The Competitive Edge In Today’s Volatile World Is Unexpected, Easy, And Worth Bringing Back

The Competitive Edge In Today’s Volatile World Is Unexpected, Easy, And Worth Bringing Back

Create November 13, 2019 / By Larry Robertson
The Competitive Edge In Today’s Volatile World Is Unexpected, Easy, And Worth Bringing Back

The smallest connections matter. Better double check if you're unknowingly killing them.

Recently, I reached out to a very busy, very successful person. We know one another, but not really. We don’t impact one another’s bottom lines, have never done business together, and I’ve never met him face-to-face. And yet, he gave me a gift more valuable even than anything I could have called to ask for: he responded.

It’s no big deal, right? That’s certainly the thought that we’re encouraged to embrace as we speed up, hunker down, and more and more see one another transactionally – or not at all. But there’s a deep danger in this, deeper even then the zero-sum way we’re increasingly seeing each other. The danger is disconnection.

Our ability to connect, consciously, purposefully, and regardless of whether or not there’s an immediate quid pro quo, is the very thing that separates us as a species. Connection is the heart of what enables us to be creative. It’s the cornerstone of all progress, because all progress is a result of cocreation. Those things are easily missed. But there’s something more vital still, and it’s this – the nature of work and the world in the 21stcentury boils down to a single word: unpredictable, and connections are our most powerful means for dealing with what we can’t predict.

Central to the multi-faceted human and human-made world is a concept called load sharing. In a power grid system, it’s the means by which multiple power generators connect with one another and work together to share the demand load among electricity users. Networked computers do the same thing, as do people sharing a task. But humans load share unconsciously too. It’s part of our evolutionary programming. In fact, we’re are so dependent on our connections to one another that even without knowing it we expect others to be there and to do their part to share the load.

We do this when we create, too. Though most often subconsciously, we make a calculation before trying out new ideas or pursuing new ways, often even before we think them up. Our default calculation basically asks a simple question: Do I have the connections and support around me to handle new thoughts, to pursue something better, to progress in any form, with all the inherent risks and stumbles that creating something new inevitably makes possible? If in answering ourselves we conclude ‘no,’ we back away. When we do, we inadvertently become less creative, less ourselves, less human, and less likely to advance, let alone thrive.

What does this have to do with the email ignored or the call unreturned, you might wonder. Plenty. Because it’s the little ‘disconnections’ that over time accumulate to the larger patterns of disconnection that find us separated when connection matters most – i.e. when things are unpredictable, and when we most need to co-create.

Years ago, when I was doing research for my first book I made a bigger leap of faith than the email I referred to earlier. I reached out to someone I didn’t know at all and with absolutely zero obvious reason to acknowledge me – former CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz. What I sought was an interview. And what I expected was no response. What I got was the opposite. Schultz emailed me back within a day. More, he wrote a short note, to the effect of, “It sounds like an interesting project and I’d love to help, but just can’t right now.” Then he wished me luck. Even common courtesy might have excused him, but he didn’t excuse himself. He reached out. He connected – no expectations, no quid pro quo, just the understanding that doing so was a reinforcement of human connection, the foundation we all eventually must build on. It’s ours to choose if that foundation is rock or sand.  

Connection. This is how we adapt and create. This is how we deal with what we can’t predict. This is how we progress. Connection makes us fully human. We squander it at our peril.

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