Get Big Things Done
The Power of Connectional Intelligence
By Erica Dhawan, Saj-Nicole Joni
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2015 Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni
All rights reserved.
THE BIG WAVE
They call them simply "Big Waves." But the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the towering avalanches of water that can rise between sixty and one hundred feet above sea level. If you've never seen such a wave, it can be hard to comprehend just how big it is. Imagine six cars piled bumper to bumper, vertically, into the sky. A wave as tall as a small office building, as long as the distance between first base and third base on a baseball diamond. These monster waves don't look like normal waves, and they don't behave like them either. They reach their incredible size by gathering strength from neighboring waves, absorbing three or four into one massive swell. Their energy is almost kinetic; their movements are impossible to predict.
We believe that connectional intelligence is, metaphorically speaking, the monster wave of our time. Since the turn of the twentieth century, people have dreamt of a world in which technology will enable men and women to create things with their minds, just as machines transformed the means of production in the Industrial Age.
In 1945, Dr. Vannevar Bush published his groundbreaking essay "As We May Think" in The Atlantic Monthly. The editors of the magazine marveled at Bush's premise, which might well be called a manifesto for connectional intelligence. They wrote that, after the weapons of war have been put down,
... men [and women] of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For years inventions have extended man's physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but not the end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.
We believe that we are now unlocking what those editors called, nearly seventy years ago, "our bewildering store of knowledge," because today, for the first time in history, billions of people from all walks of life, races, countries and social economic status are inclusively connected. Previously, new forms of connection and communications were primarily reserved for and used by the elite. Never before have so many people had access, through mobile, social and digital technology, to so much data, knowledge and collective brainpower. We believe that this connectedness gives us power to solve big problems, turn dreams into realities, create amazing products, upgrade survival to prosperity, change social policy, discover life-saving medical cures and much, much more. When we combine this with the inclusive imagination and insight of billions of people — all connected — we begin to comprehend the monster wave of connectional intelligence that is transforming our lives.
Here's what we think is happening. We all know about the value of having high IQ, but historically, the importance of high intelligence rose after the advent of the printing press, when people could share ideas in the form of reading and books. This led to rapid advances in science, widespread literacy, new forms of governance and the many inventions that brought us to the modern world.
Similarly, the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence) rose dramatically with the rise of large, densely populated cities and as organizations with thousands of people spread across the globe. Having high EQ is always valuable to leaders, but when leading large groups, it becomes a critical capability. Indeed, today, in both the private and nonprofit sectors, high EQ is recognized as a must-have ability for anyone seeking to lead a large, diverse and geographically dispersed organization.
And now, we are seeing the rise of something we call connectional intelligence (CxQ). Our definition: Connectional Intelligence is the ability to combine the world's diversity of people, networks, disciplines and resources, forging connections that create value, meaning and breakthrough results.
For us, the promise of connectional intelligence couldn't be simpler, more powerful or more inspiring:
Take a Dream.
Get Big Things Done.
The word connection gets thrown around a lot today. Faced with an abundance of tools for connecting, we are often left overwhelmed, without a clear sense of how to use the myriad forms of connection in the service of human potential. To some people, "connection" simply means being constantly online: social media, technology, apps, entertainment, digital sharing and all the forms of instant communication that are becoming a pervasive part of the fabric of how we live.
For those of you who think connectional intelligence sounds good, but feel that you don't need to be more connected than you already are, know that we're talking about something much broader and more profound than a new-and-cool set of digital tools. And for those of you who think that hyper-connectivity is just about teenagers on Twitter and twenty-somethings on Instagram, know that inclusive connection is the foundation on which the next wave of human potential will rise.
Humans have always been connectional. We've always been curious. We've always combined things. We've always been travelers. We've always been conversationalists. We are living in a new era in which the traditional routes to power — the schools you go to, the contacts in your address book, the families you are born to — are no longer the only ways to get ahead. Never before have so many people, of so many different backgrounds, been able to connect with such a vast network of ideas, information and resources. One of the key things to understand is that connectional intelligence combined with inclusive connection is inherently democratic.
