A Consultant's Casebook
about me: Andres Inn, Ph.D.
My research projects for the Dallas Police Department were right on the mark. They met and exceeded the expectations of the government contract monitors, my colleagues at the Southern Methodist University, and the Dallas Police. At the age of 25, I expected to have a long career in police consulting. But, I didn't sell my skills or my project results to the right community. It is not enough to publish work in academic journals. Unless you know how to publicize your work to sponsoring government agencies, they won't know about you, trust you, or fund you.
I was too inexperienced to understand. I firmly believed that fame and fortune depend on merit - abilities and skills. I believed that organizations with a research need seek the best qualified consultants. Having demonstrated my capabilities, I expected clients knocking on my door - or at least telephoning.
Consulting work depends on social skills at least as much as ability. David Sanner, my college roommate, once commented that if he could go back to college again, he would do it differently. Instead of living in the dormitory with me, he would join a fraternity. The rich and powerful, he suggested, send their children to small Ivy-League schools and enroll them in social fraternities to inherit the social networks that will support them throughout their professional lives.
Of course, it's not that simple. Mere membership in social fraternities, service organizations, private schools, country clubs, etc., will not guarantee success. But such memberships fulfill two important functions. First, they provide the network of contacts that David regards as so important. Second, memberships provide a common cultural context for selling ideas.
As regards culture, I am especially sensitive. I am the son of refugees, born in a camp in post-war Germany. I arrived in America on an immigrant ship in 1950. My first experience with American culture was when my mother sent me off to grade school dressed like the little boys in Germany: saddle shoes, black shorts, white knee socks, a white apron, and black suspenders over a white shirt. Not surprisingly, the first English words I learned were "blue jeans." Only after I was accepted into the culture, could I learn the language and sell myself as a friend in school. It's the same with selling a consulting idea.
To sell to cops, you need familiarity with cop culture. To sell a project to the Federal Government, you need immersion in Washington, DC, bureaucratic culture. To sell projects to the military, you need a background with military organizations and their culture. And how does graduate school prepare us to interact with police officers or their commanders, or with government bureaucrats, or with military officers, or senior management executives? The short answer is that it doesn't.
To Dallas, I brought the typical graduate school research culture with me. I was accustomed to being the gnome in the back office that did the grunge work, not the front man who presented and publicized the results. In graduate school, the division of labor was clear - research assistants did the work, and professors took the credit. That may work fine when projects are handed to you, but when you need to sell future services and capabilities, the skills of a back-office gnome are not useful.
Selling skills, therefore depend on some groundbreaking work. The first regards developing the network of friends and acquaintances that can help. The second regards developing a familiarity with the culture or micro-culture of your target. While initially daunting, both of these are doable.
All Work and No Play ...
The Police research described in above was important to me. I had gotten into a tiff with my Ph.D. advisor, and he encouraged me to leave graduate school with my A.B.D. (All But Dissertation) degree. It was a humiliating departure and I was determined to demonstrate to my advisor and former graduate student colleagues that I was made of the "right stuff" and that my departure was a mistake.
Even by my immigrant, over-achiever standards, I worked hard. I found that I did my best work early in the morning before others arrived at the office, so I was always there, pot of coffee perking, before 7AM. Typically, I worked late into the evening with the coffee pot for company. And, I carried on like that for 18 months, weekdays as well as weekends.
Such a work regimen exacts a toll. One morning, about 10AM, I felt chest pains. Breathing was difficult, and I self-diagnosed a heart attack. I was only 24 years old, and found the situation terribly embarrassing. Parkland Hospital was just down the street, and rather than tell anyone at the office, I calmed myself down, walked outside to my pickup-truck, drove directly to the hospital, parked in the ambulance slot at the emergency admissions door, and walked inside.
The attendants dumped me on a gurney and wheeled me into an emergency room. My shirt was off before I realized it, and I was hooked up with sticky electrodes to the heart monitor on the wall. The doctors watched the display while the audio chirp reassured me that everything would be ok. Then the doctors left.
