We need to learn how to connect

From danah boyd’s presentation at ASTD TechKnowledge 2013, on the future of work:

But if you want to prepare people not just for the next job, but for the one after that, you need to help them think through the relationships they have and what they learn from the people around them. Understanding people isn’t just an HR skill for managers. For better or worse, in a risk economy with an increasingly interdependent global workforce, these are skills that everyday people need. Building lifelong learners means instilling curiosity, but it also means helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from. And what this means is that people need to learn how to connect to new people on a regular basis.

I’ve highlighted the last phrase because this is what social learning is all about; connections. No person has all the knowledge needed to work completely alone in our connected society. Neither does any company. Neither does any government. We are all connected AND dependent on each other.

One of the barriers to connecting people is the nature of the JOB, seen as something to be filled by replaceable workers. Shifting our perspective to treating workers as unique individuals, each of whom have different abilities and connections with others, is a start in thinking with a network perspective. Another barrier is viewing knowledge as something that can be delivered, or transferred. It cannot. Knowledge from a network perspective is about connecting experiences, relationships, and situations.

Work and learning today is all about connecting people. Managers, supervisors, and business support functions should be focused on enabling connections for knowledge workers. Like artists, knowledge workers need inspiration. Too few connections mean few sources of inspiration and little likelihood of serendipity. Innovation is not so much about having ideas as it is about making connections. We know that people with more connections are also more productive. Chance favours both the connected mind and the connected company.


Increasing connections should be a primary business focus. It should also be the aim of HR and learning & development departments. Connections increase as people cooperate in networks (not focused on any direct benefits for helping others). Diverse networks can emerge from cooperation that is supported by transparency and openness in getting work done. Basically, better external connections also make a worker more valuable internally. Fostering this perspective will be a huge change from the way many organizations work today.

10 Responses to “We need to learn how to connect”

  1. Jon Husband

    people need to learn how to connect to new people on a regular basis.

    And in doing so will need to assess each other and themselves with respect to the ‘things’ that will be exchanged in creating that connection .. knowledge that they each have and that can be interesting and/or useful (developed during social exchanges), trust at a level that allows exploration between what they know and what they’re willing to offer), the credibility of what they say to each other and of the other information brought into the exchanges, and the results they are seeking (why they are connecting and what they may be seeking from the other).

    Social negotiations for greasing the nodes of social networks-of-purpose. What creates stronger or weaker ties in networks over time. The organizing points for flows of effective collaboration towards shared objectives.

  2. virginia yonkers

    This was the conclusion of my dissertation! I looked at distributed groups and found 1) knowledge can be found outside of the individual (a switch from traditional KM models of expertise); and 2) the most valued employees were those that could access their knowledge networks when needed and TRANSLATE knowledge from one context to another. So it is not just the networks, it is also the ability to understand new information outside of a person’s “expertise” and apply it to a new context.

    One of my recommendations (which my committee made me cut) was to provide opportunities for individuals within an organization to meet and create networks. As you pointed out, a person can then maintain and expand those connections through social networks. However, I do believe there needs to be come collaborative social and work time face-to-face to develop the network bases. This is why conferences or organizational/interdepartmental meetings are still valuable.

    • Harold Jarche

      Excellent point! “So it is not just the networks, it is also the ability to understand new information outside of a person’s “expertise” and apply it to a new context.”

      I agree about the value of F2F time, though my experience shows it is not essential. I have many very real members of my professional networks whom I have never met, yet we have collaborated on projects and know each other rather well.

  3. virginia yonkers

    I do also. But those that I have never met often are extensions of my “base” network who I have met face to face and created a trusting working relationship with. I may have people in my network who I work with who are friends of friends that I have never met, but they are connected through one of the core groups (think linkedin 2nd or 3rd degree. Few have NO connection). I also look at online conferences or interaction via video conferencing as a viable alternative to face to face interaction.

  4. Jon Husband

    Harold, in my experience meeting you and walking and talking with you was different than communicating with you by email, DM and Skype.


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