What it Means Today to be 'Connected'
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die. â€” E.M. Forster, Howards End (1910)
I was recently selected as one of Britain’s “best connected” women by Director, a business magazine. This prompted me to reflect on what it actually means to be “connected.” I began to explore the meaning of connectedness, both in person, and in an ever more virtual world, and to consider whether the two forms are so different. I considered it both in my role as a board director, but also in a wider framework of building relationships and gathering, synthesizing and sharing knowledge.
Connecting with people and innovative ideas is more important than ever. To my mind, in a world where new and interesting ideas can come from anywhere, true value is found by breaking through the silos of sector-only or country-only knowledge and relationships. In such a world, it is not about the number of people you know or the mountain of business cards you collect, but rather about the depth and authenticity of the relationships you build and sustain, the depth and maturity of the connection you have with one another, and about valuing and nurturing the free flow of ideas.
The integration of social media tools, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Facebook, and the use of technologies like video Skype means that when used to best effect, the online and offline exchange of ideas can be seamless and without the restrictions of distance and time. We need only keep an open mind and be on both “transmit” and “receive” to be able to find new, dynamic ways to work together and make the most of the synergies thus created.
One of the most exciting developments that technological advances have facilitated is the breaking down of the hierarchy of ideas, allowing great ideas to bubble to the surface from virtually anywhere. This means that it matters little whether an idea originates from a young woman entrepreneur in Japan or an elder statesman in Africa.
I have found myself asking a question via Twitter, sending the query out into the ether, only to have some of the most creative and interesting solutions coming back in very short order. I am struck by the fact that some of the best, most considered answers can come from unlikely sources, and I’m encouraged that oftentimes the most compelling answers do not come from “experts” but rather from someone I had not heard of before. More and more I look at the answer or the new idea before I look to see who sent it. This marks an extraordinary and complete shift in power to the idea, and away from the source. Ideas are increasingly judged on their merit, no longer requiring “validation” on the basis of their source before they are taken seriously.
This opportunity for innovation to flourish and for talent to shine will only reach its full potential if connectedness is based on authenticity, depth and continuity.
Why? To me authenticity is the key to building relationships both online and offline. It is easy to see, either in person or over social media, when someone is putting on an act, or is genuinely interested in a particular issue. Connectedness is not an end in itself. It is not about the number of connections you have on LinkedIn, the number of followers on Twitter or the number of friends on Facebook, but about the relationship that you have with them. The real measure of connectedness is both how much you give and how much you get, and how much anyone cares or trusts what you say. It is that relationship that PeerIndex and Klout try, in part, to measure.
As the kind of connectedness that social media and technologies like Skype facilitate crosses and blurs the boundaries between social and professional networks, the depth of the relationships that result is often profound. For me, the insight is more important than the size of the input: a light-hearted quip is often more helpful and insightful than a long post or link to a book, or more often now, an eBook. It is about sharing ideas, developing them together, and putting them jointly to good use â€” this depth increases with the degree of connectedness you have, and in turn sustains it over time.
The most interesting part of social media is how it enables more meaningful connections with friends, colleagues, and advisers. Connectedness in this sense is also about the seamless way in which our communication continues, irrespective of whether we are meeting over a cup of tea or meeting over Skype, sending each other direct messages on Twitter or writing on each others’ Facebook walls, or sharing links and holding conversations in LinkedIn or Google Plus.
When done well, with authenticity, depth and continuity, being connected, both online and offline, facilitates constant learning, synthesizing, evolving, and sharing that is, for me, the most exciting and rewarding part of being “connected.”