Richard Claydon tells a story about a ‘super-connector’ he once worked with. This person was highly respected by everyone and could get things done across departments, ignoring the official hierarchy.

“In today’s interconnected complexity of work, it is next to impossible to isolate performance to the granular, individualised level of a KPI. Everything happens in dynamic context, impacting and being impacted by stuff that is going on elsewhere. A super-connector navigates this complexity for the benefit of all.

Super-connectors are vital for creative and innovative work. They are the people who take strands of thoughts from multiple domains, synthesise them and turn them into something novel. Without people capable of listening to, comprehending, sharing and combining such thoughts, creativity and innovation hit roadblock after roadblock.” —Are you a super-connector?

Gillian Tett in The Silo Effect gives various stories of silo-busting. The conclusion provides a few rules of thumb. Hierarchies and classification systems are necessary, especially in complex fields of practice, so we will never get rid of silos. So the challenge is to find ways to get outside our hierarchical boundaries and see from multiple perspectives. Silo thinking can be countered by engaging what Tett calls ‘cultural translators’ — “people who are able to move between specialist silos and explain to those sitting inside one department what is happening elsewhere”. Tett says that only about 10% of an organization’s staff need these translation skills. Cultural translators could also be called ‘knowledge catalysts’.

In my last post I said that we need less professing and more doing. The most trusted temperaments are Doers, Connectors, and Catalysts. Super-connectors are a mix of all three — they get things done, they connect across boundaries, and they catalyze the actions of others.

The authors of The Starfish and the Spider state that spider organizations are those with centralized control and if you cut off the head, the rest will die. In starfish organizations, cutting off one leg will not kill it, because intelligence is distributed throughout the organism. One of the five requirements for a successful starfish organization is to have Catalysts.

“Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change or creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity. Put them into a structured environment and they might suffocate. But let them dream and they’ll thrive.” (p. 131)

Claydon concludes that organizations need better ways to identify and support super-connectors. Given the leadership crisis during this pandemic, it seems like a good idea.

“It’s vital to find ways of finding and hiring super-connectors in today’s increasingly complex workplaces. They are the glue that holds everything together. But we are stuck in a narrow understanding of work.

• Recruitment doesn’t know how to value this incredibly important skillset. Instead, it number crunches around the idea of specialism and culture-fit.
• Managers don’t know how to evaluate a super-connector. They don’t do what the KPIs say, therefore they aren’t valuable.
• The culture metaphors sees workers as psychologically fitting with the culture, drawn to the values, rules and rituals that define the culture and happy to live them.

It’s time we stopped thinking in such a limited way and understood the value of connectivity in complexity.” —Are you a super-connector?

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5 Responses to “super-connectors”

  1. Nancy White

    What happens when you cut out the heart of a starfish! Cutting off a leg is different than cutting off a head. Put that sweet metaphor to bed, my friend! 🙂

    Seriously, useful post and I appreciate it. I might add that super connectors should be recruited into organizations, not hired for a job description. That means someone at the org must value and understand these folks! Who does? Other super connectors!

  2. Harold Jarche

    Thanks, Nancy!
    “All models are flawed, but some are useful.” —George Box
    Guess it’s the same with metaphors 😉
    HR is the enemy, hiring for ‘competencies’, when we should be hiring for attitude, IMO.


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