Beyond Traditional And Emotional Intelligence: The Secret Weapon Of Great Innovators

Through connectional intelligence, the best innovators use their relationships to drive their passions and never shy away from tough conversations. Here are three ways you can do the same.

Beyond Traditional And Emotional Intelligence: The Secret Weapon Of Great Innovators
[Image: Flickr user See-ming Lee]

With so many different mediums of communication and so many people with whom we can connect, how does anyone manage to create an intelligent, mutually beneficial relationship?


The best innovators have the answer, and their secret weapon is connectional intelligence.

In my research with renowned business strategist Saj-nicole Joni, we discovered that there is a third wave after IQ and Emotional Intelligence–what we describe as connectional intelligence.

Simply put, it is the capability to drive innovation and breakthrough results by harnessing the power of relationships and networks. Although it’s an innate human capacity, it requires intentional use to be unlocked.

Here are three ways to strengthen your connectional intelligence:

1. Understand your context

In order to start a movement–to convert a passion into something larger–you must first understand the context in which you’re operating.


You need to ask questions, use all the tools available, and expand your lens in order to make the most of your connections and pave the way towards innovation.

An example of this component of connectional intelligence comes from 9-year-old Scottish schoolgirl Martha Payne. With her parents’ help, in 2009 Martha launched a website called NeverSeconds, through which she critiqued the dismal lunches her Aberdeen primary school served.

When her site went viral, it ignited a debate in the United Kingdom around the quality of institutional food. People were intrigued by Martha’s context and admired her drive–her ability to resist complacency and fight for an issue that bothered her in service of a greater good.

2. Have a courageous conversation

You can’t shy away from taking matters into your own hands. Instead of standing idle, begin a charged discussion, amplify it, and raise awareness for a cause or idea you value.

You can follow the courageous example of the writers of the local blog NYVelocity, who published a scientific study concluding that Lance Armstrong’s string of victories was the result of one of the most complex doping schemes in bike-racing history.


As the wife of one of Armstrong’s teammates said, “They weren’t afraid to print the truth.” Today, NYVelocity is credited with bringing down an athlete who had managed to both bully and vilify critics, teammates, and reporters. The New York biking bloggers brought light to an issue that they found unfair and weren’t afraid to initiate a conversation that soon reached all corners of our interconnected world.

3. Build your community

Once you’ve created a conversation you’re passionate about, you must mobilize and ignite diverse networks to bring together a community around your idea or cause.

General Electric demonstrated just how such a community can be forged with their Ecomagination Challenge, a global competition to find the world’s most promising green startups.

Analyzing over 4,000 submissions from more than 150 countries, GE found itself with a valuable byproduct: a collaborative community of 100,000 people all dedicated to sharing cutting-edge green-tech ideas, a community committed to sharing possibilities with one another via social media.

Further expanding this community, these people in turn became matchmakers for other members to connect to one another across all industries. By unlocking this component of their connectional intelligence, GE was able to unite a group of diverse people with a common goal of developing and promoting green technology.


To measure your own connectional intelligence, ask yourself the following:

  • How well do I expand people’s capabilities to think outside of the box and apply different lenses to problems?
  • How well do I encourage courageous conversations amongst your team?
  • How well do I foster an environment in which your community can thrive?

By harnessing connectional intelligence, you can expand your possibilities, elevate your ideas, and drive greater results. Ultimately, you become capable of joining the ranks of today’s best innovators and sharing their secret weapon.

–Erica Dhawan is the founder & CEO of Cotential, a global innovation firm that helps organizations unleash the connected potential of people everywhere to solve their most pressing challenges. Follow @cotential and @edhawan.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.