Connectivity Creates ValueFebruary 26, 2015 3 Comments
One of my mantras around network building and social change is that creating greater (and new forms of) connectivity is not simply a “so that” or a “nice to have” but is really an “as” and critical to the work of systems and structural change. This is echoed is some way, shape or form in many of the posts that appear in this space, and I think it bears repeating. Consider the following:
“Whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment. Self-love cannot flourish in isolation.”
- Isolation can kill. Science shows how loneliness and social isolation can ravage the body and brain. As noted in an article in The New Rebublic – “A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer.” And who are the lonely? In many cases the poor, the bullied and oppressed, the “different.” When we consider how isolation can impact genes, we see how the cycles of poverty and oppression can play out at a fundamental psychobiological level. What this calls for, in part, is work that reconnects those who are currently in isolation and on the margins from/of myriad social goods including emotional support, tangible services and other critical resources.
- Disconnection breeds irresponsible behavior and prejudice. Science is helping us to understand the role of implicit bias in all of our lives and in society. Furthermore, the work of people like Paul Piff shows how those with considerable privilege who isolate from the rest of society (and keep to their own) tend to lose touch with empathy and any sense of egalitarianism. As my colleague Cynthia Parker notes, “Engaging with people unlike ourselves in situations that involve meaningful activity [and] counter-stereotypic experiences” helps to eliminate biases. In other words keeping and strengthening direct connection is a key part of the work for equity and democracy.
“We have learned that when organizations are more open in their work, it can improve both the work itself and the results in the communities they serve.”
- Transparency and openness can help achieve impact. Hildy Gottlieb offers up an interesting reflection on how an organization with which she is involved has embraced radical transparency and openness with diverse and multiple stakeholders, which has yielded many benefits – new thinking, better decision-making, broader and deeper ownership and commitment, stronger accountability and responsibility. Transparency and accessibility of communication and decision-making is key to increasing connectivity in networks and, as Donella Meadow noted, is way of fundamentally changing systems.
- New economic value and equitable abundance can be created through new and more numerous connections. We only need to consider how Uber and Air BnB have disrupted long-standing industries to see the power of new tools of connectivity. Previously under-utilized assets can gain new value, and exchange flow to and between new and different agents. Think about what Freecycle, Craigslist and eBay have done to bring value to things and services that might otherwise have been under-appreciated. This does not mean we have achieved anything resembling equity, but there are interesting experiments afoot tapping the power of technology and the value of the commons for a more democratized and distributed economy.
“The old science views nature as objects; the new science views nature as relationships.”
To be clear, none of this is to say that building networks and weaving connections is sufficient to the work of lasting social change, though in my experience its value can often be under-appreciated. Perhaps some of this owes to the current paradigmatic shift in many fields that is moving us towards a deeper collective understanding of dynamic relationships and interaction as being fundamental to life and change. Always curious to hear what you are seeing!