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To be effective today, you need something that leadership strategist Erica Dhawan calls “connectional intelligence.” In 30 minutes, Dhawan, co-author of Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, explains how to connect better and faster and use the skill to innovate growth • solve highly complex challenges • marshal resources and tap informal knowledge networks • and maximize your potential.
ERICA DHAWAN is the co-author of the new book, “Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.” She is a globally recognized leadership expert and keynote speaker who is driving innovation across cultures and generations. Considered to be one of the today’s most provocative business thinkers on Millennials and the future of work, she is the founder and CEO of Cotential – a company that has helped enterprises prepare for the global workplace of tomorrow. An in-demand speaker, Dhawan has spoken worldwide to organizations and enterprises that range from the World Economic Forum to U.S. and global Fortune 500 companies. Her writings have appeared in dozens of publications, including Fast Company, Forbes and Harvard Business Review. Dhawan also serves as a member of the Aspen Institute Socrates Society, World Economic Forum Global Shapers and the Young Entrepreneur Council. She has degrees from Harvard Kennedy School, MIT Sloan and Wharton School.
CFW: Welcome to the “Conference for Women Teleclass: Connectional Intelligence, The Secret to Getting Things Done.” Our guest today is Erica Dhawan, co-author of the new book, “Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.” Erica is one of today’s most provocative thinkers on millennials and the future of work. She is the co-founder and CEO of Cotential, the company that helps enterprises prepare for the global workplace of tomorrow.
In today’s teleclass, Erica will explain why in this hyper-competitive world, smarts, passion, and luck aren’t enough. The game changer is a thoroughly modern skill called connectional intelligence or CXQ. Virtually, anyone can maximize his or her potential and achieve breakthrough performance by developing this critical ability. Erica Dhawan, welcome to the Conference for Women Teleclass.
Erica: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
CFW: It’s great to have you. Let’s just dive right in. Why did you decide to write this book on connectional intelligence, and why is it so relevant in the world today?
Erica: It really stems on personal experience. I grew up in a family of immigrants. Like many immigrant children, I wanted to check off all the boxes of success. I went to an Ivy League school. I worked on Wall Street. It was really after the 2008 recession I began to see not only a sense of disillusionment and confusion among millennials and the next generation today, but so many people were trying to understand how to find greater meaning in their work and find new ways to develop passion and purpose. That led me to entirely switch gears.
I spent a series of years at Harvard and MIT studying the next generation’s desires and how they wanted to work in today’s world. What I saw was that what many executives were dubbing as a challenge around age or technology was really a struggle around how to navigate the noise of our over-connected world to really find purpose and meaning. That’s when I really began to dig in and realize that it wasn’t just about tools or technologies. There was a rise in human capacity, what I call connectional intelligence that certain people were harnessing in today’s world.
The key thing they were asking is not, “How do we obtain more networks and connections?” They were asking, “How do we connect intelligently and harness all of the resources we have access to to get the big things done that really matter to us?” That’s what led to the journey of writing the book and the movement we’ve been building over the past few years.
CFW: Now, I can imagine technology is a double-edged sword here. It’s helped us to become more connected but in some ways more disconnected. Talk a little bit about the role and the limitations of technology and cultivating connectional intelligence.
Erica: One of the great ways I like to answer this really important question is through stories. One of the stories we share in the book is about a woman named Jeannie Peeper. For many years, Jeannie Peeper struggled with a very rare disease called FOB. About ten years ago, with the rise of technology, she decided to do something very different.
She had spent years of her life scouring from doctor to doctor trying to figure out how to better diagnose her illness and had never met anyone that had the same, rare disease. What she did is she had met one doctor who had met 18 patients in his lifetime that had this disease, and she created the first ever Facebook group and newsletter by email for anyone around the world that have the disease. This brought hundreds of people together.
It soon became thousands of people because it included friends and family. For the first time ever, Jeannie was able to build an emotion [unintelligible 00:04:14] patients with the first [unintelligible 00:04:17]. Quickly enough, it began to become a knowledge network where now patients are sharing their knowledge with doctors and scientists and researchers to figure out how to better diagnose the illness.
This virtual community using technology has actually been able to allow this community to fund the first ever medical research at the University of Pennsylvania for this rare disease. That’s an example of truly the power of Jeannie using technology. The reality is that without Jeannie’s insight of being curious and courageous and her human behavior to take risks around connecting people, none of that would have happened.
We often rely on technology as the go-to, but that’s not exactly the case. Technology is an enabler. We can choose to use it for good and to bring communities together around purpose-driven actions, or we can choose it to get distracted and spend endless hours online that may not be creating any value. That’s why connectional intelligence is not about technology. It’s about unleashing our human behavior to maximize all the connections we have access to whether that’s via technology or in a coffee shop or within our family.
