The Power Of Connectional Intelligence - Interview With Erica Dhawan

7 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
March 18, 2015
Last updated: July 5, 2019
The Power Of Connectional Intelligence - Interview With Erica Dhawan
Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert, keynote speaker and strategiest teaching companies and business leaders creative actions to drive elite performance, improve innovation across generations and cultures, capitalize on the expertise of Gen Y talent and prepare the global workforce for the future.


1) People are familiar with the concept of emotional intelligence. What is connectional intelligence? Why did you get interested in the subject?

The world is changing. Everyone is connected today through social media, mobile devices and networks. But how do we leverage those resources? My new book, Get Big Things Done, co-authored by Saj-nicole Joni, revolutionizes the way we harness that connectedness to help us achieve greater impact than ever before. This is through what we call connectional intelligence - the ability to combine knowledge, ambition and human capital, forging connections on a global scale that create unprecedented value and meaning.

As a child of first generation immigrants, my goal was to check the boxes of success. I got a shiny degree from an Ivy League and marched into a glamorous job on wall street. Like every other millennial I worked incredibly hard. In the 2008 recession, I witnessed firsthand the disillusionment, confusion and burnout of my generation. I saw how our dreams and passions were being squashed everyday when we went into work. After the financial collapse, I switched gears entirely to try to find more meaning in my work and better understand how my generation could leverage our passion and purpose and the resources available to us. What I found was that whether at an NGO or at a private equity firm, many of the struggles were similar. People were trying to figure out how to work intentionally and cut through the noise of all our social, mobile and digital technology. This led to our research in connectional intelligence to answer the question, in today’s connected world, why do some people get big things done and others do not?

2) Your book is called Get Big Things Done. What are big things that businesses aren’t doing but really should be?

A lot of how we measure success in the digital world is about quantity. How many Facebook likes? How many clicks? How many LinkedIn connections? This book shifts the focus from quantity to quality.
The other shift in our narrative is that simply building a network doesn’t lead to measurable change. The key is how you use that network. Creating something new and innovative and that actually changes people’s lives requires that we rethink how we use our networks and that we employ our resources and data in the smartest way. Connectional intelligence describes this skill that 21st century innovators have and that we all need to develop to maximize the potential of all of our connections and put them to significant use.

3) There is a lot of advice on making new connections. Are there are rules of thumbs when you should break existing connections or order to avoid ‘connection overload’?

If you find yourself collecting a business card like a hundred others that you already have, just for the sake of a new LinkedIn contact, that may be leading you to feel connection overload. Again, look for quality over quantity. Open yourself up to new people and ideas when looking for connection. This means connecting with people of different cultures, different backgrounds, in different disciplines and of different ages. Often we like to play it safe and stick to our industry, but connectional intelligence is all about bridging generations and bridging skill sets. We all have something to teach each other and the idea that might revolutionize your normal way of operating is probably not going to come from someone who has exactly the same lifestyle as you. So look at if the connections brings value to your life and vice versa.

4) What are some simple things that people can do to improve their connectional intelligence?

First, spend ten minutes day engaging with a new media source. If you always read The New York Times, spend ten minutes reading a niche publication like a financial magazine or even a gaming magazine. Follow a new hashtag on Twitter for a week or two. The point is to get out of your routine. The ideas we have are greatly influenced by the media we consume and if you want to start thinking creatively, you need to infuse your day with content that you might not have imagined would be relevant to you.

5) What tools (as in software, services or gadgets) in your view are the best for staying connected and which ones don’t perform so well?

I love Twitter because its an amazing tool of discovery of new interests and ideas. I also like a lot of the new team management tools like Slack and Asana. They are extremely helpful when collaborating.
I'm not sure I can make a blanket statement about tools that don't perform well because it all depends on how people use them. One challenging tool has been Yammer. While it is an interesting knowledge sharing tool internally for companies, it naturally does not fit the normal way of working and communicating for many of today's employees.

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