are largely adhoc, occasionally rolling out new tools or procedures company-wide, thinking now they'll be set. But in this era of accelerating change and uncertainty, organizations will need to adapt and transform much faster, and get much smarter about how they proceed. And that's where the C Activity comes in – for dramatically improving how 'B' gets done. Surprisingly, most organizations are barely conscious of their C Activity or its importance to their survival and success. Establishing an ongoing C Activity to improve C, B and A with more effective Collective IQ capability, offers the highest leverage of any activity an organization can pursue. 1d

  Watch Doug with colleague Jeff Rulifson discussing his "Unfinished Revolution" at StanfordĀ  (1998)
Visit the Engelbart Academy for more

Central to improving a group's Collective IQ will be cultivating increasingly effective "Dynamic Knowledge Repositories" (DKRs) – essentially the capability, in dealing with a complex problem, for advancing our knoweldge of, and providing the best, up-to-date understanding of, the current state of both the problem and its solutions. In this use of the term, "repository" is a living, dynamic ecosystem in which the group's knowledge work emerges and is readily captured, integrated and evolved. Tool Systems would be endowed with Open Hyperdocument System technology specifically designed to rapidly improve our collective process – especially the ongoing organic emergence and utility of comprehensive DKRs within that process. Human Systems would include specially trained individuals and teams who could be on hand to add value to that process, rendering the swirl of dialog, research intelligence, and successive document drafts more readily accessible and useful. They might also provide helpful alternate "views" of the knowledge to facilitate learning and leveraging the knowledge for different categories of learners and contributors.1e

Now consider an Improvement Community (IC) as a community engaged in collectively improving a given set of capabilities – for example a professional society that continuously evolves its shared vision and advancements in the profession. Consider next a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) – an IC that is consciously and effectively employing best-practices for its DKR development and usage.1f

An opportunity arises for interested NICs to connect and collaborate in a NIC of NICs, or MetaNIC, for collectively improving core capabilities like DKRs. This introduces an accelerative multiplier for member NICs and their constituent NICs.1g

One type of MetaNIC will have special strategic significance – a NIC whose focus for improvement would be improving the development and utilization of DKRs. I would encourage many such NICs to explore this frontier.1h

There are many sub-configurations of a community's Augmentation System for which provocative improvement possibilities will arise. The proposed evolution-facilitation strategy would be to provide the best possible "frontier map" of what is happening within the various leading edge organizations employing their various approaches to increasing their Collective IQ capability. Cultivating a comprehensive DKR about the "Collective IQ Frontier" would provide every member organization with the best view of what's happening on the frontier, enabling each to make its own decisions as to which direction it should next move in its survival quest of increasing Collective IQ.1i

This same "frontier-mapping DKR" strategy would also facilitate progress in any other NIC initiative. 1j

In our years wrestling with this facilitated-evolution strategy, there have emerged many candidate Tool- and Human-System innovations about which we would hope to have continuing dialog with parties interested in considering this strategic approach. 1kWatch

We invite such dialog, and encourage broad-based collaboration and experimental pilot prototype DKRs supporting member NICs in collectively advancing into the Collective IQ frontier. 1l

Further Inquiry 2

Footnotes 3

  1. Adapted from an Abstract by the same name, Augmenting Society's Collective IQ, by Douglas C. Engelbart, as a companion piece to his Keynote Speech at Hypertext 2004 (AUGMENT,133319,). Adaptations made by Christina Engelbart 2010 and 2015.
  2. 3a

A powerful strategy for the Innovation Age 4

"While Demming provided the improvement approach for the industrial age, Doug provided the innovation approach for the knowledge age."
Dr. Curt Carlson,
Founder & CEO, Practice of Innovation, Author of Innova­tion: The Five Disciplines

"The real gauntlet that Doug Engelbart threw down on the table 40 years ago is for us to create the "Innovation superhighway," not just the information superhighway."
Patty Seybold, President & CEO, Patricia Seybold Group, and Author of Outside Innovation