Harvey Mackay: Good advice is a good investment
December 8, 2008
Whenever I come across a parable, or any little story that can easily illustrate a point I wish to make, I love to use it. Heres one:A rabbit sat near a cave writing in his journal.What are you writing? asked a fox.My thesis, said the rabbit. I say rabbits are fierce fighters and can easily kill a fox.Do you have data to support that? said the fox skeptically.Come inside the cave and I will show you, replied the rabbit.Shortly after, the rabbit emerged from the cave, wiped some fur from his chin, and continued writing in his journal. Soon a wolf showed up. What are you writing? he demanded.The rabbit repeated his thesis. You got proof of that? asked the wolf.Sure, said the rabbit, and invited him in his cave.Soon the rabbit emerged with a wolfs tail tied around his neck and resumed writing.Next a giant grizzly bear arrived. He asked the rabbit the same question, and was told that rabbits can easily dispose of grizzly bears. He was invited into the cave.Sure enough, the rabbit emerged a few minutes later wearing a cozy bearskin coat.That night all the animals in the forest had an emergency meeting. They said to an owl in attendance, You can fly, you can see in the dark, and you are wise. Fly into that cave and tell us how the rabbit does it.The owl agreed and flew silently into the cave. There he found the rabbit, sound asleep between the massive paws of the most ferocious looking tiger hed ever seen.The owl flew back to report, I have been inside the cave. I have seen the truth, and I have learned a great lesson.What did you learn? they all cried.I learned, said the owl, that it doesnt matter how stupid your thesis is, as long as you have the right adviser.OK, Ill grant that a good thesis is better than a stupid one, and that a good adviser will tell you which kind of thesis you have. But the fact is, a lot of really bad choices have been reversed because some well-timed advice saved the day. Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney recently asked the presidents and CEOs of more than 300 companies to identify the best and worst parts of being a leader. Surrounding yourself with the right people was at the top of both categories, as they reported in their book, Succeed On Your Own Terms. Some said if you dont surround yourself with good people it keeps you up at night worrying. Others struggled in picking good advisers because they didnt want to have anyone who was smarter than they were. Thats a faulty decision because when you surround yourself with good people, it frees you up to do whatever you are best at.But what if you need high-level advice and you dont yet have the high-level contacts who can give it? Solution: Hire the network you need.I had to do that when I first went into business for myself. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about sales and marketing, because Id spent five years selling envelopes.But if youre in manufacturing, there are two concepts that you have to master: Making your goods at the lowest possible price without sacrificing quality; and selling those goods at a higher price than it costs you to make them.Two years later, I still couldnt knock out an envelope and sell it at a profit.So I decided to find a consultant who could help me. My reasoning was that here were 200 competing envelope companies in the country. None of them was about to give me a plant tour. I had no formal engineering background. I had no network of spies to tell me what the other guys were doing right that I was doing wrong. Machine speeds, output per hour, rejection rates, productive capacity, waste management what did I know about this stuff? It would have taken me half a lifetime to comprehend everything I needed to know. I had to have an expert. So I hired one.The right cost-specialist consulting firm probably had been in at least 25 of my competitors plants. My own network couldnt provide me with the technical answers I needed, but it did help me connect with an outfit that had the network that could.They were worth every penny.As Ive said so many times, good advice is never cheap, and cheap advice is never good.Mackays Moral: If you cant be an expert, hire an expert.
Harvey Mackay ia a part-time Aspen resident and best-selling author of Swim with the Sharks. He can be reached on the Web at http://www.harveymackay.com. This column is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.