CFW: You just talked about one of the big misperceptions. What are some of the other misperceptions or misunderstandings about connectional intelligence that we should understand?
Erica: A lot of people measure relationships, especially in our digital world, around quantity, asking questions like, “How many Twitter followers do you have? How many Facebook likes?” Our book, “Get Big Things Done,” and our research really shifts the focus from quantity of connections to quality. Building relationships is focused on creating value or meaning, and it’s about making smart connections not just more connections.
Simply building a network doesn’t necessarily lead to measurable change. The key skill is how you use that network, whether it’s a network of five people or a network of 5,000. I would say that’s the number one misperception. This isn’t about having more networks. This is about being smart about the networks that you already have access to.
Another key misperception is that certain people are good at this and certain people just aren’t and that you have to be an extrovert to be good at connectional intelligence which is not the case at all. Connectional intelligence has always existed. Leaders like Ben Franklin and Leonardo de Vinci used connectional intelligence.
With today’s skill, [unintelligible 00:07:11] in the rise of technology, we are finding so many people that weren’t those typical networkers at a coffee shop or at an event are able to unleash their connectional intelligence online, behind a computer in a community contributing on a website like Jeannie Peeper. The second big misperception is that you have to be good at networking, or you have to be an extrovert to be good at connectional intelligence. Those, I would say, are the top two most common misperceptions.
CFW: That’s good to understand. I’m wondering, to go to the positive, is it possible to define connectional intelligence?
Erica: Yes. We define connectional intelligence as the capability to consistently create value and meaning by fully harnessing the power of your networks and relationships. If you think of IQ as your basic knowledge and emotional intelligence which came to stage about 15 years ago as a key leadership trait to improve leveraging emotional chemistry within a team, connectional intelligence is the next wave. It’s accessing all of the networks and resources we have access to now to create value and meaning.
CFW: What are some steps that our listeners can take starting right now to improve their own connectional intelligence, their own CXQ?
Erica: A couple of key things, the first is to open yourself up to new people and ideas. This means connecting with people of different cultures, backgrounds, disciplines, ages. Often, when we’re young, we stick together with those that are young, but connectional intelligence is all about bridging generations and skillsets. We often all have something to teach each other, and you never may know the idea of some person or some specific skillset that might revolutionize your own way of operating.
One of the examples I often share is about a man named Ben Thompson. Ben Thompson was a surfer, but he also was an engineer. When he was with his surfing community, they would always talk about the sludge in the water and how they could get better waves. When he was with the engineering community, they were always talking about innovations that could solve special problems.
What Ben did is he created a sensor that surfers now put under their surfboards to track the salinity, acidity and temperature of water. Now, this data is being used by climate change researchers. He, by opening himself up and using his different skillsets and surrounding himself with different types of people, he was able to bridge the surfer and climate change community around serious climate change issues.
The second key tip and step I suggest the listeners to do out there is to make connections and partnerships that you truly care about. Don’t get obsessed with the outside of how many Twitter followers you have or how many views a video gets. Reaching an audience is important but only if you have a message that you truly value and want to sustain. This is about long-term impact.
When Jeannie Peeper created the virtual network of patients, she did it because she cared about it. That’s what enabled it to become such a passionate, sustained community that turned into a knowledge network for doctors around the world and a research portal. The third key step I would recommend is to leverage what’s been done before. We don’t all need to come up with that million-dollar idea. We might waste a lot of time thinking about it. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or be the boss and the sole entrepreneur to be successful or connectionally intelligent.
Think about where your passion lies and then look at what already exists. Perhaps you could be open to various ways people are already taking action and learn ways around how you can work with them and contribute to them whether that’s joining a LinkedIn group around a topic you care about or answering questions on a Quora site around a specific expertise you have or maybe starting a chat group around a topic that matters to those in your community.
The three key steps I would say are opening yourself up to those new people and ideas. Second is making connections and partnerships you truly care about. Third, leverage what’s been done before because you’ll be surprised how you might bring a new insight to it that could create a new, unprecedented source of value.
CFW: What are some of the biggest barriers that hold people back from connection? What have you found in your research?
Erica: The biggest barriers are, number one, a fear of rejection. Often times, it takes risk. It’s very courageous to step out and connect with someone new or share an idea that’s never been shared before or try to mobilize a group that hasn’t been mobilized in any way. The second key barrier is our organizational silos today. In most organizations, we’re often rewarded for performing to our aligned boss within our organization instead of being rewarded to collaborate in new ways across our business silos with other peers in our organization outside of our traditional team.
The third barrier is really what I would describe as a challenge in curiosity. A lot of people are very curious. Curiosity, I would describe in today’s hyper-connected world as being not just the ability to ask great questions but the ability to design your questions so that you’re leveraging networks outside your usual suspects. Many people may ask a lot of questions, but they may not think intentionally about who else could help and who else might care enough to be part of the solution and being intentional around bringing them in.
