There are many ways of thinking about human intelligence. The humorous quip you might hear on the street is that academics have generated so many ways of thinking about intelligence that the concept is now completely unintelligible. Still, talk of intelligence has not yet gone out of fashion. I recall sitting opposite a famous Scottish psychologist in an Edinburgh café, asking the question, How would you define intelligence? He answered succinctly with a smile: Intelligence is the ability to figure things out. His definition was as much an invitation to explore as anything else.
Sabotage in the workplace is not something we think about every day, and it might seem strange to think about sabotage behaviours playing out in academic work settings. Sabotage has been described as any form of behaviour that is intentionally designed to negatively affect service (Harris and Ogbonna, 2002 p. 166). Worryingly, 85% of service employees consider sabotage to be an ‘everyday occurrence’ in their organisations (Harris and Ogbonna, 2002). When researchers investigate employee performance in academia, they tend to focus on research performance (Edgar and Geare, 2011), or the relationship between research performance and teaching quality (Cadez et al., 2017). They rarely think about sabotage.
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To understand ways in which collective intelligence can evolve to support the survival, adaptation, and flourishing of Homo sapiens, it helps to think across different timescales of analysis—and the broadest timescale of analysis we have identified here is the period within which living systems have been evolving, circa 3.5 billion years.
If our aim is to understand ways in which collective intelligence might evolve to support the survival, adaptation, and flourishing of Homo sapiens in the Holocene, we need to consider the fullness of the world we live in, and the wonderful complexity of our living system.
It’s true, individuals do possess the power to inspire the formation of teams, and teams can push the limits of systems thinking and coordinated systems action.
I heard a story recently. It reminded me of the need to broaden the scope of our thinking in relation to human intelligence:
A woman was relaxing by a river, enjoying the sights and sounds and fresh air, when suddenly she noticed a person upstream struggling to stay afloat in the water. She dived into the water, swam out as fast as she could, and helped the person ashore. Catching her breath after the rescue, she glanced upstream, only to spot another person adrift in the river. Again, she dived in, swam out, and rescued the person.
In the next five minutes, the woman rescued two more people. Standing by the river, exhausted and almost completely out of breath, she saw another person adrift in the water. She started walking upstream, along the river bank. A passerby asked her, “Aren’t you going to help him?”
The woman replied, “Not this time. I’m going upstream to see if I can do something about whatever is causing all these people to fall into the river”.
When it comes to the history of science, social scientists are often viewed by worldly, grey-bearded physicists as the new kids on the block – or, at best, a bunch of rowdy adolescents still trying to figure out their purpose in life.