Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ethics, Advice and Fencing

In the LA Times Karen E. Klein addresses the question of starting a new retail business.

Specifically the question is, "I'm working on a business plan for a lingerie store but feel overwhelmed about where to get information on economic trends. Can you please help?" But no matter the venture or location, the advice is still rather sound. Use the contact information in articles and advertisements to further your research, talk to suppliers but remember they are trying to sell you something, so take what they have to say with the old grain of salt, and attend trade shows:
Attending a trade show will give you enormous insight into your new industry, how it operates, who the big players are and where the niche opportunities exist. Finally, visit some companies that cater to the same market you will but don't sell products that will directly compete with your store. "Most small-business owners are more than willing to speak about trends in their own business -- as long as they are sure that you are not a competitor," Keane said.

Take willing entrepreneurs to lunch and ask about sales trends, locations, what to focus on (quality, price, service) and what problems they encountered early on. "Speak to as many people as you can and see what resonates with your own ideas for the business. Most of all, remain open to learning new insights," Keane said.
Anyone who has ever gone this route, either attending trade shows or otherwise trying to interview other business folks regarding their business, knows this isn't as easy as pie.

On one hand, you've got the sunshine blowers who want to make you happy by warming your bum as they blow their sunshine up your skirt. On the other, those who are so tight lipped you wonder why they ever agreed to talk with you. There are also those middle-of-the-roaders who tell you generic stuff, sitting on the fence as far as giving you the truth of where things (like sales volume) lie.

With any of these folks, the interview is more like a fencing match where your direct question is a thrust and they parry.

Oh, and don't forget the flat-out refusals. Some folks won't even bother to talk with you at all.

Why the fencing? Why the refusals? Because people zealously guard their shit.

Everyone is in competition with everyone. (Or after the interview they will be.)

It seems that the only folks will to be interviewed (or happy to have their brains picked) are those who feel they are helping a student with a school report. Then it's all blither-blather ~ at least until the savvy student asks a question which seems too intelligent. (You know, a question which contradicts something they've said, or one that requires an answer with real information. Oooh, that's scary and upsetting for the interviewee.)

You could ask all the questions in a submissive round-about way, creating the illusion that you are dumber than a box of rocks. Of course, this means you'll have to hope they think you're such an idiot that they let some info slip ~ but not a large enough idiot for them to become annoyed and cut the interview off ~ and that they aren't just messing with you for their own entertainment purposes (and noob stories to tell their cohorts later).

It would seem that the only way a person interested in learning the facts might obtain them is to lie and say they are a college student (or high school if you can pass for that). But even then, most of these people present their industry as the best one for students to enter (they are no threat at entry level jobs), which is hardly the information looked for.

I don't think it's ethical to lie about the nature of who you are or your fact-finding mission. But I also don't think it's very ethical to say you'll be interviewed or talk about the industry if you're not really going to dish. With a respectful nod to 'knowledge is power' and the fact that knowledge does have worth and should be compensated accordingly (hence my own fees), I do wonder why people guard their own shit to the point of their own detriment.

Yes, to their own detriment.

People, "Experts," lose credibility when they don't follow through, especially in the guise of mentoring. Professions suffer when ignorant people join their ranks. Businesses falter when folks plans and dreams are fostered on false facts. Blowing sunshine, shoveling BS, and, yes, even avoiding answering questions only leads to bad decisions. These lead to bad press, bad reputations ~ and entire industries suffer (i.e. one bad lawyer apple ruins the whole barrel).

I am a member of several professions &/or industries which suffer from the idiotic actions of its members &/or public perception. For example, the adult industry, publishing, and marketing (the latter likely holds 1st Place in general mistrust these days).

Not coincidentally, these are some of the industries and professions not exactly prized for their knowledge sharing (you could also insert the buzz-word "transparency" here).

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