Sometimes the barrier is, “It’s hard because we’re a Fortune 500 company, and we don’t naturally bring in outsiders to come up with ideas,” or, “It may be risky from a legal perspective to ask our customers what they think.” It just may be, “We’ve never done this before.” It may be new to try. All of those in our connected world can be overcome, and that’s why we truly believe that connectional intelligence is the maximizing force in today’s era for unprecedented value.
CFW: I would like to talk a little bit about generations and the workplace given your expertise in working with millennials. As you identify and get big things done, your books, we now have, I believe it is, four generations in the workplace. They all have different ways of communicating. How do we improve connections across the generations?
Erica: I’ll start with what we found in our research about millennials and then talk a little bit about how we work across generations more intelligently. The millennial generation have been raised in an age of only hyper-connected activity. This has really allowed them to not only be native to new ways of working in connective capacities but also really to use it in unique ways to scan and source ideas or solve problems through disparate networks like social media or crowdsourcing that are new and really have more so just pervaded mainstream in the last ten years.
What we found is that connectional intelligence is not specific to the millennialist generation. It just looks different. One of the stories in our book is about a man named Ron Wallace. He’s a 60-year old pumpkin farmer. He used his connectional intelligence to grow the world’s largest pumpkin by partnering with a group of scientists around the world and discovered a scientist that had created a fungi for potato farmers that radically [spinned] potatoes that he used in pumpkins.
Now, small-scale farmers around the world are using this pumpkin farmer’s techniques to grow bigger crops because they can’t afford chemical fertilizers. That’s a very different example of connectional intelligence. What we found in our research is that we can’t ask today, “What do millennials want,” or, “What do baby-boomers want?” We have to ask, “How do we collaborate in new ways across generations to really drive the processes, products and innovations that solved business problems?”
One of the best examples of that is leveraging millennial-savvy in new forms of connection but not forgetting that we really need to harness senior leaders’ abilities and knowledge and insights and capacity at the same time. One of the best stories that encapsulates this is the story of the granny cloud. The granny cloud is a community of grandmothers in the UK and Australia.
This community comes together virtually on Skype to connect with children across India. The interesting thing is what they’re doing is these grannies who have free time are mentoring children across India, helping them practice their coursework and their English. This started out as something that grandmothers just wanted to as a way to give back.
Today, research is now being done to show that the video interaction that these grandmothers are having is increasing their cognitive ability as they decline in age. It’s now being seen as a model for engagement at senior centers and retirement centers. That’s an example of the unprecedented value of multigenerational engagement where their ways and assets that different generations can use to come together to solve problems.
CFW: That is fascinating. It seems like a win-win, and both generations get a tremendous benefit from that connection.
Erica: That’s really the power of connectional intelligence. It’s not about one way. It’s how do we bring the right people, teams and networks together to create that mutual benefit that solves problems and creates meaning?
CFW: You talk in your book about unimaginable transformations. I’m wondering if you could define that and also talk about some of the best practices we can implement in our workplaces to create those unimaginable transformations.
Erica: I would say that the definition of unimaginable transformations is now imaginable because of the power of connectional intelligence. I’ll use stories to define it. One of my favorite stories from the book is about a man name Luis von Ahn who founded a language learning platform called Duolingo. Luis von Ahn was a computer scientist. One of the problems he wanted to solve was finding a better way for people around the world to learn languages for free. He created a mobile application that allows people to download, for free, games to learn new languages.
Let’s say you want to learn French. You play beginner games, then intermediate, then advanced games on the mobile app to learn the language. At the same time, he really thought in what I would call an unimaginable way where he asked himself, “What other problems could I solve as I’m building this mobile app and helping people around the world learn new languages?” The other problem he found and discovered was the news websites around the world. As they published blogs online, they needed a quicker way to translate these articles into different languages. He brought both of those problems together.
What he did is he turned Duolingo not only into a language learning game but also a crowdsourced text translation service. When players play Duolingo, when they’re learning the English to French, they are no longer just translating random sentences. When they get to the intermediate and advanced of, say, learning French, they’re translating news website article sentences of companies like CNN, Buzzfeed and PBS.
There’s an algorithm that when an aggregate amount of people are translating these sentences, it’s automatically translating these blogs around the world. They created a revenue model bringing together two completely different problems at once. That’s an example of an unimaginable transformation that’s actually possible today when we use the power of connectional intelligence.
CFW: I love that app. I just have to say I enjoy playing with it quite a bit. One of the things and another thing you talk about is what you call courageous conversations that can spark big change. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by these courageous conversations?
