For individuals, Connection means recognizing our inherent wiring to exist in community, our need to be in nature, and our yearning to have alignment with ourselves and those around us. The ongoing work needed to maintain alignment with those around us is a responsibility we all share in creating flourishing systems and societies.
For organizations, Connection is the extent to which alignment exists within the teams we’re part of, the broader entity, and those it serves or partners with. Responsibility for maintaining that alignment shifts somewhat, with leaders bearing a burden to ensure thoughtful processes are in place to foster and monitor alignment. This is not to say that everyone, including frontline employees, can’t and shouldn’t take responsibility for their Connection to the whole. While the leadership team makes the news when an airline has a solid quarterly performance. And we often see and thank the pilots and attendants as we disembark our flights. Similarly, the individuals we never meet who ensure our bags show up at the same destination we do ought to be aware of their Connection to the whole and their impact on making our trip successful.
As the third of the 3 Foundational Elements of Antifragility, The AQ Element of Connection intertwines with the AQ Element of Clarity and the AQ Element of Purpose to create the solid footing needed to live and lead in Antifragility. Without Connection, our Clarity is severely impaired as we lack the benefit of others’ perspectives, their encouragement to lean into what we might otherwise avoid on our own, and the ability to move past our tendency to take conflict personally. Without Connection, our ability to experience Purpose is impossible as our highest aim in life devolves into serving ourselves. Without Connection, we wither and die from the inside out, like a limb whose blood flow has been restricted for too long or a plant that no longer receives nutrients.
A lack of Connection has similar effects on organizations. Their ability to act in unison based on a shared perspective is severely hampered. Leaders and employees tend to focus on tasks they like rather than what needs to be done to further the mission. Infighting runs rampant as the inevitable friction in running an organization tends to be taken as personal offenses. Those inside and outside the organization can easily perceive the lack of a genuine mission or Purpose, as everyone is in it for themselves. When Connection is broken within organizations and allowed to continue in that state, it’s the beginning of the end.
Conversely, when we experience Connection, we can share our burdens with others. We benefit from their perspectives when ours is limited. We can draw upon their strength when faced with challenges we might otherwise avoid. We extend the benefit of the doubt when conflict inevitably arises and bypass the self-imposed weight of assuming people and the world are against us. We can also experience joy in having the perspective, strength, and grace to lend others when ours is clear and bountiful. In experiencing Connection, people have the sustenance needed to thrive despite the volatility, randomness, and disorder we face.
Organizations experiencing Connection are places of cooperation and teamwork as people see the inevitable friction for what is; an unfortunate byproduct of their striving to achieve shared goals around a unifying Purpose. They are incredibly flexible in shifting individual efforts and reallocating resources to meet agreed-upon objectives. Rather than merely seeking robustness or resilience, which resists shocks and toughs them out, they’re highly adaptive as they benefit from shocks and gain from the disorder that causes their competition to falter.
When coupled with Clarity and Purpose, Connection gives people and organizations the foundation needed to be Antifragile. So, how can people and organizations experience Connection and solidify their Antifragile foundation?
Open Ourselves Up to Create Connection
The primary and most neglected Connection we need to experience is the one with ourselves. As author and researcher Brené Brown noted, “True belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” While some might think this is a new concept, it’s ancient wisdom. The 11th Century Arab Andalusian Muslim scholar and philosopher Ibn Arabi said, “He who does not know his own self cannot know anything else.”
So why is wisdom found laced into the world’s major faith traditions and quoted by legendary philosophers and luminaries of today alike so hard to put into practice? Because taking a hard and honest look within makes us uncomfortable, at least at first. When we look within to experience Connection with ourselves, we must acknowledge our shadow self. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist whose work founded analytical psychology, taught that “everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Said more plainly, we are all less “good” than we want to believe or try to put forward publicly. The more we deny it and try to hide it, the more power it has over us. The more those around us suffer for it too.