One of the questions that we seek to address in this book is how do you cut through the noise of e-mail and social media to connect intelligently? How do we marshal what we know that much more quickly? How do we find and keep supporters? How do we influence the greatest number of people? How do we propel connectional intelligence beyond traditional networking and the massive entertainment element of our digital lives toward a loftier purpose? In short, how do we get behind this newfound connectivity and use it to get to the places where we want to go?
Two decades after the Internet blasted into our collective lives, it's time for a guidebook that shows us all how to access and launch this innate human capability to make connections. The big news, especially for anyone who's experienced digital overload or fatigue, is that there are many real-life applications for all of your connectedness that are bigger and more powerful than how many followers you have on Twitter or how many likes your post gets on Facebook. Connectional intelligence propels us all beyond networking and entertainment toward a loftier purpose — improving people's lives, building sustainable societies and creating the futures we want. Soon it will also be a required skill: today's and tomorrow's generations will know no world without smart connection, and we can't ask them to park or squander what they do best.
So what does this look like in our modern world? A few examples of connectional intelligence at work (and at play) are discussed below.
It's used by Ben Kaufman, CEO and founder of the company Quirky, to help average, everyday people bring their inventions to life. In just a few short years, Ben has shepherded hundreds of inventors through the process of developing, manufacturing and distributing hundreds of products into major retail outlets such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Williams-Sonoma. Quirky's recent ad campaign shows how it upends traditional corporate structures and attitudes. In a series of ads called, "The World's Least Important CEO," Ben underscores that it's the team, not the boss, that matters. In one of the ads, he posts his phone number and promises that "The World's Least Important CEO Is Not Too Busy to Take Your Call." When one media reporter called and got Ben himself, she was so stunned that she hung up. When the reporter's friend called to pitch an idea, Ben gave the budding inventor two minutes of his time, offering advice about how to get a product into Home Depot. For a CEO of even a small company to post his phone number, share his personal e-mail (Ben does that too), and still manage to get big things done rewrites (or at least revises) the rules of leadership in a significant way. We'll be talking more about Quirky later in this book.
Nike believes that the best way to stimulate environmentally sustainable innovation is through connectional intelligence. This is evident in Nike's GreenXchange (GX), a web-based marketplace where companies can collaborate and share intellectual property to foster new environmentally sustainable business models and innovation. Nike took the substantial risk of making available on GX more than four hundred of its own patents for public research. The risk paid off. Soon enough, a mountain-biking company used a rubber patent to innovate their tire inner tubes, thus bringing a greener product to market more quickly and cheaply than the manufacturer could on its own.
Using its MyStarbucks platform, Starbucks tasked its loyal fans to come up with new product and service innovations. Within five years customers presented 150,000 new ideas. One of the first of these consumer-centric designs that Starbucks rolled out was a little green combination swizzle stick/stopper that keeps hot coffee from burning your fingers and does away with the need for flat lids with holes in them. That's connectional intelligence at work: elegant solutions, created by the kind of broad-based outreach that could only be possible in our age of inclusive connection, brought to market quickly and decisively by a diverse but unified group, working collaboratively toward a common goal.
Just a few years ago, there had never been a nationally ranked pro surfer from Maui — in surfing circles, Hawaii's second-largest island was considered something of a joke — but Dusty Payne, a young surfing fanatic, wanted to change all that. Rounding up four local surfing buddies who believed that, as a group, they could help each other become great, the five boys vowed to learn as much as they could by competing against and critiquing one another.
They carried out frame-by-frame analyses of DVD and YouTube videos of the top surfers, skateboarders, windsurfers, mountain bikers and motor-cross champions on the planet, and spent hours comparing their own filmed techniques against them. Combining ideas that came from connections to adjacent sports and competitors, Dusty came up with his own signature "Superman" move, a key factor in helping him win a world junior surfing championship. Today Dusty and his pals are all nationally ranked pros — and Maui is finally on the map as a surfing incubator.
Most powerfully, connectional intelligence can, and does, save lives and improve the quality of life for people who need it most. It was by using the tools and tenets of connectional intelligence that a ragtag group in Boston helped the United Nations, the Coast Guard and the Marines rescue thousands of survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake. It was connectional intelligence that inspired one woman to petition Victoria's Secret to begin manufacturing a "mastectomy bra," hoping to aid the thousands of women like her mother, a breast cancer survivor. And it's connectional intelligence that's helping Harvard Medical School researchers come up with solutions that are raising the bar on care and treatment of people living with Type 1 diabetes.
