Seven Habits of Highly Connected People by Stephen Downes, Guest Contributor

April 3, 2008 at 9:55 pm 23 comments

Stephen Downes was kind enough to allow me to publish this here. I was especially interested in it because FranklinCovey was one of my clients when I worked at EDS. Watch for a version of this to appear in eLearn Magazine later this month!

With apologies – and all due credit – to Stephen Covey.

1. Be Reactive

There’s a lot of talk about user-generated content on the web. That’s great. But if publishing your own stuff comes at the expense of reading, and commenting on, other people’s stuff, that’s not so great.

The first thing any connected person should be is receptive. Whether on a discussion forum, mailing list, or in a blogging community or gaming site, it is important to spend some time listening and getting the lay of the land.

Then, your forays into creating content should be as reactions to other people’s points of view. This will ensure, first of all, that they read your comment, and second, that your post is relevant to the discussion at hand.

Posting, after all, isn’t about airing your own views. It’s about connecting, and the best way to connect is to clearly draw the link between their content, and yours.

2. Go With The Flow

We all know those people in our online community who are out to Prove Something, to Get Things Done, or to Market Themselves.

These are people we tend to avoid. Because no matter what the topic of discussion, they’ll weigh in with their pet project, peeve or talking point.

When connecting online, it is more important to find the places you can add value rather than to pursue a particular goal or objective. The web is a fast-changing medium, and you need to adapt to fit the needs of the moment, rather than to be driving it forward along a specific agenda.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any goals or principles for yourself. You should; that’s what will inform your participation. It’s just a reminder that your goals are not the same as other people’s goals, and therefore that your online participation needs to respect that fact.

3. Connection Comes First

People talk about not having time for email, of not having time for blogs. Sometimes they even talk about working without an internet connection.

It’s good to take a break and go out camping, or to the club, or whatever. But the idea of replacing your online connecting with busy-work is mistaken.

In almost all fields, connecting with others online is the work. The papers you write, the memos your read and toss – all these have to do with connecting with people. Even if you work with your hands, making cabinets or rebuilding engines, all your contacts with customers and suppliers are about connecting with people.

If you don’t have enough time for reading email, writing blog posts, or posting discussion lists, ask yourself what other activities you are doing that are cutting in to your time. These are the things that are often less efficient uses of your time.

If you are spending time in meetings, spending time traveling or commuting to work, spending time reading books and magazines, spending time telephoning people (or worse, on hold, or playing phone tag) then you are wasting time that you could be spending connecting to people online.

If you make connecting a priority, you can take that walk in the forest of vacation in Cadiz without feeling you are not caught up.

4. Share

We’re all heard the advice to “think win-win”. Forget that advice. If you follow that advice, you will always be looking at things and saying, “what’s in it for me?” That’s exactly the wrong attitude to have in a connected world.

The way to function in a connected world is to share without thinking about what you will get in return. It is to share without worrying about so-called “free-riders” or people taking advantage of your work.

In a connected world, you want to be needed and wanted. This will, over time, cause resources to be sent to you, not as a reward for some piece of work, but because people will want to send you stuff to help you to be even more valuable to them.

When you share, people are more willing to share with you. In a networked world, this gives you access to more than you could ever produce or buy by yourself. By sharing, you increase your own capacity, which increases your marketability.


RTFM stands for ‘Read The Fine Manual’ (or some variant thereof) and is one of the primary rules of conduct on the internet.

What it means, basically, is that people should make the effort to learn for themselves before seeking instruction from others.

Almost everything a person could need to know has been recorded somewhere online (by people who are sharing their knowledge freely). Taking the time and effort to look at this work is not merely respectful, it demonstrates a certain degree of competence and self-reliance.

For example, if your software fails to install, instead of calling customer service or posting a note on a bulletin board, copy the error message into the Google search field and look for answers. Almost every software error has been encountered (and documented) by someone before you.

Finally, when you do ask for help, you can state what you’ve read and tried, and why it didn’t work. This saves people from giving you advice you don’t need, and helps them focus on what’s unique about your problem.

