Back in 2005 Thomas Friedman wrote about the globalized world in his bestseller book ‘The World Is Flat’. The world was inthe process of being transformed to a level – and global – playing field opening up new opportunities. 7-8 years later Friedman’s observations of the early adopters have become mainstream business. But, one of the consequences of opening up the world is that we are left with an overwhelming amount of information and options. What we need is the ability to take advantage of globalisation, without getting caught up in examining and analysing the huge sea of endless information, and variety of choice.
This is where ‘connectedness’ comes in. Given that it is impossible for us to read everything and speak to everyone, we need to be connected to people we trust to bring us relevant resources to our attention. The better these connections are, the better the result will be.
We use the term ‘Connectedness’ to describe the concept of being ‘smartly’ connected. When you are smart about the connections you establish and maintain, you keep a balance between the following aspects:
- Quality vs. quantity: Having too many connections is distracting and with too few you become too reliant.
- Diversity vs. conformity: Diversity is critical for innovation and conformity may better serve continuous improvement
- Open vs. closed: Having unique connections that no one else have can put you in a better position, but a closed network can also bring much needed focus and attention
Depending on your business objectives you set the appropriate balance to deliver the best outcome. Connectedness is applicable at individual, team, business unit, organisation and inter-organisational levels. High performing individuals are exactly that because they are able to get things done faster by leveraging their connections to access resources. This is true for all organisational levels.
Connectedness doesn’t happen by chance, but fortunately it isn’t all the difficult. First you need to determine what your network looks like today, and then you need to figure out what it should look like to enable you to meet the demands of the future. Advances in both mapping and visualisation techniques greatly assist in making it much more accessible for mainstream businesses. Being ‘smart’ about building your connections for the future will optimise the investment where it provides the highest return. What’s the point of being connected to 100 people if you can develop a close relationship with one person who already knows the same 100 people?
‘Smart networking’ is about understanding the various roles that people play in connecting you with the resources you need. ‘Central connectors’ are those people around you who know lots of other people. Examples of central connectors include head-hunters, politicians and journalists. These people can be of very high value providing access to resources you might not have discovered, or might not be able to access directly.
‘Brokers’ are those who connect communities of otherwise disconnected people. For example, think of a person who is an accountant during the day, but plays in a band in the evenings. Brokers play a special role as potential innovators being able to solve problems by seeing solutions through their experiences drawn from various different communities.
Finally, we have the ‘peripheral specialists’ who have special knowledge, but often operate as lone wolves. You will need these people for their deep insights. But, if those are the only ones you know you risk missing out on the multiplier effect you can get from the relationships connectors and brokers can bring to bear.
Trusting that your network will provide access to the resources you need is a departure from the ‘island’ mentality we are used to. You may feel as it you are somewhat loosing control by having to rely on others. But there simply isn’t an alternative anymore. In a ‘flat world’ your level of connectedness will drive success, as you shorten fact-finding and decision making cycles. This makes the ROI for connectedness compelling as other organisations are pacified by an overwhelming amount of information, conflicting advice and endless options.
Cai Kjaer is a presenter at the Hargraves 2013 Innovation Conference and is speaking on 13 March on the topic of connectedness as the new driver for innovation and organisational performance. You can reach Cai at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/caikjaer.