By Tim Springer
Published in the October 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
For many in facilities management (FM), the following vignette should be familiar; a phone rings:
FM: “Facilities management, may I help you?”
Caller: “Help! There’s green goo oozing out of the air vent in my office!”
FM: “Yes ma’am, just relax. We’ll have someone there to deal with it right away.”
It’slikely the person answering the phone or whoever is sent to deal withthe problem has no idea what the green goo may be, what causes it, orhow to deal with it. That doesn’t change the fact it is FM’s job tosolve the problem. The question becomes, “What to do?”
Dr.Samuel Johnson once remarked, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know asubject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”So where would Dr. Johnson suggest we find information about green goo?
Thetruly inquisitive types could fire up a favorite Internet search engineand see what turns up from a inquiry on “green goo.” Using Google,“green goo” yields 2.4 million hits. Wading through all those citationswould take hours and result in greater confusion and less knowledgethan when the person began.
Another approach would be to lookfor “goo” experts, if such a thing exists, and see if they could helpdetermine what the goo was and possibly explain what caused it.
Consideringthe problem from a more pragmatic standpoint, chances are that someone,somewhere has encountered green goo or something like it. Or moreprobably, someone knows or has heard of someone else who has. So mostexperienced FM professionals will turn to their network of colleaguesand friends to solve their weirdest (or most challenging) problems.
Talkto any successful facility manager (fm) for any length of time, and itis apparent they practice Dr. Johnson’s type of knowledge by regularlyseeking where to find appropriate information. Put another way, a goodfm is a well networked fm. They’ve learned the old saw, often the hardway, “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”
Their networkmay reside in an address book or Rolodex. If they are more tech savvy,their connections may be found on one of the growing number of businessnetworking sites like LinkedIn, Ryze, or FastPitch. These are a business focused answer to the widely popular and often wild social network Web sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Inpractice, this phenomenon of “connect the dots” personal interactionrelies on something called “six degrees of separation.” For thoseunfamiliar with the phrase, this concept refers to the idea that, if aperson is one degree away from each person he or she knows and twodegrees away from each person those people know, then everyone is nomore than six degrees, or connections, away from every other person onEarth.
This concept was originally described in a 1929 shortstory called “Chains” by a Hungarian writer named Frigyes Karinthy.Since then, the theory has been tested and confirmed by mathematicians,psychologists, and computer scientists.
In more informalterms, you may have heard of this idea (or even played it) in the formof “The Kevin Bacon Game.” Invented in 1994 by two students at AlbrightCollege in Reading, PA (as a play on the concept of six degrees ofseparation), the goal is to link any actor to Kevin Bacon through nomore than six connections, where two actors are connected if they haveappeared in a movie or production together.
So what does KevinBacon have to do with the “green goo” problem? Picking up the phone orsending an e-mail to several people you’ve met and whose knowledge andexperience you trust seems like a better way of finding a solution thansearching for the knowledge yourself.
If success in FMrelies on a strong network, how do you go about building, expanding,and strengthening a business network? Here are several suggestions:
Stay in touch with existing contacts.This is easy, especially for anyone who may be uncomfortable in socialsituations. Maintaining ties with valued colleagues and friendsleverages the hard work you’ve invested in building your network in thefirst place.
Take advantage of every opportunity to build your network.You’d be surprised where opportunities present themselves—the grocerystore, gas station, or golf course. You never know when that person youjust met may help you solve a problem (or you may be asked to help himsolve his). That’s the essence of networking. Be on the lookout tobuild yours.
Be prepared to card everyone.Business cards are cheap. Don’t save them, pass them out—but only whenasked. Or if you see a good connection, ask for a card. That personwill probably ask for yours in return. Recently, my son and I wereplaying golf. On the fourth hole, a single player caught up to us andasked if he could join us. As we played and chatted, we found that wehad business interests in common and had worked for some of the sameclient companies. At the end of the round, we exchanged business cards.Luckily, we both kept a small supply of them in our golf bags.
Networking is not selling.These are two completely different things. You aren’t sellinganything—not even yourself (as some advise). Networking is simplymaking a connection with another person with the knowledge that helpingothers and allowing others to help you is key to success in bothbusiness and life.
Get to know the other person.If you are genuinely curious about others, it is easier to startconversations. People usually love talking about themselves ordescribing what they do. The goal is to connect rather than impress.You’ll discover treasure as you learn about the other person. The moreinterests and experiences you have in common, the easier it is toconnect and remember each other.
Give first.Harvey Mackay’s networking book advises “Dig Your Well Before You AreThirsty.” Make yourself a valuable resource to others, and it will payyou back many times over.
Ask yourself, what’s in it for them? How can I help them? By helping others succeed, you will succeed too.
Help others build their network by making connections and introductions.Do you know somebody who would benefit by a connection with someoneelse in your network? Make the connection! Introduce them! It will helpeveryone involved.
Don’t apologize for what you don’t know.Einstein once remarked, “You can never know everything about anything,or anything about everything.” Ask others to share their knowledge andoffer what you know to them.
Remember six degrees of separation.Listen to people as they talk about themselves. They may have similarhobbies or interests. You may find you are related to someone, grew upwith someone, or now are friends with someone they know. Ask, listen,and connect—the results will surprise and amaze you.
Todaymore than ever, and for FM professionals more than many others, thedifference between success and failure depends more on who you knowthan what you know.
That’s the way I see it from where I sit. Of course, I could be wrong.
Springer ispresident and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. andfrequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affectingorganizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.
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