On ‘Big Mind’ Thinking: A Collective Intelligence ‘Paradigm’ For Our Time? – Part 1 of 3

A source of ‘Big Mind’ origins

This summer I read the latest book Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World, by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta, the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

Mulgan presents a proposal to assist humankind to find ways forward into the future. He does this by helpfully surveying and advocating the balanced harnessing of a variety of Collective Intelligence approaches and methodologies, such as crowdsourcing.

Today, in 2018, Collective Intelligence and its capabilities are gradually becoming increasingly familiar to a broader audience, thus beginning to have a greater impact, with a strong argument in favor of extended communication.

Mulgan’s term ‘Big Mind’ emerges as worthy of further adoption. Starting from where we find ourselves today, he advances a relevant philosophical mindset and a roadmap for framing the direction for where and how we should go next, both operationally and strategically. We can learn much from what he has to say.[1]

An era of ‘multiplexity’

Enhancing our lenses for greater focus in today’s world is of great benefit. Amid environments and situations of much uncertainty and often fast-paced disruption and change, several equally fascinating and vexing challenges confront us all. These require a substantial dose of what can be best characterized as ‘Big Mind’-related ‘open-mindedness’, and our being ‘visionary’.

Indeed, our current era can arguably be appropriately termed as one of ‘multiplexity’. It is a condition that is unsurprisingly subject to several differing definitions; but, most notably as a takeaway, it immediately references the encountering of ‘multiple complexities’.

Often experienced all at the same time and in the same locations (spaces or places), these ‘multiple complexities’ need to be effectively negotiated and navigated to attain conditions of success.

Occasionally characterized as involving extensively ranging ‘system-of-systems’ and ‘team-of-teams’ (re)solutions, ‘multiplexity’ – in all of its rich forms and guises – presents several challenges, especially for contemporary intelligence and the work it pursues.[2]

The contemporary challenge for intelligence: ‘Multi-everything!’

In an era of so-called Big Data, the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI), digital/social media and cyber challenges, including enhanced nuclear risk; now, more so than ever, intelligence is increasingly concerned with overlapping-to-blurring conditions and situations of ‘multi-everything!’[3]

We are only just beginning to grasp the implications and ramifications of these trends, extending to their associated events and developments; for example, on anything from operations to processes, strategies and the like. Amid those tasks, we still have not yet realized to the fullest extent where we might be heading – a situation requiring much greater awareness.

Renowned US intelligence educator, Mark Lowenthal, has equally raised the ‘everything’ challenge, which intelligence and its collectors and analysts, in particular, confront today.[4] There are no easy or straightforward solutions for producing operatives or practitioners on the ‘front-’ and ‘fault-lines’; nor for higher-level policy- and decision-making end-users, be it commanders, customers, clients or consumers. Many vulnerabilities exist.

If we accept the ‘multi-everything!’ characterization of the overall challenge for intelligence and its doing (in terms of what concerns intelligence), an important question soon arises: ‘how do we go about realizing our goals and accomplishing our intended effects and outcomes?’[5]

As Part 2 of this blog post reveals next – adopting a ‘Big Mind’ and harnessing Collective Intelligence provides us with a starting point for moving forward…

Dr. Adam D.M. Svendsen, PhD. is an international intelligence and defense strategist, researcher, educator, analyst and consultant.


[1] G. Mulgan, Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence can Change Our World (Oxford: Princetown University Press, 2018).

[2] For more extensive discussion and definition of ‘multiplexity’, see A.D.M. Svendsen, ‘Getting Somewhere? The Utility of “Multiplexic Thinking” in Connecting International Relations to the Study and Doing of Intelligence’, Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies (JEAIS), 1, 1 (2018); see also US General S. McChrystal, with T. Collins, D. Silverman and C. Fussell, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (London: Portfolio, 2015).

[3] See as discussed in A.D.M. Svendsen, ‘Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)’, chapter 22 in D. Galbreath and J. Deni (eds), Routledge Handbook of Defence Studies (London: Routledge, 2018) – via: <https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.4324/9781315650463-23> (accessed: September 2018).

[4] See, for example, M.M. Lowenthal, The Future of Intelligence (Cambridge: Polity, 2018), p.22.

[5] A.D.M. Svendsen, Intelligence Engineering: Operating Beyond the Conventional (New York: Rowman & Littlefield / Security and Professional Intelligence Education Series – SPIES, 2017).

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