For the Jon Bon Jovi fans out there, you already know the punch line of this post because you know the song of the same name (although the best version of the song is the duet with Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland). I reflected on this over the weekend at the 50th Anniversary for the University of Virginia department where I conducted my PhD work. It has been almost 25 years and there were some people who I had not seen in that entire time. And memories being as fallible as they are, I did not remember everyone or every event that I would have hoped to. In fact, I think the intense, focused nature of the way I pursued my PhD degree reinforced the lapses in memory! Networking and team work were not in the vernacular for PhD students then; it was research, research, research. And of course there were many people whom I did not know from my time at UVa and just met at the celebration. So there were just a handful of people with whom I “reconnected” despite the fact that the activity involved well over 100 people. And yet it felt like a family reunion! Everyone I spoke with, old friend or not, was like a “reconnection” not a new acquaintance.
So I started thinking about how all this relates to engineering management and, in particular, networking. We were all coming together around an idea, not just a reunion. An idea that we should celebrate the fact that the UVa Materials Science and Engineering Department has been educating students for 50 years and we should envision the next 50! Thus, no person was a stranger in the sense that we all had a connection. This is a great learning for networking (i.e., building relationships). A very useful way to approach networking is to think about the common idea or connection you share with another individual. Even people you meet under entirely random circumstances will share something with you. You might guess at what that is or it might be obvious. At the very least, if you meet in-person you share the location, the weather, the traffic, the local news. Or if you meet at some type of event (a conference, a professional society meeting, etc.) then you share an interest in the topic or technology. This provides an easy platform for the beginning of a conversation which nucleates a relationship. Your first words in a conversation are generally aimed at building rapport and these common experiences or interests are an excellent way to do this. So the next time you find yourself in a situation where there are people you do not know, think about these commonalities and use them to strike up a conversation. (And let’s be frank, this happens all the time, from being in line at a Starbucks to the next time you board a plane).
So in summary, I was not really going “home” to UVa; my total time there was less than 5% of my time on earth to date! But it felt like going home because of a common idea that created a connection. We should all utilize these types of connections to build relationships, develop our network, add value to others and enhance our careers. It can be as deep a connection as a reunion for your school or as simple as a common interest in a particular technology or industry.