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Power to the people

FLASHPOINT BLOG

Power to the people
If you don't know someone who has the information you need, you probably know someone who knows someone who does. Sound confusing? Peter Sells clears it up in this week's FlashPoint blog.

January 12, 2011
By Peter Sells

Jan. 12, 2011

In my MBA class on leadership a couple of years ago, the professor
talked to us about the various types of power that exist in
organizations and relationships. Your boss has power over you based on
the legitimate authority of a superior position, especially in a
uniformed, paramilitary service. Recognized experts wield a type of
power based on their reputation and background. There were eight of
these categories all together, and the professor said the gurus were
arguing about including a ninth – network power – based on the strength
of one’s personal and professional connections to others.

Formally defined or not, the power of being connected is not a new
concept. It has exploded in scope, speed and functionality and continues
to do so with the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other
social networks. But essentially, it is the same as the Rolodex or
collection of business cards we all lugged around, way back in the 20th
century. Let me give you two quick examples of network power in action:

A training officer (let’s call him Lt. Walker – not his real name) and I
dropped by the Toronto hazmat conference for a quick look around the
exhibits. It was mid-morning, most people were in the concurrent
sessions, and we stopped to say hello to the firefighters at the
registration table. This is when my friend found out he was on the
schedule to present about hazardous materials at collapsed buildings
that afternoon. I got on my cell phone and called Curtis Massey, a
colleague who owns and operates an emergency planning company in
Virginia. I caught Curtis just as he was coming out of the subway in
Manhattan. I asked him about a slide on a presentation he had done about
the World Trade Centre collapse, which listed a dozen or so hazardous
substances that had been detected in the dust at Ground Zero. He told me
to call his office and have his secretary get such-and-such disc from
his desk, print off that slide and fax it to me. With the information
from that slide and the MSDS data for the hazardous substances (readily
available), we built a quick PowerPoint that fit the bill exactly. The
network power worked because Lt. Walker knew me, I knew Curtis and we
were able to share information quickly enough to meet the deadline. That
was in 2002; before smartphones.

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Next example: I got an email this week from John Lewis, one of the
organizers of the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis
each year. I haven’t spoken at that conference or seen John since 2005.
John’s email was essentially an outreach to a member of his extended
network:

I have been working with others on the NJ State curriculum for rapid
intervention. I know there was a six-alarm fire in Toronto this past
week where the RIC had a successful rescue. I saw a copy of the video
from the news service up there and was wondering if you could help me
find the rescue re-enactment video that they made. It is becoming more
common place now for RICs to have success and I think it is because
departments are more willing to share this type of information.
If you
could get me a contact it would definitely help stress the need of RIC
here in NJ.

The sentence I highlighted above shows the true power in the networking
process. For your information, the subject of my upcoming February
FlashPoint column in Fire Fighting in Canada is rapid intervention and
mayday.

I referred to myself as a member of John’s extended network because he
did not have my e-mail address. He remembered me from FDIC and contacted
a gentleman named Peter Hodge, who he knew had worked directly with me
in Indianapolis. Peter and I had just seen each other at a conference
at Notre Dame University in October, so Peter had my current contact
information. By the way, the video that John asked me about can be seen
here
(it’s not an actual re-enactment; just a news feature with a few
seconds of training going on).

Network power: If you don’t know someone with the information, you know
someone who knows someone who knows someone with the information. Got
any examples to share? Want to increase the power of this network?


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