Friday, January 22, 2010

E-networking is next best to face-to-face networking

Matt Rumbaugh, division manager, Education, Training and Certification, National Glass Association

Are you on Twitter? How about Facebook? Even if you're not, you probably know people that are. Technologies that people had barely heard of two years ago are now major factors in how they communicate, how they advertise, and how they learn.

In my role here at the NGA, I spend a lot of time thinking about how people learn. Specifically, I think about how glass people learn. The challenge I have is to figure what people in the industry need to know and the most efficient way for us to help them do so. One of the things I quickly realized is that there's never a single right answer. Thus, I started reaching out to friends in the industry for help and perspective. When I did, I found that in the glass business, more so than any industry I've been a part of, relationships matter. If there's an issue in someone's glass business, they're much less likely to read for the latest business bestseller or hire a high-priced consultant. Instead, they reach out to their friends. That's one of the major factors underlying the NGA's Glazing Executives Forum. Even though we work hard to bring in quality speakers and facilitators, we always hear back that the highest value people get from the event is the ability to network with their industry peers. I'm sure other industries are similar to a degree, but in the glass business, it's definitely true that peer-to-peer learning is the most effective strategy.

We even notice this during our weekly sessions for the Glass Management Institute. For those not familiar, GMI is the NGA's professional development program. We meet via weekly Web conference with some of the brightest minds in the industry, discussing topics like sales, estimating, and project management. One of the things we've found is that our students aren't just passive observers during this process; they use technology to facilitate the learning even more. If someone has a question during our session, they raise it in our online chat room. Often, before a speaker even has a chance to read it, a fellow student will jump in with an answer or a resource to seek out more information. Students have swapped thoughts on marketing techniques, estimating software and project scheduling documents.

That's where Facebook, Twitter, and their various technological cousins come in. I'm sure you handle a lot of e-mail and you're obviously savvy enough with blogs to be reading this. But if you haven't explored these technologies, you might want to take them for a test drive. I'll confess to being a little behind the curve with Twitter (I have an account, but I haven't done much with it), but I find Facebook to be useful. At first, I mostly re-connected with friends from high school and college. Pretty soon, though, I linked up with some industry people and e-learning experts. It's become a vehicle to easily share interesting articles, exchange thoughts and ideas, and get introduced to others. There are things I learn via Facebook that I wouldn't otherwise hear about. While I may not have gotten the hang of Twitter, others have. uses their Twitter feed to offer special rates to their followers. Ashton Kutcher used Twitter to raise awareness of Malaria in Third World countries. During last year's protests in Iran, Twitter was the most effective way to follow the events. Sure, there's a lot of silliness, but there's a lot of powerful business activity, too.

Lest you think I'm just here to be a shill, let me assure you, I'm not. It's just that as I look more and more into how people actually learn, it's platforms like these that catch my attention. We can write hundreds training manuals or online courses, but they'll never take the place of interacting with your peers. And technology is getting better every day at facilitating these connections for all of us.

If you do decide to jump in, check out the NGA on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @NatGlassAssoc. We'd love to hear from you.

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