Connectional intelligence powers getting big things done

Erica Dhawan

Many associations struggled during lockdown to fulfill their primary mission—connecting people as a vehicle for solving problems. That is why for ASAE’s virtual Marketing Membership and Communications (MM&C) conference in June, the focus was on bringing people together more effectively. Keynote Erica Dhawan, coauthor of Get Big Things Done, brought her method of of connectional intelligence (CxQ) to the stage.

Most people attribute success to some combination of smarts, passion and luck. But in today’s hypercompetitive world, even those gifts aren’t enough, she said. “We live in a world of endless meetings, emails and constant cross-team dysfunction, duplication and delays. As radical a concept as Emotional Intelligence was in the ‘90s, Connectional Intelligence is turning people into superconnectors who accelerate innovation, break down silos and foster breakthrough bottom-line impact by harnessing the power of networks.”

Only by combing knowledge, ambition and human capital to forge connections on a global scale, Dhawan believes, can we create unprecedented value and meaning. It is the secret to changing everything from business and sports to academics, health and politics by quickly, efficiently and creatively helping people enlist supporters, drive innovation, develop strategies and implement solutions to big problems.

Careful Communication

The unprecedented uncertainty of the last year and the disruption it caused in personal communication could be just the opportunity needed to innovate—if we are intentional about how we communicate, she said, adding, “Now more than ever, our most powerful asset is how we connect with each other. We are at the forefront of a new way of leading. We must reimagine collaboration to innovate faster and further together.”

CxQ is not about connecting more, thankfully. It is the art of connecting intelligently online and in person. “If we want to tap into collective brilliance, we need to understand how to take away inefficiency and bring insights together in the right way,” she said.

What is the right way and how can we avoid endless email black holes that only lead to misunderstanding? What was implicit in body language now has to be explicit in digital language. Reading messages carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.

Only by taking the time to focus can we banish communication overload and foster authentic, innovation-driving relationships.

An Inclusive Strategy

The good news is that CxQ works regardless of who you are, where you live or what you do. Whether you are a small-town pumpkin grower working to alleviate a global food crisis, a hip-hop artist launching an international happiness movement or a meeting professional upending an outdated culture, evolutionary communication skills can cause huge things to happen.

Dhawan said you don’t even have to have a specific personality type. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, thinker, enabler or executor, you have the power to achieve massive wins. Outgoing people who love networking can leverage their media presence to reach even bigger stages. But self-described introverts can also create powerful online relationships that translate into the real world.

Even age is not a barrier for this powerful force. “One of the core elements of connectional intelligence is a fundamentally cross-generational, know-the-rules-and-then-break-them ethos,” she explained.

Those in the tech-savvy generation may be adept at unleashing online efficiencies, but they need the knowledge, experience and wisdom of their elders. “They also cannot fix things alone; if we want to move fast to solve our most pressing challenges, we all have to come together to use everything we have,” Dhawan said.

In fact, the act of combining the world’s diversity of people, networks, disciplines and resources is the magic ingredient that creates value, meaning and breakthrough results. In Dhawan’s words: “Take a dream. Add connection. Dream Bigger. Get big things done.”

Start with networks of people to spark ideas and use that energy to mobilize more people. Then, draw from books, nature, music, anything else that is the basis of a relationship and go on to generate even more ideas. “Being connectionally intelligent is just as much about understanding when and how to work alone as it is about knowing how to collaborate,” she said.

Sounds like a solid approach for associations—and the rest of us.