When we leverage the AQ Element of Courage to push past the discomfort of experiencing Connection with the fullness of who we are, shadow self and all, we metaphorically throw open the closet door to see that no boogie man is waiting to get us. Sure, there’ll be traits and tendencies that make us wince, but they’re already there, whether we acknowledge them or not. Ignoring them only makes us look foolish to those around us who see them. Hence the expression, “The emperor has no clothes.”
Acknowledging the tendencies and traits that don’t serve us well puts us on the path toward growth. They may not be reversed entirely, but we can at least learn to see them in action and mitigate their impact on us and those around us. Inevitably, alleviating their impact will involve apologizing to those we hurt or offended, which is also a force for experiencing Connection.
When leaders experience Connection with themselves, they operate with genuine humility. They have Clarity around their capabilities and are willing to call on others when they need help, encouraging those on their teams to do the same. They set an example by being unafraid to acknowledge their faults and shortcomings. They foster environments of trust where they and their teammates practice the AQ Element of Forgiveness when wronged and the AQ Element of Gratitude in part for being appreciated for who they entirely are, shadow self and all.
Experiencing Connection with ourselves is a process that takes time and reflection. Journaling can help, as can seeking input from loved ones, trusted peers, or a coach. We can start by examining where we find joy and where we don’t. The situations where we seem to thrive and those where we don’t. As we fully acknowledge our strengths with Gratitude for being gifted them, we can simultaneously acknowledge our weaknesses. Our weaknesses are typically found where our strengths are taken to excess. This distortion of our strengths is often where unresolved pain resides, which we discussed in writing about the AQ Element of Purpose.
As we delve into experiencing Connection with our shadow self and its associated pain, we must carefully filter the voices we’ll inevitably hear. Any external or internal voice that sounds judgmental or condemning should be ignored as they’re unhealthy sources. Any voice presenting fear or alarm is an equally untrustworthy source. Anything that produces shame should be ignored too. And we shouldn’t be alarmed if these are the voices we first hear, as that’s common.
Again, Connection with ourselves takes time. If we’re patient and can remain diligent in choosing not to listen to unhealthy voices, the healthy ones will emerge. The unhealthy voices are loud, abrupt, and intrusive. The healthy ones sound more like whispers of reassurance. They will present themselves as quiet invitations to acknowledge what is and turn away from anything harmful to us and others. Hearing and internalizing these voices brings peace, calm, and a sense of genuine acceptance.
The second domain we need to experience Connection in is with nature. While there’s been a significant increase in outdoor enthusiasts, too many of us still spend much of our existence speeding through the hectic pace of day-to-day living in our homes or offices. In doing so, we miss out on much.
There are the obvious health benefits from the kinds of physical activities we can enjoy in nature, like lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and obesity. Exposure to natural light and fresh air can positively impact our sleep quality, enhancing our attention, focus, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can lower cortisol levels, improve mood, and enhance overall mental well-being.
Key to Antifragility, Connection with nature also helps us maintain awareness of our finiteness and relative insignificance that we otherwise might lose sight of. When we hike mountains that were here long before us and will be enjoyed by others long after we’re gone, our perceived problems are put into their proper perspective. A day at the beach, witnessing the sheer power of the ocean, can bring peace in reminding us of how little we have control over in this world. We can enjoy the messiness of youthful spring turning into the resplendence of adolescent summer. We can bask in the serenity of leaves turning before they fall to the ground as the stillness of winter draws near, all of which is an allegory to our lives.
When we can move past the notion that the world revolves around us and authentically embrace the everyday struggles we share with all people, the more we operate out of kindness and empathy for others. When we grasp how little we’re in control of, we can begin to let go of our fear of the unknown, carrying less anxiety into our interactions. As people, we’ll experience and share more joy and love. As leaders, we’ll operate with a sense of peace that furthers Clarity and Purpose throughout the organizations we lead.