As co-authors, we've now spent the last few years riding the wave of connectional intelligence together. The exciting news is that we found it everywhere we looked: in corporations and in public schools, in agriculture and sports, in the United States and around the world. We didn't invent it, and we're not trying to can it. It's as old as tribal wisdom and as ever-changing as the models of your favorite handheld device. This book isn't about the "25 Most Connectionally Intelligent People" in the world. It's not a who's who or a greatest hits list. It's a guidebook for people from all walks of life who want to get big things done.
The stories we present ask and answer the question: What can anyone and everyone accomplish when they connect intelligently? At the core of our work is the knowledge that these stories of how men and women (and sometimes kids) are making these huge intellectual and creative leaps aren't just one-offs. Connectional intelligence is more than the cool YouTube video of someone doing something amazing; it's more than viral, crowd-sourced campaigns, or one out-the-box company that created something brand new. The very way we do business is changing. The way we're learning is changing. We cannot get where we want to go, as creative individuals and as innovative companies, if we view these "oh wow" stories in isolation. They need to be understood as a very exciting, very powerful, new whole.
So how did this book get started?
Perhaps in today's world of hyper-connectivity, it was almost inevitable that we would connect. When we first met, what jumped out at us right away was that despite our generational differences, we had a lot to talk about: Saj-nicole was in the midst of doing work she loves. As CEO of Cambridge International Group, she serves as a confidential advisor and thinking partner to CEOs around the world, helping them work through their most difficult challenges; Erica was a fellow at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership. Today, as CEO of Cotential, she works with organizations to drive innovation across cultures and generations to prepare the global workforce for the future. The generational differences were real: One of us got her start as the first woman to join the faculty of MIT's applied mathematics department. (How long ago was that? Back then, there were no women's bathrooms in MIT's entire mathematics building.) The other started off as a young social change leader when she was named to Teen People magazine's "20 Teens Who Will Change the World." (By then, bathrooms in many colleges were co-ed.) Our generational differences were real but so was a common strand that we recognized in each other's work. We were both committed to the ideal of helping people get big things done and felt that our moment in history offered more opportunity for more types of people than ever before. The question became: How can we inspire and teach people everywhere to harness connectional intelligence in order to live and work that much better?
One of the discoveries that surprised us is that connectional intelligence works across all personality types. You might think, at first, that it requires an outgoing personality — someone who loves networking, real-life socializing and being known, and who values a stage and media presence. But we've seen that this is not the only type of person who accesses profound connectional intelligence to get big things done. The self-described introvert who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers at a networking conference might establish a blog presence online and then extend these online relationships into the real world.
Today, you can source energy and capacity from different forms of connection — like extroverts, you can start from networks of people to spark ideas that then mobilize more people. But also, like introverts, you can draw from different sources like books, nature and music that then form the basis of relationships that generate more ideas and possibilities. If connectional intelligence was merely about traditional networking, only extroverts would excel at it. But connectional intelligence is built on a use of technology and traditional forms of information, as well as an emotional intelligence, which makes it a resource that introverts can tap into as well. In connectional intelligence, the big picture and big ideas matter as much as how well you sell yourself in a meeting or in a professional setting.
We've seen this in our own work and life. Saj-nicole is the classic "Renaissance" thinker when it comes to connectional intelligence. She starts by learning from every field, and it is the pull of ideas that prompts her to meet people. As an integrative thinker, it has often been her connected thinking, sourced from the arts, humanities, sports and science, that fuels her biggest business ideas and leads her to connections with people to get big things done. Erica started more as an outside-in thinker: her initial connection to people sparks her curiosity, creating new ideas, which in turn mobilize more people to get big things done. This kind of thinking was shown when Erica co-hosted gatherings with hundreds of young professionals in New York on social entrepreneurship. The events led to a broader team of young professionals who took the next step in co-creating NY+acumen, a local community of social change leaders in New York in partnership with Acumen, a nonprofit that raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. The initial pilot was a success and the +Acumen network, led by Acumen's Jo-Ann Tan, is now a global community of social change leaders in over 26 cities. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Get Big Things Done by Erica Dhawan, Saj-Nicole Joni. Copyright © 2015 Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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