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|Ecological Intelligence - Page 5|
Evolutionary anthropologists recognize the cognitive abilities required for shared intelligence as a distinctly human ability, one that has been crucial to helping our species survive its earliest phases. The most recent addition to the human brain includes our circuitry for social intelligence, which allowed early humans to use complex collaboration to hunt, gather, and survive. Today we need to make the most of these same capacities of sharing cognition to survive a new set of challenges to our survival.
A collective, distributed intelligence spreads awareness, whether among friends or family, within a company, or through an entire culture. Whenever one person grasps part of this complex web of cause and effect and tells others, that insight becomes part of the group memory, to be called on as needed by any single member. Such shared intelligence grows through the contributions of individuals who advance that understanding and spread it amongst the rest of us. And so we need scouts, explorers who alert us to ecological truths we have either lost touch with or newly discover.
Large organizations embody such a distributed intelligence. In a hospital a lab technician does one set of jobs well, a surgical nurse another, and a radiologist still another; coordinating all these skills and knowledge allows patients to get sound care. In a company sales, marketing, finance, and strategic planning each represent unique expertise, the parts operating as a whole via a coordinated, shared understanding.
The shared nature of ecological intelligence makes it synergistic with social intelligence, which gives us the capacity to coordinate and harmonize our efforts. The art of working together effectively as mastered by a star-performing team combines abilities like empathy and perspective-taking, candor and cooperation, to create person-to-person links that lets information gain added value as it travels. Collaboration and the exchange of information are vital to amassing the essential ecological insights and necessary data base that allow us to act for the greater good.
The ways insects swarm suggests another sense in which ecological intelligence can be distributed amongst us. In an ant colony no single ant grasps the big picture nor leads the other ants (the queen just lays eggs); instead each ant follows simple rules of thumb that work together in countless ways to achieve self-organizing goals. Ants find the shortest route to a food source with simple hardwired rules such as following the strongest pheromone trail. Swarm intelligence allows a larger goal to be met by having large numbers of actors follow simple principles. None of the actors needs to direct the group's efforts to achieve the overall goal, nor is there any need for a centralized director.