The third and final domain where we need to open ourselves up to create Connection is with others, specifically, those we avoid. Many of us have one or more people who fall into that category. We’re not talking about the colleague or acquaintance we have little in common, making our conversations brief, infrequent, or awkward. We’re talking about the family member, co-worker, or former friend we can’t stand and actively avoid—the one whom the mere thought of having to interact with them causes anguish.
Relationships like these cause outsized distraction and turmoil in our lives, with the discord spilling over to those who get caught in the middle. They can make family gatherings unbearable and put organizational cohesiveness under duress, especially when the tension lies between key leaders. Once a relationship falls into this level of disrepair, the situation typically remains stagnant at best, with frequent flare-ups and drama being more common unless specific action is taken.
When events cause marriages or parent-child relationships to move in this direction, many find repair through the help of a trained professional. Within organizations, relational tension of this magnitude, unfortunately, gets ignored. Sometimes, one party will move on. In a surprising number of cases, especially in organizations where both individuals are leaders deemed critical to success or co-owners, the problem can continue indefinitely. In these cases, organizational dysfunction follows.
What at first may seem like a significant investment in time, energy, and money in reconciling marriages and familial relationships, often proves to be a wise investment. Just as a point of injury within our bodies is stronger after healing, repaired relationships can be some of the most enduring and fruitful ones we’ll ever enjoy. Fortunately, this same opportunity for repair exists for organizations. Supported by insights from the AQ Assessment, the AQ Communication Framework can help bring empathy, understanding, and repair to even the most contentious relationships. If you or someone you know would like help learning how to repair a contentious relationship that seems helpless, you can contact me at Kirk@antifragilequotient.com to schedule a complimentary call to learn more about the process.
Expand Our Identities to Enable Broader Connection
As children, most of us had imaginations on par with creative geniuses. Sliding into the role of an astronaut, wizard, or any creature imaginable was as easy as sliding on our shoes. Sadly, much of our capacity for abstract thought gets wrung out of us through the rigidity of education and the demands of life. We lose much of our ability to see ourselves in different lights and from new angles. With it, we lose some capacity for Connection.
We must learn to zoom in and out to rediscover this lost capacity for Connection. We can reignite our imaginations to first zoom in and consider how our bodies were formed with Connection and interdependencies in mind. For example, we can visualize the trees around us emitting the air we breathe. We can picture the tiny microbes crawling through our stomach and intestines, without which we wouldn’t be able to digest our food. And regarding our food, we might consider the number of people involved in ensuring we eat regularly. From the farmers to the people in processing. The truck drivers and warehouse workers, the people stocking grocery store shelves, and the people who run the checkout counters. What would eating three meals a day look like without any one of them?
When we can zoom in and internalize how much our ability to survive depends on so many external forces and living beings, both human and non-human, our orientation changes. We can move away from seeing the world as something against us, despite the inevitable tragedies that come. Instead, we can begin to see the world for what it is, a beautifully complex and integrated system designed to help us thrive, despite the pitfalls.
Learning to zoom out can reframe our relationships creatively, just as children do. A light-hearted example would be seeing the fan wearing the opposing team’s jersey as someone who shares the same love for the sport we do instead of seeing them as an adversary. More relevant, we can see our partner as a co-sojourner of life’s same ups and downs instead of someone who frustrates us for the few ways they view and navigate life differently. When we zoom out, we can see the co-worker whose role requires input over ours and the occasional bottleneck it creates as a co-laborer with the same end goals in mind instead of as someone who intentionally frustrates us.
Each of these examples of opening ourselves up to Connection and expanding our identities to enable broader Connection comes with a choice. And we could rightly say, “It’s just not that easy.” And it’s not easy…today. But we should ask ourselves what our world would look like, what it would feel like if we experienced Connection in this way. Despite what we’ve been told, despite what we may believe, we can change. We can grow when we choose to. So, ask yourself if you’re ready to experience Connection in a new way that you might thrive instead of feeling like a limb that’s had its blood flow restricted and grown numb.