The Hive Mind: Thoughts From Solving a Real-life Mystery

I think humans are hardwired to look for patterns and solve puzzles. Being good at these things keeps us safe, protects our family, and allows us to thrive. Our modern tools like smart phones and connectivity have overloaded our circuitry. Life is messy and it’s hard to accept that we can’t possibly understand everything that’s going on let alone control outcomes. Let me scare you with this question: What if no one is in control?

Looking for Clues

Games are popular for a reason. Games help us put our innate skills through its paces… in a sandbox. The game has boundaries, safe spaces, and some rules to provide rails and curated experiences. But, we can’t turn off the systems that helped us get this far. We make puzzles out of everything in the real world and we deeply want everything to be solvable and even part of a larger conspiracy. Again, what if no one is in control?

Beyond our own personal skills and goals, we also depend on others for survival. We have to cooperate with others to thrive. Our circles start off small. We are completely dependent on older people when we are born. We wouldn’t survive long without the early attention of others. Then our survival relies on other family and the local community. When new technology gets added to our lives like gasoline vehicles we then depend on even more people who we will never know. Think about the infrastructure required to allow you to travel. You couldn’t travel without the cooperation of millions of people.

I started thinking about this more a few weeks ago when I saw a post from a close friend who I haven’t seen in a couple of years. My friend had a problem and he turned to the internet to help him solve it. He started a social media post, “Dear Hive Mind”. This post caught my eye and I decided to pitch in. The experience was a lot of fun and in the end we were able to help him figure out what was going on and stop the situation that he found himself in.

The Hive Mind is a natural result of all of our connections and dependencies with each other. The internet, mobile communication tools, databases, and search engines all make our collective intelligence intelligent. I believe that we are capable of solving many puzzles at almost any scale. The issues is about directing attention and all players believing in the premise. Even in a straightforward board game like Pandemic all of the players have to agree on the rules and vow to cooperate towards an outcome that is mutually beneficial. IRL is different. We do not agree on THE rules. We do not have a notion of what a mutually beneficial outcome is. In our game, some people win and a lot of people lose.

Back to my friend’s situation… The hive mind strategy worked. Why did it work? How did it work? Well, let me list some of the observations.

  1. Clear call to action and goal: My friend captured our attention with a real-life problem, a clear how to help, and a compelling outcome if we succeed.
  2. Get the easy stuff out of the way: At first, the hive commented about the easy things. None of those techniques or strategies were going to work but it was worth getting those out of the way. You need a period of open-ended, no wrong answers, no matter how superficial they are. You need to get past it so you can get to the good stuff.
  3. Keep a ledger of what’s going on: Document what’s going on along the way so others see what has been tried and see what the outcomes were. You might be leaving a clue for others to pick up on or keeping others from wasting their time.
  4. Reflect on what happened: When it is all said and done, reflect on what happened. Talk through what worked, what didn’t. Try to understand the process a little more for next time with a retrospective.

Just imagine we all agreed on the some problem, focused our attention, and shared the benefit from the outcome?

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