Our addiction to checking our phones can be a clue to what makes us successful in times of chaotic change.
When was the last time you looked at your phone? Maybe you’re looking at it now. If you have ever thought that perhaps you need a 12-step program for phone addiction, you’re not alone. According to one study conducted by UK-Based marketing firm Tecmark, the average mobile phone user checks his or her phone 221 times per day. That’s about once every 4.4 minutes for every waking hour. When it comes to how often I look at my phone, this is one of those areas where, unhappily, I am probably above average.
Why are we so addicted to our phones? Try this mental exercise. Imagine that you picked up your smartphone and looked at it and there were no text messages or voice mails. No emails. No updates on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Instagram. Not even a Snapchat. For just a moment, that might feel like a reprieve from a cacophony of constant messaging. But for how long? How long would it take you to start to wonder whether or not you had lost your network connection?
Now ask yourself this question. How valuable is a phone if you are the only node on the network? If your phone does not connect to others, then it might as well be a hockey puck. Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. More connections, more value. It is the human network, the people to whom you may connect through a phone; which makes it valuable.
You see, we are not addicted to the phone. We’re addicted to connecting. The need to connect, the need to belong and to be loved, is so primal, Abraham Maslow placed it just above the needs for our physical and safety needs. Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish, identifies positive relationships as one of the five elements of well-being. Connecting is essential for our well-being.
Humans have survived and evolved as social animals. One hundred years ago, children were born into extended families. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and distant relatives, to say nothing of the immediate family, were part of their support system. Today, living in proximity to the extended family is less common. However, we still need a social net to surround us to ensure that we thrive.
Connections Build Resilience
Lately I’ve been interviewing thought leaders about the key characteristics of people who thrive in the midst of transformative change. One of the words that comes up a lot is the word resilience. The leaders to whom I have spoken have identified several key characteristics of resilient people:
- Situational awareness
- A sense of perspective for setbacks
- Mental agility
- An internal locus of control
- Problem-solving skills, etc.
However, no other characteristic seems to predict resilience greater than the quality of an individual’s human connections. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Just as weeds can survive in poor soil because of a superior root system, individuals can thrive in chaotic environments because of a strong human network system.
When we build social connections, not just link on social media but truly connect, we gain insights into the lives of others. We understand that we are not the only ones experiencing what we are experiencing. Our connections, like roots, make us stronger during harsh times.
Connections Increase our Effectiveness
Our connections make us more effective. For any project, we need capital to succeed. In most cases, there is a limit on the amount of human capital available; that is the number of people we can afford to put on the project team. There is also a limit to the amount of financial capital that we can make available for the project to succeed. However, there is no limit on the amount of social capital available.
Connections make us Smarter
Our networks become an extension of our neural network. I don’t have to be a subject matter expert. I just need to know where to find one. Want to know how to implement a human capital management system? I call my friend Nancy. If I want an honest assessment of how this blog post might play in the UK, I email my friend Bev. You get the idea. Yes, we all store our brains on Google, but what happens when our search results create ten billion possibilities? It’s time to phone a friend.
How do we Build Connections?
Human capital is based on trust, which comes from adding value over time. Connections become stronger as we give. If I share frequent, value-added interactions, our bond is strengthened. If you are looking for someone to connect with at the Pentagon, and I introduce you to my friend there, I’ve made a deposit in your emotional bank account. One key caveat is this: Self-serving motivation is easily detected and is one of the quickest ways to weaken a social connection. If I connect you to my friend, but I do so with the motivation that I can extract value from you later, then I am hurting the bond.
The number of social connections in common is important. The more people we know in common, the stronger the bond. If you and I both know Jack and Yusef and Sherry, the likelihood that we share a bond is greater. However, even more important than the number of connections is the depth of our connections. If you are a runner, who loves the Green Bay Packers, have a kid on the same baseball team as my kid, and you enjoy talking about the latest business book, well, you and I are more likely to bond. We don’t have to agree on everything. You might even be a Chicago Bears fan, and we can still be close because we share so many other connecting points.
Why We Reach for the Phone
This brings us back to why we keep reaching for that phone. I recognize that it is popular to characterize frequent phone checking as a sign of social awkwardness, and heaven knows that we need better social norms for checking our phone in the presence of others. Like any tool, it can be mishandled. However, the technology in our hand is a key enabler of our ability to continuously build human bonds at a distance. The power of the phone is the power of the social network.
So, go ahead. Pick up that phone. Answer your friend’s question on Facebook. Tweet a link to your friend who is conducting research. Send a congratulatory note to your LinkedIn colleague for her promotion. Or better yet, use the phone to call (gasp!) a friend with whom you have let the connection run cold and invite him out to coffee.
When you connect with others with the sincere intent of adding value to their lives, you are making your social life richer.
And that benefits everyone.
Tony Loyd is the CEO of Culture Shift, a Minneapolis-based consultancy specializing in strategic planning, organizational design, talent management and leadership development. Mr. Loyd has held executive leadership positions in Organizational Development with John Deere, Medtronic and Buffalo Wild Wings. Follow Tony on LinkedIn and Twitter.