What is Swarm Intelligence?

Swarm intelligence (also called collective intelligence or group intelligence) describes the ability of groups to make collective decisions jointly and to achieve better results through collaboration than individual team members could.

The term swarm intelligence is often used in the context of business innovation, innovation management and open innovation. Swarm intelligence also plays a decisive role in implementing radical innovation and in the digital transformation of companies. In this article, you will learn about the concept of swarm intelligence, how companies organize themselves as swarm organizations and how swarm intelligence can be utilized using state-of-the-art idea management software and innovation management software.

Types of swarm intelligence

Essentially, there are three types of swarm intelligence: The collective intelligence of a swarm, the individual intelligence of individuals within a swarm, and swarm creativity.

Collective swarm intelligence

Based on knowledge, experience or assumptions, a group decides collectively. This is known from quiz shows on television, when candidates are allowed to draw a so-called “audience joker”. Spectators guess which of the answers is most likely the right one. Although many in the audience do not necessarily know the answer, the majority in the swarm surprisingly often finds the right solution.

Intelligence of a single person within the swarm

Individuals who belong to a group have a certain expertise that is important for solving a task. This will also be explained using the example of a quiz show: The question to a candidate was: “What distinguishes a bison from a cattle?” The candidates didn’t know what to do, the audience was asked. A butcher’s shop assistant came forward and said, “Answer A is correct, the bison has one vortex less than the cow.” When asked how she knew this, she replied: “When my butchers recently dismembered a bison, they were amazed to say: “The bison has one vertebra less than a cow.” This form of swarm intelligence is based on the fact that there are experts on a certain topic within a group of people. The collective knowledge of the group is not used here, but the individual expert knowledge within a group.


Creative swarm intelligence or swarm creativity

This type of swarm intelligence is used for concepts such as co-creation and for innovation challenges within a company. The swarm is not confronted with a decision question or a knowledge question, but has a creative assignment. Within a company, for example, the question could be: “How can we reduce bureaucracy in our purchasing process?” The group proposes several ideas on how the problem could be solved. The comments and evaluations of other users create ideas that are influenced by inspirations and comments of everyone.

Utilize Swarm Intelligence through the Internet

Swarm intelligence has gained massively in significance due to the potential of the Internet. Collaborative platforms such as Innolytics® Idea Management Software and Innovation Management Software enable companies to use swarm intelligence as a management principle.

Supported by Innolytics®, the international beverage manufacturer Gerolsteiner called on around 130 employees to rethink their sales processes. For this purpose, a platform was set up on which sales employees could discuss existing processes and submit suggestions for new processes.

More than 200 suggestions for new processes were received in the first seven days of the online campaign, for example:

  • Processes with which manual Excel tables can be replaced by standardized smart data formats,
  • better communication of best practices among each other, and
  • innovative approaches to bundling and providing customer information.

The proposals have been commented on more than 1,000 times. Employees showed their agreement to proposals through 3849 evaluations in the form of “Likes”. “We were surprised by the success,” explains Sales Director Harald Stadler. “It shows that employees gratefully accept innovative management approaches.

Employees work on tasks and challenges in decentralized teams. They can form small teams regardless of location or division, start projects together, develop ideas, evaluate them and implement them in a structured way. Swarm intelligence is becoming efficiently utilisable through the Internet.

What is a swarm organization?

A swarm organization is a form of organizational and corporate structure that aims to efficiently use the swarm intelligence of employees and outsiders (customers, experts, service providers) to manage challenges more efficiently.

Especially in the context of business innovation, the structure of a swarm organization is often used to establish an innovation culture and thus positively influence the innovation capability of a company. A swarm organization creates the prerequisites for anchoring collaboration and agile project management within a company. In our free study you will learn the basics with which companies can establish innovation-promoting structures.

Characteristics of a swarm organization

A swarm organization is characterized by a high degree of agility and flexibility. Employees are not integrated into classical hierarchical structures, but organize themselves around tasks and challenges. Teams are formed in a target-oriented manner, whereby cross-location and cross-departmental cooperation is the rule. External parties can also be integrated using methods such as crowdsourcing, co-creation and open innovation.

A swarm organization can be implemented as an independent corporate unit alongside the established corporate structures. Alternatively, a company can develop so-called “parallel structures”. Employees remain assigned to the organizational units in which they are anchored according to the organizational chart of the company. In science, this is referred to as ambidexterity, i.e. the ability to simultaneously focus on the operative business as well as on idea generation and the implementation of the innovation strategy.

A company with parallel structures has a network structure in addition to the conventional organization chart, often supported by platforms such as the Innolytics Idea Management Software and Innovation Management Software, which enable cross-departmental work. The Innolytics® software supports the formation of a swarm organization by creating parallel structures. Tasks that contribute to the implementation of the operational corporate strategy are performed within the departments. Tasks derived from the innovation strategy are handled by the swarm organization. Employees can discuss questions across disciplines and hierarchies, form teams and work on tasks together.

Book an appointment now