The power of connections

And why we need our communities now more than ever.

Rachel McConnell
4 min readMar 3, 2024

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Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is an expression I used to hate with a passion. It was often used to describe how to get ahead in the world of work.

When I first started out looking for a job, fresh from college, times were hard. It was the turn of the millennium and work was in short supply, especially for someone with virtually no experience. It took me a year of interviews and endless rejections before I finally landed a job.

The expression depressed me further when I finally entered the world of work. After a few years in various organisations I observed that cronyism was still alive and well, and that those who managed to progress were often those who managed make friends in higher places – much easier to do when you fit the mould of corporate white dude.

Then in the early noughties there was a push towards ‘networking events’ – the idea of which filled me with horror. It conjured up visions of sales-people handing out business cards and of limp, clammy handshakes and small-talk. I just couldn’t face attending them.

I felt frustrated that it wasn’t enough to know things…to be an expert in a something. Without knowing the ‘right people’ your opportunities were seemingly limited in this world. What about introverts (like me) or marginalised folks? How could we get ahead? I felt like the expression undermined our skills and experience and boiled everything down to having friends in high places.

But over the last few years I’ve come to think of the expression from a different perspective. What if the ‘who we know’ is simply about having a support network in place?

The new networks

Since the birth of social media and platforms such as LinkedIn, we’ve been organically growing our own community networks. We’ve found people who do similar roles to us and we’ve been able to learn from them. We’ve been able to connect to role models, and we’ve been able to lift others up when they need a boost. But most importantly when times are tough (as they are right now), we’ve been able to support each other. We’ve been able to share job listings, offer advice, and words of solidarity.

A couple of years ago, this need for community led me to start Tempo. It provides a space for those leading content design or those in senior content roles to connect, learn, and help each other thrive. Sometimes members just need validation that someone else is struggling through the same problem and approaching it the same way. At other times, they genuinely need help or advice on what to do. Friendships are formed, jokes are shared, and we even have a conference each year.

The ‘who you know’ is no longer about knowing the right people to get yourself ahead in your career, it’s about knowing the right people to support you and inspire you. It’s about being able to give back to the community by sharing skills and generally caring for each other. It’s about feeling like you’re part of something bigger.

Our meet-ups aren’t about dishing out business cards, they’re about making friends and understanding how others are navigating the madness. They’re about sharing our successes, but also our failures.

Socials and LinkedIn can feel too much sometimes, and most people are now inundated with Slack groups. However these communities are as precious for our wellbeing as they are for our personal growth — and we often don’t realise it until we need that support.

Our connections in these communities also help us see things from the perspective of others, and bring diverse people together. They can be powerful too — debating important issues and even creating movements.

I can make my peace with the expression “It’s what you know, but also who you know” these days.

If you’re part of a community but observing from the edge, I’d encourage you to get involved. Join the conversations, attend a meet-up or conference. Your experience and perspective is needed, your views are important and valuable, and you will be welcomed with open arms. Communities need everyone participating to thrive, or they just become stale and uninteresting.

If you feel scared to make that first post or go to an event alone, that’s completely natural. I promise you’ll be glad you did it, and you may even make some lifelong friends in the process! I spoke to someone at an event last week who’d been meaning to come for ages, but had been putting it off. She loved it!

Now more than ever, we need these communities and networks around us. Embrace them, and in turn you’ll find yourself a bunch of cheerleaders who will pick you up when things get rough, and help you learn, grow, and thrive. And that really will get you ahead in the world.

Join Tempo, or get a ticket to this year’s lead with Tempo conference at www.leadwithtempo.com.

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Rachel McConnell

Content and design leader. Found of Tempo. Author of Leading Content Design and Why you Need a Content Team and How to Build One