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Africa has one of the strongest, most prolific and intelligent men who produce an unintelligent result when in a group or institution. So Obama in 2009 while on a presidential visit to Ghana reminded us all “Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions”.
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Inspired by Sarah Chayes, in her book the Thieves of States, she reminds us that while Okonjo may have led some technocratic reforms while in government, nearly a billion dollars was consistently missing monthly from our oil revenues while she was finance minister. The people got poorer too. This statement isn’t to kill joy, what the data and facts show is that she was a finance minister in arguably one of the most corrupt democratic governments of this Millennium. She may not have anything directly to do with it, but it’s still under her watch as a leader. It’s always my point about organizational leadership over personal leadership. It’s the challenge of Africans being high flyers, but collectively low. Even when we individually rise, it only makes us the tallest midgets in the world. It’s not enough to be individually upright or smart. No matter how good we are or what we do, when we step back, even before our job is done, what we should really ask is “was the problem solved” with who we are? Whether business, as a people or as a government, Africa has potentials. But there isn’t much to do with that. For our collective growth, we need to stop outsmarting ourselves. It starts from the realization that none of us is as smart as all of us. But it looks like we have been trained and wired to master individual excellence skill but fail to master that of collective excellence. That’s a paradox; better yet, an Abilene Paradox. The Abilene Paradox occurs when a group of people collectively decides on a course of action that is contrary to the preferences of most of the individuals in the group.  Prof Harvey states in his paper ‘The Abilene Paradox’, ‘Organizations frequently take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purpose they are trying to achieve.’  This is the inability to manage agreements and the big picture. The Abilene Paradox occurs because individuals do not want to ‘rock the boat’ or ‘be a killjoy’, even though their perceptions of the other members’ feelings are incorrect. Management thinker Jerry B. Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Management at The George Washington University, in an article on the subject, introduced the Abilene Paradox. It occurs because human beings have a natural aversion to going against the feelings of a group – they want to conform socially. According to Harvey, the paradox may be driven because individuals believe they will experience negative attitudes or feelings if they ‘speak up’ on a topic. Of course, if no one speaks up, the group will make a decision that is counter to the wishes and the common good of the group. Oftentimes, we see high-flying workers at corporate fields complaining about a lack of compatibility with other high-flying team members. So the company goal becomes jeopardized. How intelligent is that? We also see this in government, where sound people collectively make dumb decisions. It’s not for the lack of ideas, but the seamless integration of it and that of others for the common good. How intelligent is that?  An ancient Greek philosopher of the Oracle of Delphi states, ‘an intelligent man is one who enters with ease and completeness into the spirit of things and the intention of persons and problems, and then arrives at an end by the shortest route’.  But it has become a norm in Africa that we excel at individual intelligence but fail at collective intelligence. In a nutshell, we outsmart ourselves to nowhere. Great ideas don’t come within but between people and that intention must be managed, from a project to a product that actually solves the big problem. It’s a lot of refining and the ability to let that happen. Next time you discuss that business idea with your team, don’t get frustrated that it is continually refined; at the end of the day, everyone must agree to disagree. That’s the heart of collective intelligence.
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Group Thinking

There are different approaches to system thinking, but the most ignored yet most important approach is from the angle of human interactions. We most times design our products from our view or in the case of production, from the factory and even in isolation from the real-world need of the customer whereas it should first be from the mind of the potential user and customer. It starts by asking, what does the customer really want? How does the customer even think? What is the problem to be solved? As we ask those questions, we consistently keep them in mind to avoid variation to achieve alignment. In the words of Jim Collins, ‘Building a visionary company requires 1% vision and 99% alignment.’ And that Collective Intelligence refers to a group or a team’s combined capacity and capability to perform a wide variety of tasks and solve diverse problems for a common goal. Collective Intelligence has been found to consistently be predictive of the future performance of groups and teams. The difference between Africa and the rest of the world is that we have not mastered this art of collective intelligence, which has resulted in a clear cut difference in collective excellence. The primary difference between IQ (individual intelligence) and CQ (collective intelligence) is the social dimension and the ability of groups to achieve unity of purpose, action and thought. Teams with high levels of CQ achieve a state of interdependence and flow when they are working together. In addition, ideas that are collectively reviewed are more prone to easy implementation than those that are unilaterally imposed. Collective Intelligence is the act of corporately solving the ultimate problem. It is taking anything out that gets in the way, sometimes our individuality and difference. It is playing Michelangelo in developing a masterpiece. Michelangelo was once asked how he made such great images from mere carvings from large marbles, he said ‘I saw David in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ In another statement, he said, ‘I kept chipping away anything that didn’t look like David.’ That’s the point. In most organizations, we put too much pressure on the top people or star player. Business is a team sport. To win (whether life, a task, business or success), you don’t need the reflexes of a Formula 1/Grand Prix driver, the grand slam mastery of Serena Williams, the Muscles of Hercules, or the mind of an Einstein. You simply need to know what to do and who can help you do it better. It’s called synergy. It’s an art of integration management. Most people forget how important that is. When you say ‘I’ and ‘my’ too much, you lose the capacity to understand the ‘we’ and ‘our’ – ‎Teamwork which is the only key for sustainable success. The idea of ‘self-made’, and a ‘lone ranger’ is a myth. The fundamentals of the world and everything in it is built on the concept of a system. And for a system to work, every entity should work as a team including the smallest part (even the biggest doors depend and hang on small hinges). Practically speaking, at Hexavia, what we basically do is to play that all-important back end to a lot of successful companies. It’s something I have had to break down to people a lot. I’d like to call it The FrontEnd- BackEnd concept! To illustrate it, see your health as a backend to your work., the same way a concierge is a backend of a 5-star hotel. In a nutshell, everyone and everything has a frontend and a backend. The frontend operation brings the money, but the backend helps the operation work better. In your team, as a leader, you should be good with your frontend, and then outsource the backend, which is someone else’s frontend. Does this make sense? Remember, a team cannot be a group of people with equal skills, but, a team is that with equal commitment! To go fast, go alone. But to go far, go together. Effective teamwork divides the effort and then multiplies the results. Always find a Ying to your Yang, find your balance, and always find people who can help. None of us is as smart as all of us. You can’t make a loud clap with one hand! Featured Image Source: GTBlog
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This article was first published on 2nd June 2021


Uwaoma Eizu is the founder and lead strategist of the Hexavian group. He is a graduate of Mathematics with two Master's Degrees, a PMP and other management certifications.

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