By Joe Kay
I was always fascinated by teams, and I performed better as part of one than as an individual, so when I left university, I decided to join the army.
When I signed up on September 9th, 2001 the British military spent its time peacekeeping – that all changed two days later and for the next decade, I spent a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of those two conflicts here – when you sign up, you go where your country sends you – I served, and I learned a lot about teamwork under pressure.
As well as working in high-performance teams myself, as an army helicopter pilot, I was regularly attached to different ground units, supporting them on their missions. Working with the top tier of military units gave me a unique opportunity to observe and compare how each of them behaved.
I started to see patterns in what made these teams successful, and I thought I was close to cracking the code of “perfect teamwork.”
But then I read a book called the Smart Swarm – about how ants and bees cooperate. These insects have actually evolved to ‘think’ together, and I realised that they – not us – are the highest performing teams on the planet.
I then became fascinated by the question – How did Humans evolve to think?
This led me to read everything I could about behavioural economics and psychology where I learned that we think as individuals that cooperate in tribes. In these tribes, we evolved specific mental models that kept our ancestors alive when they were hunting and gathering.
These mental models are called our human cognitive biases and make us think in very particular ways.
Humans are predictably irrational.
My other insight was that while they may appear to be similar, the collective behaviour of insects and mammals is fundamentally different.
The difference is motivation.
While collectively intelligent insects are motivated by the survival of the colony, humans are motivated by the survival of ourselves and our children.
Motivation in groups is critical, a bee will sting you and kill itself to protect the colony, but I challenge you to name one situation where a human will kill themselves for the good of the team without some form of personal reward.
I formed the opinion that there are two key reasons why human evolution made it impossible for us to think together in the way that bees and ants do: our human biases and our individually focused motivation.
However, we humans have worked a way around evolution – tools.
Whenever we did not evolve the ability to do something, we designed and built a tool to give us that capability.
Take powered flight as an example.
The Wright brothers knew that flying was possible because they could see birds everywhere who had evolved to do it. So they invented the plane; the tool that allows us to fly faster, further and higher than any bird can.
Just like flight, I believe that pure collective thinking in humans is impossible for us to achieve without the correct tool.
After many years of false starts and experiments, my team think we have got to the stage where we have cracked the code. We have built a fundamentally new category of digital tool that neutralises the effects of human bias, motivates individuals towards group success and allows teams to think together more intelligently.
We call this tool Enswarm – The Team Intelligence Platform.