The Collective Intelligence Manifesto

decision-making excellence

How do you take collective intelligence to infinity and beyond in your organization? In answer to this question, I offer you 9 principles that will enable you to move from intention to action.

WARNING: This manifesto is intended for readers who have mastered the tools and concepts of collective intelligence (books, conferences, training). I would need several hundred pages to define and explain the terms used in this manifesto… and then it would no longer be a manifesto, but a book!

Version française…

Excerpts from the book: The Chief Always Speaks Last. See Chapter 3 of the book.

1. Differentiate the simple, the complicated and the complex

Differentiate the simple, the complicated and the complex in order to choose the right management mode and to achieve decision-making excellence. Each decision-maker (manager, expert, leader) can be confronted with 3 different situations that involve 3 different decision-making processes.

Complex (several areas of expertise must be mobilized): use collective intelligence management (Round-Table technique, digital sprint, Strategic Codev) to find the direction to take, the Why. Today, the Codev is used as a training tool, but it can also be used to solve complex problems ( Strategic Codev) or complicated problems ( Operational Codev).

Complicated (one kind of expertise must be mobilized): use participative management (Post-it wall, World Café, Operational Codev) to find the way of reaching the destination, the How.

Simple: use Command & Control to set tasks and objectives, the What.

2. Co-constructing

Collective intelligence is a process of co-construction. It is not a matter of co-creating in order to find an original, disruptive or new solution. It is not about co-llaborating by sharing ideas. It is a matter of hybridizing ideas from several people in order to bring forth a viable, durable, robust solution. Co-construction is also the demonstration of one’s belief in another’s intelligence.

Lessons learned: if you organize co-construction with people who have a status, a degree, a power, you will construct a groundless solution and contribute to the disengagement of teams.

Good practiceco-construct with the people who will execute the decision or who will be impacted by it. This way, you mobilize intelligence from the field. You will avoid running in the wrong direction or creating resistance to change. To identify who will execute or who will be impacted, you must implement a holistic and systemic approach.

3. The Chief always speaks last

The chief speaks at any time in information & coordination meetings (assignment and follow-up of tasks, information about the life of the team or the organization) or in meetings for sharing good practices (lessons learned).

In problem-solving or creative meetings, we need to generate as many ideas as possible with great freedom of speech. In these meetings, whether he or she is a manager, leader, expert or supervisor, the chief (decision-maker) speaks last, or else the showing-off will immediately begin. Even if he/she is kind, compassionate, open, modern, the chief holds your career in his/her hands: bonuses, promotions, training, raises. He/she can also contribute to your dismissal. Collective intelligence autodestructs the instant the chief opens their mouth.

Good practices: once the discussion has gone several times around the table, the chief speaks when everyone has said “I pass.” In a digital sprint, after about 15 minutes, he/she asks if everyone has finished and then speaks.

Lessons learned: the chief listens attentively when he/she learns to be quiet when he/she wants to speak. He/she can more easily take over an employee’s idea since no one will know whether it was his/hers or whether he/she was “inspired.” This prevents ballistic thinking: the chief who shoots down any idea different from his/her own throughout the meeting!


Sharing ideas (collaborative or participative management) consists of juxtaposing ideas as one would juxtapose Post-its. Collective intelligence allows you to combine, hybridize two ideas. To do this, you must listen or read with lots of concentration. You must think the idea interesting A PRIORI, before devoting a maximum of attention to it. Next, you must be patient: hybridization begins after 5-10 minutes when writing (silent meetings) and after 10-15 minutes in verbal discussion.

Only the Round-Table and digital sprint techniques ensure the hybridization of ideas expressed by a group. No hybridization if participants do not share the floor with active mutual listening. With the Post-it wall technique, each person writes his or her own post-its on their own (independently). Moreover, the speech is distributed in writing, but not necessarily in the oral debriefing phase. Therefore, there is no hybridization in the writing and very little, or too little, in the oral phase.

Lessons learned: there are conditions favorable to hybridization: benevolence, listening, humility and patience. Time is the worst adjustment variable in collective reflection: you must consent to make the time, especially if you favor speaking over writing.