6. Cooperate

Offline people collaborate. They join teams, share goals, and work together. Everybody works in the same place, thy use the same tools, and have the same underlying vision of the project or organization.

Online, people cooperate. They network. Each has his or her own goals and objectives, but what joins the whole is a web of protocols and communications. People contribute their own parts, created (as they say in open source programming) to ‘satisfy their own itch’.

This is probably the consequence of distance. Online, it is not possible to enforce your will or (beyond a limited extend) to get your way by shouting and intimidation. This means that online communications are much more voluntary than offline communications. And successful online connectors recognize this.

To cooperate, it is necessary to know the protocols. These are not rules – anybody can break them. But they establish the basis for communication. Protocols exist in all facets of online communications, from the technologies that connect software (like TCP/IP and HTML) to the ways people talk with each other (like netiquette and emoticons).

7. Be Yourself

What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being.

The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you. Comprehension has as much to do with feeling as it does with cognition.

People who use online communications ‘only for business’ – or worse, feel that other people shouldn’t be posting cat photos or playing Scrabble on Facebook – are employing only a small part of the communications capacity of the internet.

Learning and communicating are not merely acts of sending content over a wire. They are about engaging in (what Wittgenstein called) a ‘Way of Life’. Having a cat is as important for a physicist as having an advanced research lab. These common everyday things form the mental structure on which we hang the highly theoretical structure.

The idea behind ‘being yourself’ is not that you have some sort of offline life (though you may). Rather, it’s a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life, and that it is important that these facets all be represented and work together.

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23 Comments Add your own

  • […] up a network, of sorts, on twitter and through my blogs and on the advice of Stephen Downes in this post did my best to share, to be open, to engage and not lurk too much. This was hard though, it was […]

  • 2. Discussing Performance « Clyde Street  |  March 2, 2009 at 3:45 am

    […] keen to be part of the sharing ethos so prevalent in CCK08 and to be involved in the practice of connectedness. Stephen wrote that he was delayed in participating in the Elluminate session by clearing snow at […]

  • […] read an article that really hit me hard! It  was posted byLisa Neal Gualtier with   Stephen Downes permission.. […]

  • 4. CCK08: Reflection on Week 6: Part 2 « Memeospheric Pressure  |  October 27, 2008 at 11:13 am

    […] Heylighen’s explanation of “economy” is similarly consistent with Downes’ characterization of the Seven Habits of Highly Connected People: […]

  • […] Downes’ Seven Habits for Highly Connected People promotes the maximization of efficiency in the online arena. It’s hard to argue that one would […]

  • 6. Week 5 - Notes « CCK - No8  |  October 8, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    […] Seven Habits of Highly Connected People […]

  • 7. name  |  September 1, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Good day!,

  • […] da qui le sette buone abitudini che le persone altamente connesse, gli abitanti della rete, insomma, dovrebbero […]

  • […] Habits of Highly Connected People Posted by Will deBock under Uncategorized   “Seven Habits of Highly Connected People” is an intriguing article by Stephen Downes a senior researcher for Canada’s National […]

  • […] Seven Habits of Highly Connected People by Stephen DownesReally good list of habits for a socially networked world. Good snapshot of the Web 2.0 culture. […]

  • 11. Miten olla verkossa? | Opentiellä  |  April 10, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    […] Miten olla verkossa? Posted by: peeii in open jutut, tags: verkkokäyttäytyminen Löysin mielestäni hyvän tekstin siitä, miten olla ja toimia verkossa. Vähän omatkin posket punottuvat, kun lukee sitä – tunnistan itseäni ja sitä, etten kyllä aina ole “paras” verkkotoimija.  No oppia ikä kaikki. Teksti löytyy täältä. […]

  • […] Seven Habits of Highly Connected People […]

  • […] Liebe Studierende, die Ihr vor Euren Diplomarbeits-Themen sitzt und die Online-Communities als bequeme Ressourcen entdeckt habt: Bitte lest das! Stephen Downes, Lisa Neal’s Blog, 3 April 2008 […]

