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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.

chance favours 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.

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