Andrea Learned

The award-winning Living Change podcast: Listen and follow now wherever you get your podcasts!

The Unheralded Beauty and Power of Social Capital


What drives you?

This question emerges at key transition points in most career journeys. When that gets nailed down, the world opens up – and a person’s potential impact as a change agent is likely to explode.

So, what has made the difference and brought an ever-increasing sense of purpose to my own work? The combination of writing and connecting via social media with so many different kinds of people from diverse fields with a range of expertise. What a world this has opened up!

Emphasis On Social Capital

Social capital is the broader term used these days for the sort of relationship building I am referring to. But, despite the overwhelming trendiness of “using social media” in personal life and business-to-consumer strategies, its beauty as a tool for developing professional leadership is still unheralded. This doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Consider the “capital” issue through the entrepreneurial lens (see this Duke University research Venn diagram): where human capital, financial capital and social capital intersect you get venture success. With regard to any “venture” worth pursuing, if the social capital piece is not well developed, wouldn’t there be much less chance of ever achieving that perfectly aligned intersection? And, yet…

It is the building of those social interconnections, the forging of those relationships, and the developing of trust among expanding groups of people that helps put human capital to its best use and helps generate more financial capital. From what I’ve seen, social capital should be considered more than a third of the pie in such a Venn diagram, because it lubricates and amplifies the development of the other two forms of capital. I’d argue that it actually holds the power to move whole ventures forward, and stronger and faster.

For me, being on Twitter has helped balance my own introverted, solo practitioner tendencies, to be exactly who I am: passionate, enthusiastic and driven to cheer on the progress I see in the various topics I cover, from sustainability to leadership development and beyond. Without social capital, I’d have half as much fun and probably even less impact.

By writing about and sharing the research and trends I monitor from my quiet home office in Seattle, I’ve come across incredible, smart people – from all over the world – who are also generously sharing their “finds” and expanding the minds of those who follow them. On social media we all have the amazing ability to create our own personal learning networks. We’ve forged professional online relationships that regularly evolve into great personal friendships too. And – once you’ve experienced the synergies of consistent and authentic social media engagement for yourself, it’s hard to feel productive or effective without it.

Intentional Connecting

I’ve seen the beauty in building social capital as well as the power in becoming more of an influence in the discussions that matter to me. I’ve also seen many others flourish in newfound connecting and insight, which has in turn inspired them to commit to writing their own blog posts and to continuing the shared flow of learning and growing.

But, that is not all that comes of our collective involvement and intention in connecting – and this is ultimately why the power in building social capital is so exciting. By seeking and sharing wisdom with one another in this very accessible, fluid manner, we are building strong, resilient foundations of professional trust, that will support and encourage tomorrow’s leaders in sustainability, leadership and beyond.

To quote Allison Fine, from her book, Matterness:

Capital doesn’t just fly around; it leaves good stuff behind — trust. The more you experience reciprocity and generosity, the more you trust the better nature of people.

There’s power in that beauty.


This article first published on LinkedIn, January 26, 2015.

Special thanks to *Raymond for use of the image.


Note: As I was writing this, I received word that I’d been included in the Trust Across America “Top Thought Leaders in Trust 2015” list. I am honored to be considered someone…“whose work is shining a spotlight on the importance of trust and providing a roadmap for others to follow.”