  • […] April 5, 2008 von cspannagel Sehr schöner Artikel bei Lisa Neal von Stephen Downes: Seven Habits of Highly Connected People. Dort werden die folgende Verhaltensmerkmale in einer stark vernetzten Welt […]

  • 15. Top Posts «  |  April 5, 2008 at 5:02 am

    […] Seven Habits of Highly Connected People by Stephen Downes, Guest Contributor Stephen Downes was kind enough to allow me to publish this here. I was especially interested in it because […] […]

  • […] This article originated with Stephen Downes – a person I read almost daily, and is posted on Lisa Neal’s blog. The article is a take-off on the work of another author, Stephen Covey who wrote Seven Habits […]

  • […] Cooperate, Share and Be yourself are some of the habits highlighted by Stephen Downes in Seven Habits of highly connected people. […]

  • 18. The negative myths about academic blogging  |  April 4, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    […] Source: David Crottyand Stephen Downes […]

  • 19. Stephen Downes  |  April 4, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    > What strikes me first about these “seven habits” is that they demonstrate substantive ignorance of Steven Covey’s original principles – using them as a straw man to put forward seven other ideas – which do have merits, but whose premised contrast against Covey’s Seven Habits is forced and misleading.

    Had I intended each of these to contrast against Covey’s points specifically, I would have quoted what he said and offered the counterpoint. That I did not do this suggests that your presumption of a “premised contrast against Covey’s Seven Habits” is mistaken.

    I take the Covey points as points of departure. I parallel his points but do not explicitly endorse of refute them. As you state, I make seven distinct points. Some of them align with what Covey says, some of them do not.

    With respect to the win-win mentality, I would like to point out that there is a distinction between thinking “what’s in it for me” and ONLY thinking “what’s in it for me”.

    In the win-lose scenario, you are only thinking “what’s in it for m” . In the win-win scenario, you are thinking “what’s in it for m” AND “what’s in it for you”. Note that this STILL includes thinking, “what’s in it for me”.

    My point is that you should avoid thinking “what’s in it for me” at all. Don’t even think in terms of gaining things. Think exclusively about where you can add value, and let the rest sort itself out.

    Whether or not that aligns with that Covey says, I’ll let Covey decide. I do not write exegeses of living writers.

  • 20. Mike Gualtieri  |  April 4, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    I haven’t read “Seven Habits…” But, there is a lot in this post that I don’t agree with. Here is just one:

    “Posting, after all, isn’t about airing your own views. It’s about connecting, and the best way to connect is to clearly draw the link between their content, and yours.”

    What is wrong with airing your owns views? Isn’t that what every op ed piece does? Just because you are writing “online” doesn’t mean you can’t air your own views. Often times this means drawing in from other posts, but not always.

    If posting “isn’t about airing your owns view”, then where can someone air their own view if not the internet? And, why would doing so make then ineffective connected people?


  • 21. Astounded  |  April 4, 2008 at 6:38 am

    What strikes me first about these “seven habits” is that they demonstrate substantive ignorance of Steven Covey’s original principles – using them as a straw man to put forward seven other ideas – which do have merits, but whose premised contrast against Covey’s Seven Habits is forced and misleading.

    For example, the attempt to contrast the 4th idea, “share,” with Covey’s “Think Win-Win” states: “We’re all heard the advice to “think win-win”. Forget that advice. If you follow that advice, you will always be looking at things and saying, “what’s in it for me?”” WRONG. This is a “win-lose” mentality, and explicitly against the “abundance mentality” encouraged by Covey.

    Many of the other “seven habits of highly connected people” show an equal lack of understanding of Covey’s original principles. The author might consider Covey’s 5th Habit, “Seek First to Understand; Then to be Understood”. If he’d taken the time to first understand Covey’s original principles, he might have been able to write wisely, rather than just trying to sound clever.

  • […] Anatomy of a Highly Connected Person Reading Stephen Downes post about Highly Connected People has been a very informative piece.  A lot of what he mentions in this blog make a lot of sense in […]

  • 23. njtomy  |  April 3, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    thank you Lisa for giving the gist of Stephen Covey’s write up. God bless your wonderful works.
    Tommy (


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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa:


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