When I left the newspaper business back in 1998, I don’t believe the word “blog” had yet been invented. Maybe it had, but I don’t think so. What I did then follows me today. With this Barberbiz thing of mine, I am essentially writing a business column, which was one of my many duties as the business editor of The Birmingham News.
In my newspaper columns, I took a somewhat irreverent tone, pointing out pomposity and the absurd in both government and corporate America. I was able to jab, poke and prod at the big boys with an eye toward keeping it real and funny for readers who wanted someone to just shoot straight with them.
I have certain ulterior motives in writing what I will now call a blog. It should be no great secret that as a contractor I hope to win contracts, both on the corporate side for site selection, and with economic development organizations. My observations might convince a prospective client that I am worthy.
My writings are having some impact. In the newly published second edition of “Economic Development Marketing” by Anatalio Ubalde and Eric Simundza, one of my blogs is included. “Local Investment as Marketing and the Myth of Branding” was my attempt to inject a little reality into the equation. Now if you love your country and your children, you will go out and buy this book.
Two Rules I Will Break
In my role as a consultant, I habitually violate what some would say are two cardinal rules of business: A) I will use humor to sometimes illustrate certain points and B) I don’t claim to know it all, which is almost blasphemy in some consultant circles.
Now there are those serious people in suits who will tell you that if you use humor, you risk coming off as being viewed as some sort of buffoon, certainly no one capable of providing serious solutions to serious problems. Therefore, humor should always be avoided. For best results, portray yourself as a Lutheran.
To that, I would say that life is too short and too weird not to find the humor in it all.
Look, if you have any walking-around sense whatsoever, you will soon recognize some of the absurdities of life that are thrown your way almost on a daily basis. Congress is a perfect example. If you cannot laugh at these things, and especially at yourself, well, then you need to go on a C-span marathon. Or better yet, go out and buy or rent DVDs of the Three Stooges.
If you do this, I submit that the meaning of life will dawn on you and you will either be laughing or crying as a result. Mind you, there is absolutely a time to be serious in business as people’s money and livelihoods are at stake. The Great Recession with $16 trillion of wealth vaporized and nobody going to jail for it? That was not especially funny. But I’m past that now. I’m just looking ahead for the next big joke.
Question: How can you look at Kim Jong Un, the 28-year-old leader of North Korea, and not think goober? Yes, he might prove to be a very dangerous goober by threatening nuclear war, but right now he’s the goober who met with Dennis Rodman. You cannot make this stuff up.
The Glue That Connects
I believe that we need humor to keep us sane. It certainly keeps us connected to each other and often a penetrating wisdom results. That sense of humor is often a glue of sorts at workplaces across America big and small.
If you listen to combat veterans, they will tell you that humor was used as a survival tool when they found themselves in the presence of death and destruction. Sometimes it was a dark humor only understood and appreciated by them, but the joking served a purpose that they were in this together.
And to that sense, that is the very purpose of humor – we are in this thing together and we might as well make the best of it. As a business tool, if nothing else, it serves as an assurance of good faith.
“Hey, I’m not here to rob you or take advantage of you. I just want to get the job done, like you, and then go home and eat Cheetos in my underwear and veg out in front of a zombie movie, OK?”
Not with a Straight Face
The second cardinal rule that I violate with some regularity is that I do not hold myself as an all-knowing guru/problem solver with encyclopedic knowledge at my finger tips. I simply couldn’t pull it off with a straight face. Lately, I have had several readers of this column ask me questions that would have taken me hours if not days of research to answer with any sort of certainty.
The questions were posed by economic developers who probably hoped that I would give them short and sweet (and free) answers, to which I simply could not because I did not have the answers. Now I have met some business people, consultants in particular, who have answers for everything under the sun. They are the be-all and end-all source, which means you should grab your wallet.
Popeye the Sailor said: “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Similarly, I will suggest that I know what I know, but I keep on trying to learn more. And that is especially true if you are paying me in a consulting capacity.
Educating a Client
When I am talking to a prospective corporate client about my services as a site selection consultant, I think it is important that I tell them about my philosophy in assembling information that they can ultimately use for their benefit. The way I see it, this company will know its own business. That will be their primary expertise, their bread and butter. Conversely, I know how the site selection process works or should work, and that is probably something they will not know much about. So I have to do a little educating along the way.
I will explain my plans and will seek their buy in. If they are spending their money on me, they deserve as much. So in this exercise in transparency, I will tell them that I’m going to bring in some specialists with expert knowledge in certain fields that I have some cursory knowledge about but that I do not consider myself the expert in. I will bring in these experts to ensure that site selection search process works better than if I tried to wing it alone.
So I will find my GIS person. I will hire my logistics-transportation guru, and I will contract out with my expert tax accountant. In short, I will serve as the general contractor and hire qualified subcontractors to get the job done and get it done right. For me to attempt to do it all myself, well, I don’t think I would be serving my client to the best of my ability.
As the outlaw Josey Wales said, “A man’s got to know his own limitations.”
And therein lies the beauty. I do not have to know it all. I just have to know who knows what. If I get that part right, which means assembling an All Star team on any given project, and then manage the overall site selection process competently, then we will bring true value to that company and determine the best place for them expand or consolidate operations.
Yes, I might be breaking some rules along the way, but there is a method to my madness. First, if I recognize that humor is called for to calm some frayed nerves, then I just might whip up a batch. “Look, the worst that can happen is that we all get fired and find ourselves living under a bridge.” Ok, maybe that is not such a good example.
Second, I hope that I am offering a realistic approach by acknowledging that I am not an expert in all fields but will actually depend on the expertise of others to get things done.
Bigger Means Better?
Also, I have no desire to blow smoke at you. I read a 50-page report this past week about a piece of property and how it should be used. I truly believe I could have done that same report in two, maybe three pages. But maybe that’s not what that economic development organization wanted. Maybe they wanted that 50-page heft to it. I mean, if there are more pages to it, there has to be more thoughtful analysis, more truth, right?
Also this past week, I got my rewritten, re-designed economic development brochure back from the printer. I think I like it, because it spells in rather succinct, no-nonsense terms the things that I can do for an economic development organization. If you want a pdf version, just let me know and I will email it to you. I think of it as being short and sweet.
After I get back from Florida working a mock project as a teaching aide to business stakeholders this coming week, I will resume my work on a redesigned corporate site selection brochure, which I think will prove to be very useful and instrumental to companies who could use my services in finding best locations for future operations.
Like me, companies need to know what they don’t know, which is exactly why they should hire me. They may be an industry leader in manufacturing widgets, but they don’t know how the intricacies of a site selection process works any more than I know how to play the xylophone.
For the record, I do not anticipate the need to ever subcontract with a xylophone player. But I have learned that you never say never. That would be very funny.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Plano, Texas — www.barberadvisors.com He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are company seeking site selection consulting or an economic development organization in need of counsel, ask for our separate brochures (pdfs) outlining how we can help. All requests for information will be considered confidential.
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