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The Brave New World of Connectional Intelligence

Millennials are spearheading a new way of working

Traditional intelligence, or what we would refer to as raw, cerebral horsepower, has never really been enough. Sure, it can help you do well on tests, remember your boss’ spouse's name (hopefully at the perfect time), and possibly help your kids with their geometry homework, but it’s never been a guarantor of career success, or an indicator that you will be good at life. No, traditional intelligence has its limitations.

The good news is that there is more than one type of intelligence, in case you are terrible at chemistry, or the opposite of a top-notch speller. We all have different combinations of mental strengths that make us intelligent and unique. This is also why team efforts can produce incredible results, with everyone bringing their unique perspectives and an array of talents to the table.

And then there’s emotional intelligence, a concept popularized twenty years ago, which covers the ability to manage one’s emotions. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, the researches who coined the term, have described it as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.” After all, the cleverest idea in the world isn’t actionable if it can’t be communicated, or if the stakeholders involved can’t forge a workable relationship. And yet, emotional intelligence is also no promise of a shiny career or happy home life.

The third wave of intelligence after IQ and emotional intelligence

Now the spotlight is on another type of intelligence, because it has become recognized as a critical component of achieving breakthrough success in our modern times. Erica Dhawan, founder and CEO of Cotential, has written and spoken about “connectional intelligence,” which she and business strategist Saj-nicole Joni call the “third wave after IQ and emotional intelligence.” Dhawan and Joni define it as the ability to “to drive innovation and breakthrough results by harnessing the power of relationships and networks.” Successful leaders cultivate it; big thinkers who produce the latest technology revel in it; people who aim to change the world—one small step or large-scale project at a time—know that lasting results are impossible without it.

Connectional intelligence recognizes that leaps in creativity and progress cannot be achieved in solitude. They require forming relationships, wielding influence well, and sharing a vision so compelling that others adopt it as their own. The ability to do this well may be more innate for some than others, but just like getting better at math, or becoming a more skilled communicator, it’s a type of intelligence all of us are not only capable of nurturing, but one we should be prioritizing.

Connectional intelligence highlights an evolution that has been quietly taking place across workplaces all over the world—just like traditional intelligence is “out,” so is the old way of working. It’s a whole new world in more ways than one; there’s less emphasis on conventional hierarchies, more on reshaping office environments and workdays for improved collaboration, and the notion that someone, or anyone, is capable of complete control is just no longer realistic (was it ever?).

Millennials are natural connectors

Millennials, more than any other generation, have a greater inclination toward connectional intelligence, and this is no surprise. They grew up steeped in an era of rapid-fire technological innovations that were not possible when Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were cutting their teeth. Millennials have been raised in a world in which going offline became an option, not a need. They understand that connectivity is an ever-present reality on the job and off the clock. They don’t resist that fact, but they use it to their advantage. But they also understand its pitfalls and know how to ingeniously leverage its strengths.

I have written before about the danger of becoming slaves to our technologies, which have the power to lull us into thinking we can be superhuman optimization machines. Just because our physical selves can work for hours on end doesn’t mean we should. Just because we can be constantly connected to our various gadgets doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So while technological advances allow us to be more connected than ever before, we can’t forget that “offline” connectivity and authentic moments of interacting with peers and members of our network can also form the basis of powerful relationships that drive change forward—and in new, wildly imaginative ways.

Dhawan has written: “In a world where connections are commonly defined as digital, social, and mobile, I think the conversation needs to shift back to how we use our human ingenuity […] Instead of 10,000 LinkedIn connections, we really only need the right five or seven smart, passionate individuals to start.” More is not better. I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t offer caution to Millennials as much as I highly recommend that they consider one thing, as they sharpen the edges of their connectional intelligence: they must continue to cultivate the parts of themselves that the traditional business world has yet to enthusiastically embrace. Because they are, in a sense, pioneers in an intelligence that comes so naturally to them.

Alongside our logical selves we have dreams, curiosities, and emotions, and these are the “romantic” elements that round out the business muscles we flex on the job. But to think big, and conjure up those crazy world-changing ideas that we are even crazier to think we can accomplish, we need to bring all that we are, including our personal networks, to the forefront. This is absolutely essential in order to foment the types of creative solutions and problem-solving that we need to address the thorny and complex issues that we face each day. It’s a brave new world of intelligence—and success.

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