Expand You Network. Expand Your Mind.
Last month I asked you to think about ways that you can contribute to and shape your sector of the industry. Some of my suggestions were to participate in your respective trade groups, professional bodies, or industry societies such as HRAI and ASHRAE (https://www.ashrae.org).
Participation in these organizations gives you insight in the direction the industry is heading as codes and standards develop and technology evolves. But more importantly it gives you access to human capital beyond what is in your immediate circle. I could not overstate the benefits that come from this.
Many of us are in small businesses. Maybe they’re run by the immediate family (as mine was for most of my career), or perhaps a few coworkers banding together to start a new venture. In small businesses our ability to grow can be limited by the knowledge and experience of the personnel that are in house, who’s own knowledge and experience is often limited by the people who trained and shaped them.
By getting involved in industry organizations and collaborating with other members, you are broadening your professional network with subject matter experts, people experienced in operations, and manufacturers representatives. By growing your network you start to develop a professional relationship with people who have a diverse range of knowledge and experience that you can draw on as your business grows.
I started my career in the HVAC industry in 2006 working in my family’s mechanical contracting business in Central Ontario. At that time, the type of work that we took-on changed drastically, and at times there was a very steep learning curve. There is a saying in the aviation community: “Learn from other peoples mistakes, because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” By having access to such a network, the learning curve doesn’t have to be so steep, and you don’t have to make the mistakes yourself to learn from them. I have never shied away from new challenges, which has made for a fun and dynamic career, but has also meant that I was approaching projects that I had little-to-no experience in. By reaching out to my network, I was able to gain valuable insight from experts who could guide me and warn me about potential pitfalls.
And people have reached out to me as well, which is kind of mind-blowing. Most of us assume that we’re average, and that everyone’s experiences match our own. What I quickly realized is that even though I was constantly asking for help and guidance, I had experiences that others did not, and they would come and ask for the same from me. What you might consider to be so routine that it is boring, others are approaching for the first time. It took me quite a while to realize that I finally had something to contribute to my peers. It’s a funny thing, experience. Nobody ever tells you that you know what you’re talking about. One day you just kind of realize it.
This continuous transfer of knowledge and experience is crucial for the vitality of our industry, but also our own success. Whatever stage of your career you are in, you have been shaped by the people who have taught or mentored you. Some of the experiences were positive, some of them negative, but each of them contributed to your personal perspective which is something that nobody else on this planet has. If nothing else, your perspective is something unique that can be shared with others and is very valuable to these organizations.
So please, give some thought about the people who shaped you, the people you’re shaping now, what real benefits you can derive from further industry participation. It can be a lot of work, but it has a hell of an ROI.
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