Sian Conti – Learning from Connectors

Source: Cardiff

This morning I woke up with a word in my head and the name of a person in Wales who played a critical role at the start of one of my research projects. The word is Connector and the person is Sian Conti. Sian is the business development officer and master connector of the Cardiff University Innovation Network.

To Sian and her work with the Innovation Network, I dedicate this #WOWWales post.

Learning about the Innovation Network

We hear the words social network a lot today. In the digital realm a social network is increasingly important to how we work and live in the world today. However, we have always lived in social networks. We are born into a social network, we learn in social networks, we socialisize and work in social networks, and most importantly, we communicate with, through and around social networks.

Interactivity is critical to the development of our social networks (and our innovation); and critical for interactivity is the presence of other : (nodes) connected to us in our network; and in our network who facilitate the connections with those outside our network ().

In November 2008 I was approached via email by Sian Conti, the organizer of events for the Cardiff University Innovation Network. Sian invited me to give a talk on social media to network members during the 2009 program. Sian is a master connector.

Sitting in my office reading her email I welcomed the invitation but was unaware of who her network served and how could I be of value to them. We arranged a time to meet for coffee in the new coffee bar that had opened on the second floor of the Julian Hodge building on column road. My first impression of Sian was in addition to her professionalism in our meeting and her organization; she was incredibly kind and empathetic in the way she communicated. Her openness in sharing about the role and purpose of the Innovation Network helped to foster my understanding of its position in the university and the importance of its role to the wider community within which Cardiff University and academics like myself coexist.

The Innovation Network was founded in 1996, with the Mission to “develop a stronger network of links between industry and academia in order to enhance innovation – the successful commercial implementation of ideas.” The Innovation Network is recognised as:

A highly regarded network between the university, Welsh companies and business intermediaries. This initiative is frequently held up as a prime example of best practice in this field of activity.” (The National Assembly for Wales).

Often when approached to give talks, deliver seminars or attend discussions, it is the person who first approaches you that leaves a strong impression about the event they are calling about. This informs a speakers willingness to participate. Sian’s encouragement and support were critical for my decision and the development and delivery of my talk.

In the weeks leading up to the talk, Sian updated me on any new developments, who was attending, who was going to chair the talk and any other information she felt network members would benefit from. Receiving her emails and hearing her thoughts not only helped me understand who I might be talking to, but it also eased my inner voice questioning (and usually being critical) of what I should talk about.

Sian and I not only connected because of our association with Cardiff University and the Innovation Network event, we developed a connectedness (a social bond) because of the mutual support and respect we developed for each others work.

Source: Successfulworkplace.com

Learning from Connectors

On the 4th of March 2009 I walked into the Optometry building and was met by Sian. She was organized, with everything ready for my evening talk: Getting Connected: Social Media & Marketing in a Networked Economy. Sian led me into the lecture hall, briefed me on the evenings events and joked with me that we had a full-house. Over one hundred people entered the lecture hall and my talk began. Little did I know that after my talk, during the Q&A session, I would become connected to people and a project that would have a significant impact on my future research.

Following a number of atypical questions came a question from the Cardiff web developer, Tom Beardshaw.“What do you think of Skittles.com?” He asked. “Do you think Skittles get social media?” On the 2nd of March 2009 (two days before my talk) the website for Skittles fundamentally changed. Under the guidance of the interactive marketing firm Agency.com, the website hosted at Skittles.com was given a social digital makeover, a makeover that (at the time) diverted from following standard website design conventions. The brand management team called it a social media experiment.

I’d not heard about the Skittles website until this Innovation Network event. After which I would go on to write a case study about Skittles to be published in my textbook Marketing, 2010; a book used by over 20,000 business students across the UK and Europe. I’d also never met Tom Beardshaw or his business partner at NativeHQCarl Morris, until this evening. It was at this event, organized by and her colleagues at which I would also connect to Tom and Carl, and a new project they had just commissioned to build the digital social network for National Theatre Wales. A project I would become part of (and am still working on to this day).

Innovation is … new ways of working, thinking and being that add value.

Researchers of managing innovation often write about culture in an organization . How to foster a culture of creativity and one where employees feel supported and encouraged. That managing innovation is a balancing act between exploration and exploitation (See the work of Prof. Costas Andriopoulos). All of this I agree with. However a big part of innovation is nurturing and providing opportunities for new network connections, especially with others from outside your network. This is why connectors, people like Sian who help facilitate new connections are so important. 

Connecting to others, especially those from outside our networks is what enables, develops and inspires innovation. It is the source for new ideas, new ways of working and seeing the world. 

Connecting to Sian enabled me to learn from her. It also enabled me to connect and learn from others outside my network.

To Sian, I dedicate this #wowwales tribute.

Sian Conti, a #wowwales colleague, mentor, and friend.

Who inspires you?

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Read more here about My #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales. 

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you 

 

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