Erica: The way that we define courageous conversations is really two key questions that help people understand how they can build more courageous conversations. The first is asking yourself, “How well do I spark and engage in diverse and difficult conversations?” We all have conversations with people every day, but are we willing to take risks to bring in a diverse perspective or talk about a conflict in a meaningful way that will help us move forward?
The second part of courageous conversations is even in the face of uncertainty, asking yourself, “Am I willing to keep these ideas and conversations alive and amplify them?” It could be courageous to make a comment in one meeting. Courageous conversations are really built on years of work, having the persistence and grit to keep conversations alive even though they may be difficult or hard knowing that using that tension and difference will actually lead to the most productive results. Those are some of the key factors we use to help others assess how they can instill and create more courageous conversations.
CFW: It sounds like these are your five Cs. Am I right, courage?
Erica: That’s right.
CFW: Could we run through them one more time for our listeners, courage?
Erica: Absolutely. In our book, we talk about five character traits of connection intelligence. These are also five traits that all of the listeners out there can build on a daily basis. The first one is curiosity. The way to think about curiosity and a question for all of you is to ask yourself how well do you frame and ask different questions from different context to gain new perspectives?
The second character trait is combination. Combination is the ability to combine different ideas, products or resources to create new ways of thinking or surprising results. Ask yourself how well do you take different ideas or resources to create some of those surprising results that you may not have expected. The third is community. Community is really about being able to bring people together to create and spark new ideas and develop care and understanding.
The fourth is courage. Courage is really the ability, as I mentioned earlier, to spark and engage diverse and difficult conversations and keeping those ideas alive and amplifying them. The fifth C or character trait is combustion which is my favorite which is all about how well you can mobilize and ignite diverse networks to activate and create change. What we found is that these were five character traits of the most connectionally intelligent people.
From that, we identified that they were actually three types of people in today’s world. Ten years ago, Malcolm Gladwell coined the concept of a connector. What we found is that there were actually three types of connectors in today’s over-connected world. They were the thinkers, the enablers and the connection executors. The thinkers are really those that often connect with others around ideas. These were the people that had the highest levels of curiosity in combination.
The enablers are those that are more of the traditional people connectors. They created the structures and teams to get big things done. These are the people that have the highest character traits of community. The third type of connectors were the executors. These are the people who were great at mobilizing all the people to get things into action.
Their greatest strength was the combustion character trait. What I encourage all of you to think about is in your daily work, are you more of a thinker, enabler or executor? You can use our character traits to help you identify where your strengths are and also identify others that collaborate very differently than you that you can leverage.
CFW: That’s great. We’re running short on time. We’ve got time for one more question. Then, I know you have something very special to offer our listeners today. The last question is with all the tools that we have, the countless devices, the internet, the smartphones, the tablets, everything, is it possible to be over-connected?
Erica: Absolutely. We are living in an age of not only hyper-connection but over-connection. That’s why we really like to define the difference between just connectional intelligence and collaboration. Everyone today is talking about collaboration. You can collaborate so much that you get nothing done too. What we encourage readers and listeners to think about is are you being connectionally intelligent to preserve your time, to take the time to think about ideas not just have more meetings, to shift how you use your time when connecting to others around purpose and value instead of just small-talk?
Are you designing ways you can use time virtually online to actually improve your face-to-face meetings? We encourage you to think about connections today on a spectrum. Every day, you may be under-connected or you may be highly over-connected to really start by understanding where do you stand right now and how can you improve based on the mission and purpose that you have not just becoming more connected for the sake of it.
CFW: Great. I understand you have something special to offer our listeners today.
Erica: Yes, absolutely a couple of things. The first is you can learn more about connectional intelligence in our book, “Get Big Things Done.” The second is for those out there that want to learn more about how to assess and measure their connectional intelligence, we have a free, special giveaway by text message. If you text the number 66866 and in the text message, type in the word ‘Erica’, my name, E-R-I-C-A, you’ll get a link to get access to the connectional intelligence assessment.
This is a 10-minute assessment that helps you measure yourself on the five key character traits we talked about. You’ll get a score on your connectional intelligence as well as an identification of what type of connector you are so that you can better improve your collaboration strengths and gaps with the teams that you work with. Definitely check that out. It’s typing in, by phone, the number on text message, 66866. In the message, type in my name, Erica. Learn more at EDhawan or on my website.
CFW: Your website address is …
CFW: Dhawan is D-H-A-W-A-N.
Erica: That’s right.
CFW: The text message, again, is 66866. Text the word ‘Erica’, E-R-I-C-A. That’s all we have time for today. A reminder that today’s teleclass will be available as a podcast on your conference website. If you registered using Eventbrite, you’re going to receive an email letting you know when the podcast is available on your conference website. Our thanks to Erica Dhawan, author of “Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.” For those of you in California, Erica will be appearing at the Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley on February 1st.
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