Realizing Power of Your “Onlyness” Through Networks with Nilofer Merchant

The primary purpose of the Cohere Project (and podcast) is to explore the future of human networks, especially tools that increase human and group agency in a network. I believe Nilofer Merchant’s concept of “Onlyness’ is one such tool. We discuss Onlyness, and much more, in one of the most fun, informative and unfiltered conversations we’ve had on the Cohere podcast.


Nilofer Merchant is a pioneer in the use of social technologies and has written extensively about how businesses can leverage social networks and communities to shape strategy, improve performance and become more purposeful. In her new book “The Power of Onlyness”, Nilofer brings forward the idea of Onlyness as a means of claiming your distinct place in the world and using networks as a catalyst for actualizing your purpose.  

The Cohere Podcast: Episode 4 – Nilofer Merchant

Quotes From This Episode

Nilofer On Innovation
“Innovation is like air. It’s in circulation, right? That everything happens. So it’s more about watching the flow of interconnections, not about containing it in one spot.”

Nilofer on Cocreation
“All ideas are manifest in a social construct. I’m watching this and thinking ‘ we’re totally missing the point’, but social can actually allow us to shape every part of the value chain. I didn’t feel like anyone else was saying that. And so in fact, I wrote a piece that I got death threats over. The simple notion was, we’ve been conditioned to think about work as being the thing that happens internal to the company, that it’s our ideas. Then here’s this little dotted line of how these ideas link up. Then there’s the world out there. We create, you buy. I was like, well, actually you could have customers give you demand signals. You could have the whole interactivity of every part of the value cycle could happen from creation to demand to customer service, cocreation of work.”

Nilofer On “Onlyness
“Each of us stands in a spot in the world. From that singular distinct spot is how you add value to the world. So it’s your source of ideas. It’s the way in which you cocreate. It’s the insight you have based on what you see as wrong or needed. It’s centering correctly on the source of ideas. Based on that history and experience, visions and hopes that only one has.

There’s a beautiful source of ideas that all of us have, but we largely ignore. Because we’re not saying that 7 billion people can contribute. We’re saying usually in any room, 30% can contribute. “

In this episode of the Cohere Podcast, Nilofer and I touch on the topics above and discuss:

  • The evolution of social media
  • Managing corporate innovation and the role of communities
  • The concept of Onlyness, as it relates to “you, us and together”
  • How your network shapes your self-image, role, and personal agency
  • The natural reaction of hierarchies to resist networks
  • The benefits of taking a radically different path

Resources mentioned on the podcast:

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