Connecting the Unconnected

I started thinking about connecting the unconnected after reading the articles “Here’s the No. 1 Predictor of Career Success, According to Network Science” and “Why Being the Most Connected Is a Vanity Metric.” These articles made me think back to Peter Senge, et al writing about the “Internal Networkers/Community Builders” needed to help diffuse learning in an organization in “The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in a Learning Organization.” Basically, connecting the unconnected includes introducing different individuals or groups to each other as well as exchanging ideas between unconnected individuals or groups.

For the purposes of this post, I will refer to an individual or group as “I/G” and individuals or groups as “I/Gs.”

Who Is Connected and Why?

We all our connected in some fashion. Our connectedness is a matter of degree relative to some I/G. Many of us have a core connection of family, friends and/or co-workers with whom we are fairly close. We know each other at a deeper level in this core connection than we do with other I/Gs. We have influence with the people in this core connection in a way we do not have with other I/Gs. The people in our core connection have a level of influence with us that other I/Gs may not have.

My definition of being connected is not solely at the level of depth like I described above. Instead, I think of how strong the connection is with each of the I/Gs we have. Further, the goal is not to have strong connections with all I/Gs (not probable). Instead, the goals are to:

  • understand the depth of our connection to an I/G.
  • recognize what level of influence this depth affords us.
  • utilize this influence.
  • be aware how we are influenced by the I/G based upon the depth of connection.
  • make new connections.
  • keep a range of connectedness (we cannot be close with everyone).

Depth of Connections

When I look at my LinkedIn updates, often there are announcements of new connections my connections have made or groups they have joined. I have no idea if an individual in the update is going to be (or already is):

  1. loosely connected.
  2. connected.
  3. deeply connected.

to the new I/G. When we look at our social network connections, which of these 3 types do our connections fall into?

Realistically, we need all of these types if we want to increase our ability to influence change. Within each of these types we will have a different level of credibility, and the negotiation of our credibility is dependent upon the perceived (not potential) value we bring to each I/G.

Comparing Depth of Connection With Potential Credibility and Value
Depth of Connection With I/G Potential Credibility Potential Value
Not at all Connected none none
Loosely Connected low high
Connected medium high
Deeply Connected high high

The table above may seem a little strange. We start all of our connections at the “loosely connected” level, and through the investment of time and the perceived value we bring to the connection (as well as what is reciprocated), our depth of connection moves down the rows of the table. As our depth of connection becomes deeper, our potential credibility increases. “Depth” can be viewed as the bond with an I/G and/or the frequency with which we interact with the I/G.

Conversely, if our credibility with a connection begins to wane, we may find the depth of our connection to the I/G begins to wane as well. Interestingly, we could let the frequency of our connecting with an I/G wane, but keep our credibility high for some period of time. This is along the lines of saying something like “we picked up right where we left off,” or “it’s as if we had never been apart.” The depth can remain largely intact, but only if enough of the I/G we knew remains.

Our potential value with each I/G is “high” because the depth of connection to the I/G does not affect the value we bring. This may seem counterintuitive. We may have more work to do to convince an I/G with which we are loosely connected that an I/G or idea we bring from elsewhere may be valuable, but the I/G or idea is not diminished by this challenge, so neither is our potential value.

Benefits to the Connections Being Connected

Introducing an I/G to another I/G obviously expands the connections of each I/G. They have moved from the “not at all connected” type of connection to “loosely connected.” This enables new perspectives and ideas to flow between the I/Gs, and this may result in the creation of a new I/G.

Moving between I/Gs allows us to bring information to each I/G that it may not have had access to before. Even if our connection type is “loosely connected” with 1 or both of the I/Gs, we expand the I/Gs access to information and to different perspectives.

Even if our information is considered “old” by 1 of our I/Gs, it may be new to another I/G. I am reminded of an ad campaign NBC ran some years ago for television reruns: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” This new “old” information may be what the I/G needs to move forward. In any case, new “old” information is more valuable than information that is unknown.

Benefits to the Person Connecting the Unconnected

The I/G cannot always make sense of the information we bring. We may need to translate the information into a vernacular the I/G understands. This does not mean the I/G is stupid. This means the I/G has different words and/or meanings of words to express similar information. Another possibility is the I/G never had exposure to this perspective before.

Introducing, moving between and translating for I/Gs increases our perceived value to each I/G. The first article I referenced above, “Here’s the No. 1 Predictor of Career Success, According to Network Science” looked at which type of person was more successful in a career. The article was largely based on the work of Ronald Burt. In the context of the article, being “successful” is defined as increased “compensations, evaluation and promotion.”

Those who connect more I/Gs are found to be more successful in their careers.

Challenges for the Person Connecting the Unconnected

Because there is no free lunch in life, some of the challenges for a person connecting the unconnected are:

Not everyone can connect the unconnected. Not everyone is suited for this kind of social engagement. If everyone were busy connecting I/Gs, there would be no I/Gs to connect. Some I/G has to be disconnected.

In addition, many types of people are needed in an organization in order for the organization to thrive. In “The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in a Learning Organization,” 3 types of leadership communities are identified in an organization:

  1. local line leaders
  2. internal networkers/community builders (the focus of this post)
  3. executive leaders

and all are necessary. Even though they are grouped into separate communities, there is no reason why lines cannot blur. If you “Discover Your Strengths” lie within the “local line leaders” community, keep playing to your strengths; however, recognize that you can elevate your strengths by connecting the unconnected even if in a limited fashion.