Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Good advice, bad advice

I don't hang my shingle out as a consultant anymore, largely because most all clients take exception to the advice given. I got the same thing when I was engineering and fabricating aluminum fishing equipment. Something always gave cause for some kind of strife. I just didn't have the rhino hide for it. I promote cooperation and innovation, and there has been success there and it's also made me a much easier person to live with, just ask the kids.

Things can really go south, though, when you get something started and get this hot spot going in your fish hold. Everything starts to rot then. The classic example was one time I was starting to line up to build aluminum boats. I got an old logging equipment maintenance shed and moved in all my tools and a welder. I had a design that I figgured would cut chop real well up on step. (I bumped into a boat of the same design in a parking lot in Oregon some years later. The owner said he blasts through the Columbia river chop in the Gorge wide open. He also said the company that made his 18 footer makes a 23 footer and it had run around Cape Horn and up to Portland. I've never heard of anyone taking any other kind of speed boat around the Horn.)

Anyway, I got a lot of blank stares and dead silence on the project and I couldn't figure it out. Well for one, I had something new and different and that's always a strike against you. Two, another welder in town said my shop was too far out of town and God knows what else he said behind my back. You just can't say anything about anyone without risking putting your foot in the opening with teeth in it. I didn't advertise that I had MIG welded titanium for Ruger for a time, which is harder to do.

Three, someone who was on the bank board had seen a welded aluminum cruiser outside another welding shop, that the owner had made. The ASSUMPTION was that this boat wasn't selling so nobody would buy a new welded aluminum boat. After this person took me out to look at this boat I was able to say that it never was for sale. But that was months after I had already bailed out. Much later the bank admitted it's mistake, as Sitka was cranking out aluminum boats like hotcakes and selling them all the way to New York and the Mediterranean. Coastal Alaska economies can't afford to make mistakes like that very often.

The point is that you can't always control a good initiative. You can control it a lot better if you know the dangers going in and plan for them at the start. What are those dangers? They are specific to every initiative because a whole different set of interests are involved, and these are, by human nature, self interests.

These lessons might be important as the Regional Seafood Development Associations try to garner support from fishermen so they can gain a tax base.

The other lesson that might be important is who is coming along soliciting advice. There are those people that can play the whole thing like an expert violinist on a fine Strativarius. Give that person free rein and just sit back and enjoy the music he will create. But don't try to manipulate his arm because you can see what that will do. It's the experience and hard work of the musician's past that is the crucial component.

Some will just take the work of others and run with it and sell that. I remember when the 200 mile limit law was new on the books and my father was a leading expert on bottom-fish development. He had set up one of the first two bottom-fish plants in the state, at the PFI plant in Petersburg, with State grants. He was being used as a lecturer by the State, and on one trip, he was taken to dinner for four hours by a consultant. The consultant turned around and sold a report based on that dinner conversation for 28 big ones. What was missing was the nuances that came with the conclusions. I don't think any harm was done, but I know it left a sour tast in my fathers mouth.

His idea of how it should work went like this. He became the first President of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and helped change their approach from supporting a lot of little projects, to picking an area to focus on by themselves. They chose to focus on proving Americans could make surimi as good as the Japanese, contrary to what the Japanese were claiming, and the rest is history.

A side note here is that breaking up the power base that a group might have is a bad idea. Like in, divide and conquer. We all know people who run around with ideas that you can figure are 180 degrees off the mark. You just have to do the opposite, even if you don't know what to do, and you'll be pretty much right on. I think these divisive ideas come from these people.

So what's the opposite of divisiveness? Cooperation, and of as many as possible. We all know how strong braided line is. Likewise, the more people you can braid together the stronger the organization or anything else it will be. I think Bristol Bay fishermen have the opportunity to become one awfully strong hawser, if they can keep from making a couple of bouy lines. Hawsers are made for getting something done, bouy lines will just hold on to something.


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