From the Chief’s Corner: The Value of the Unexpected... 

Chief Alan PerdueChief Alan Perdue (Ret.), CFO, FM,

Executive Director – Safer Buildings Coalition

Posted on August 30, 2021

Current seasons have certainly changed the way many of us conduct our personal and business lives. In talking with our members, many have stated their desire to get back on the road. Today, I want to discuss the value of Safer Buildings events as it relates to your professional development and business relationships. Often when people attend an educational event such as the SBC training seminars and other industry events, they simply look at the course outline to determine if the event has something of interest to them. In fact, early in my career, I frankly did the same thing. My initial belief was that if there wasn’t something interesting on the schedule, there was no need for me to attend. I soon realized that assumption was a critical mistake as it related to developing relationships related to my personal and professional development. Why you ask? Because I had neglected to factor in the Value of the Unexpected, the value of the being introduced to people I didn’t yet know, the important discussions I would have that I didn’t plan on having or the new products I’d learn about that I didn’t even know existed outside the actual educational session during what I often refer to as water cooler time.

For me, water cooler time is that unique opportunity to gain valuable insights from others related to a common interest or profession that typically takes place in an informal setting. In today’s electronic world, receiving information and a lot of it is definitely not a problem. What is a problem is receiving truly relevant information with proper context. To do so often requires one to have the ability to ask meaningful questions about the information in order to develop a complete understanding. I’m reminded of the idiom from the 1860’s that I’m sure many of you have heard or said, “Straight From the Horse’s Mouth”. So what does that really mean? Having grown up on a small family farm with a couple of horses, I must admit, I had never actually heard anything from them. In researching the term, I found it is related to horse racing and the fact that the most trusted authorities were considered to be the individuals closest to the horse such as stable lads, trainees etc. If a tip about the horse came from one of those closest to the horse it was considered more valuable. In other words, the information helped inform them on which horse to bet on.

So how does receiving information straight from the horses mouth apply to attending events? In our industry, receiving relevant and factual information delivered with proper context is vital to our business pursuits and the decisions we will need to make (Our bets). And, our ability to make informed decisions is based solely on our complete understanding of an issue or products capability (Picking the right horse). The value added benefit of water cooler time is the opportunity to meet those individuals, some of whom you may not have even planned to meet who are aware of something brewing in the industry, you know, that critical information that

only real insiders have access to. That one unexpected encounter may be the key moment that keeps you on the cutting edge of the information highway. An important part of being on the cutting edge is making sure you remain sharp and informed.

Sharpen Your Saw:

As many of you know, I often use insights from the bestseller book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People authored by Steven Covey. Habit 7 from the book is “Sharpen the saw”. Sharpening your saw is about improving the greatest asset you have – “YOU” in four areas of your life. Those include physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. Developing important social connections with others who share common interest serve to provide you with key resources for conducting your business. Who knows, the next person you meet may be the key to helping you solve a difficult problem or open up the door to information you need to achieve your goals. Sharpening the saw is about constantly learning and what better way to do so that to be able to speak with instructors and those key people you meet that you didn’t know before to ask relevant question about your interest.

Stay Informed:

Staying informed is not a one shot event. The information you acquired last year, last month or in todays rapid paced world even last week may not be as relevant as it was when you first heard it. That’s why the life long formal and informal education journey is so important. The other positive aspect of staying informed relates to renewing your dedication, focus and energy. With todays stressful workplace its easy to feel overwhelmed and sometimes that feeling can put someone in a rut so to speak and unfortunately it can happen to anyone. For me, I found that attending events provides a new burst of excitement and energy that can improve our outlook on future endeavors. Sometimes, just one unexpected conversation at an event may be that spark you need to take things to the next level. After attending and teaching at hundreds of such events in my career, I have found there is no replacement for actually being there. Yes, virtual works in many ways but nothing is as valuable and important as a face-to-face conversation, a handshake, or breaking bread together.

The Decision to Go:

Working in public safety, the decision to send people to training events was often based on the training budget. It also rested on how those making the decisions to attend the event truly valued education and training. At one point in my career, I had a deputy chief whose value on education and training was at the bottom of the scale in my humble opinion. His fear was that his subordinates might learn more than he knew and therefore it was difficult to obtain his approval. One day, I had submitted a request for several members to attend a very important training event. His solution was to send one person and have them bring back the information for the rest of the group. The problem with that concept is that the person coming back with a onetime exposure to the information was certainly no expert.

While we were having a discussion in the conference room on the subject, the Chief walked in and asked what’s up. Now being one to let opportunity pass by, I explained the scenario and the fact that the deputy chief had said send one and have them bring the information back. I said, Chief, if that concept really worked wouldn’t parents just send the oldest child to school and have them bring back what they learned for their siblings, there’s really no need for the others to ever go to school. With a grin on his face, the Chief said, you can’t argue that, approve the request.

Since that day, I try to encourage everyone to understand the benefit of those unexpected relationships and conversations that are developed when you meet that person you didn’t know or expect to meet. Or that discussion you found yourself in that you didn’t know you cared about or for that matter you needed to care about. These opportunities only happen if your there if you make the effort to attend and engage with others. I hope to see you at our upcoming events throughout the remainder of the year and beyond. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the ability to build stronger, more meaningful relationships that keep you sharp and informed take place during in-person events and those unexpected water cooler opportunities. Yes, virtual can certainly be convenient, but there is no denying the effectiveness of actually being together. As an example, look at the number of connections you have on social media sites such as LinkedIn, I’m willing to bet the ones you truly have the deepest relationships and communications with are the ones you’ve personally met along the way. I hope to see you soon at our upcoming events and I’ll leave you with a slightly modified version of the lyrics from the Willie Nelson song “On the Road Again” …

On the road again
I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my Unexpected friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again