5. Distributed Speech

Speech is truly distributed through the Round-Table and digital sprint techniques. There is no collective intelligence when you interrupt or monopolize the discussion, fight to take the floor or fight to keep it. What is the quality of listening in these conditions? Not only is the speech not distributed, but the listening is very poor.

Do you like direct and spontaneous interaction, being totally free to speak up whenever you want? You like verbal ping-pong, sparring and dueling with a winner and a loser? Unfortunately, this is absolutely incompatible with a good collective intelligence dynamic. How can you open yourself up to new ideas (open-mindedness) and generate collective intelligence if the intelligences around the table do not have equal opportunity to express their ideas and if we do not listen to each other carefully?

Lessons learned: those who express themselves well (verbal intelligence, good orators), those with charisma, the “quick,” the extroverted, the chatty, the elder, the chiefs will occupy 80% of the speaking time even though they are a minority. The meek, the introverted, the “non-expert,” the young, people with a complex or jaded by meetings: they have very good ideas, do you want to hear them?

6. Knowing how to be quiet

You cannot learn to listen if you do not learn how to be quiet when you would like to talk. Keeping quiet when you have nothing to say is very easy: it is not a skill!

Keeping quiet allows attentive and active listening. You are then capable of truly understanding another’s point of view. You are not listening when you are fighting to take the floor or to keep it. Moreover, even when we try to really listen, we are sometimes actually preparing our response rather than listening.

Lessons learned: very few people are capable of keeping quiet naturally, spontaneously. It is an almost unattainable soft skill! You must therefore use formidable techniques like Round-Table and the digital sprint techniques.

7. BENEVOLENCE / No public criticism

In any kind of meeting, publicly criticizing someone’s ideas can be humiliating or hurtful: “I don’t agree because…”; “It’s not a good idea because…”; “Yes, but…”: yes, your idea is interesting, but not so interesting because…

Public criticism fosters a climate of fear and distrust and then disengagement: fewer ideas expressed and therefore less decision-making excellence.

Constructive criticism (factual and future-oriented) is useful in one-on-one meetings to improve technical and behavioral skills (working relationships). In a hierarchical context (career, reputation) and in public (meetings), people want to be listened to, not criticized. At the end of the meeting, the decision-maker explains why he is retaining an idea, not why he is rejecting other ideas.

Constructive criticism is always negative. For this reason, it must be factual and future-oriented: areas that need improvement in terms of skills. Positive criticism is a compliment! Criticizing a person publicly is not constructive, but rather humiliating. It should therefore be done in a one-on-one meeting and not in a meeting. If you really want to explain why you reject an idea, or if an employee asks for an explanation, then do it in a one-on-one meeting after the meeting.

Collective intelligence is fueled by divergence; it is destroyed by criticism. Diverging means expressing opposing ideas and arguing them with facts in order to create a safe space of discussion, in writing or speaking, from the beginning to the end of the meeting.

Criticizing or objecting is acceptable in a non-hierarchical context: political, scientific, sports, associative, educational, family or friendship contexts; a confidential one-on-one meeting with only the manager and the employee; possibly in teams in self-management mode. However, in a hierarchical context, criticizing in a meeting is a major obstacle to collective intelligence and decision-making excellence.

Criticism in a non-hierarchical context is acceptable, but when it is public, it is still problematic. When a professor criticizes a student publicly in front of the class, what are the consequences? Does the fact that the criticism is based on facts reduce the student’s level of humiliation? Developing a critical mind is very important, but it means questioning, doubting, arguing, exploring, verifying – not humiliating.

Bad practices in Strategic or Operational Codev: “Thank you for your ideas, but I already knew all that. You have taught me nothing or nothing much”; “Thank you, but I have already tried that idea and it does not work”; “Thank you, I have not tried that idea, but I doubt it will work.”

Benevolence does not mean speaking last, then going over all the ideas you think are bad and shooting them down. If you do that, it is the same as speaking first! Being benevolent, managing a team effectively, consists in focusing on the ideas you’ve retained and working to improve them. Shooting down what the chief considers bad ideas is useless and potentially malevolent. If you have not identified THE right solution, it may be because you did not take sufficient time to find it; you do not have the right people around the table (those who will execute or those who will be impacted); you have not properly defined the problem. That said, to make things worse, you can also waste time by criticizing “bad ideas.” Just because your criticism is factual does not mean it is acceptable or helpful. Be factual about the ideas you support, not the ones you reject.

Hurting and humiliating people in meetings can be considered as a necessary evil if we want to be efficient. Of course, we must admit that it has always worked that way and that it is a norm in many organizations. Public criticism is therefore “normal”. Unfortunately, in a hierarchical context, the more we criticize, the more we object, the more people will be afraid, the more distrustful they will become (reputation, career) and the less ideas they will express. Fewer ideas means fewer solutions. We increase decision-making risks. We also foster cognitive biases, especially the Group Think bias. Each member of the group tries to conform his opinion to what he believes to be the consensus of the group. This phenomenon of pseudo-consensus leads to a kind of one-track thinking. Thus, benevolence in meetings contributes to decision-making excellence by limiting irrational decisions.

The objective of benevolence in meetings is to move from the logic of destroying other people’s ideas through objections/criticism to the logic of hybridization and co-construction on each other’s ideas. Where should we focus our energy? We can go directly from the objection to the counterproposal. You have nothing to propose? Then ask questions! You have identified risks? Propose a less risky solution. Thus, benevolence in a hierarchical context can be summarized as follows:

“I object, I criticize” becomes “I propose”

“I identify a risk” becomes “I present a less risky solution”

Criticize, object becomes Diverge or ask questions

Many organizations promote benevolence, but where are the penalties and rewards? You will leave behind organizational incantations the day that maliciousness becomes a red line: actually punish deviant behavior. Just like harassment, maliciousness is a poison that gradually renders your organization toxic. Little comments, words, postures that accumulate and destroy engagement, trust and therefore collective intelligence over time.

In fact, a negative public criticism is like smoking: a micro-poison. The effect is not instantaneous. It gradually erodes the engagement like a cancer. When your spouse criticizes you in front of friends at a party, you will probably complain about this behavior. When it is your manager or your colleagues, you will probably suffer and protect yourself by reducing your participation to the minimum. You are going to be quiet.


In complex situations, nobody knows with certainty what must be done. In 6 to 12 months, we will know if the decision was good or bad. At the beginning of a Strategic Codev, the decision-maker absolutely must explain that nobody knows: not him or herself, not the participants, no one! In complicated situations, everyone knows for sure, but many roads lead to Rome. Only one will create engagement and trust. Which one? Nobody knows for sure. So, it is necessary to co-construct this road!

Humility requires courage in hierarchical organizations: affirm that you do not know everything, that you might be mistaken.

Bad practice in a Codev: being 100% sure that an idea is bad. If you put the people who will execute the decision or who will be impacted by it around the table, you will de facto create the conditions of a collective humility!


In the framework of a meeting in collective intelligence mode, trust results from 4 factors: benevolence / no public criticism (7th principle), engagement (no stowaways), knowing each other and above all “the chief always speaks last” (3rd principle). When the chief speaks last, he demonstrates his openness and willingness to truly listen to all ideas. This increases the trust of the group and frees up speech. Trust emerges more easily in a secured discussion space… because the chief speaks last!

It is necessary to take the time for each participant to introduce themselves before launching a meeting. If time permits, plan an icebreaker.

Good practice: accept and encourage humor to reduce tension, speaking out spontaneously even if it breaks the rotation of the round table.


Lost in translation while reading this post? I invite you to register for my next conference or training!

Excerpts from the book: The Chief Always Speaks Last. See Chapter 3 of the book.

If you wish to go further on certain principles, I invite you to discover the decision-making excellence manifesto (20 principles) which can be found in the appendix of my last book:

Author: Olivier Zara

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