For about 45 minute I was left alone in the emergency room, and I remember becoming more and more anxious. I didn't know whether they were preparing for surgery, or whether my condition required only rest. Before the wait became completely unbearable, a young doctor with a clipboard came in.
"So, what do you do for a living?," he asked.
I told him.
"What kind of hours do you put in?"
I told him.
"How much coffee do you drink during the day?"
I told him.
Only then did I realize that I had mis-diagnosed, terribly. The young doctor reassured me that there was nothing wrong with my heart. His prescription was simple: no more than two cups of coffee each day, and weekends off. His prescription regarding my working hours was enlightening.
"You can work as many hours each day as you can - or want to," he said. "And, you can work as hard as you want to on weekdays. But, on weekends, you must take up activities that are completely unrelated to your research work. You can take up physical activities or mental, but they must not relate to work."
The doctor's prescription was excellent, and I was very lucky to receive that kind of advice when I was that young. I followed his advice to the letter and took up sailing and horseback riding. Weekdays, I spent at the office at the University, but weekends were usually spent near Lake Denton riding, swimming, picnicking, and occasionally playing tennis.
Networking - having people outside your close circle of friends and family know about you and your capabilities is incredibly important. Word-of-mouth recommendations bring work. Through my probation officer friend who knew someone involved with construction management at the new Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport, to someone at the Read-Poland Advertising Agency, I was approached by Mr. William Boyd Andrews to undertake an interesting networking-type project. The new airport opening was intended to be a prestigious, gala event, and everybody that was anybody was to be invited. I was asked to organize the invitation list.
It sounded like an interesting assignment. Read-Poland’s difficulties had been that the membership lists of country clubs, charity contributors, community leaders, etc overlap. The overlap is difficult to ferret out, because James David Sanner also might be listed as J. David Sanner, or David Sanner, and might be associated with titles as varied as Hon. Mr., Dr., etc. Rather than search and match lists by hand, I suggested using a computer program to sort, match, and discard duplicates – and to retain the most prestigious title and most recently verified address. I was certainly the man to do it because I knew FORTRAN.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport project provided experience and expertise in database management. But it also taught me how to develop networks from scratch. Many years later I was in Hong Kong and needed to gain access to the Hong Kong business community. Developing a database and gaining access to the Hong Kong elite was a simple matter; there were analogous membership lists to draw from. And, shortly after Hong Kong, we used the same database techniques to keep track of the Chinese leaders who appeared with an almost unlimited variety of business cards; some representing an industry, some representing a government ministry, and some representing a military command. Our collection of business cards, with duplicates searched by matching telephone numbers became widely circulated among expatriates working in China.
And, as recently as 1996, I applied the same technology to produce Mongolia on Disk, a database for the expatriate community in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Each expatriate aid organization had its own personnel directory, as well as a directory of the local Mongolians they maintained contact with. These overlapping directories were supplemented by Mongolian government, university, and business directories to produce a Who's Who-type of directory.
It is important to emphasize that building a network is different from developing a directory of names, addresses, and telephone numbers. You must develop personal contacts with the important people in your directory. Amazingly, the very process of developing the directory gives you access to the people. It is flattering to be included, and most people gladly grant you a brief interview.
Making use of the interview ...
Chinese military officials through Defense Minister ... Professors in Liaoning ... Government leaders in Mongolia ...
In a new country - new environment, the work of developing a directory ... begins the networking process. It's easy and important to develop a personal contact with those in the directories...Chinese Minister of Defense ... University Professors in Liaoning Province, etc. etc. Government officials, etc. Need a pretext ... initially benign (directory) information regarding proposal submissions, review processes, how many people on panel to review. deadlines, how announced, etc.
Interviewing skills: don't talk. ask questions. People can always find something about you that they don't like. More important to ask them questions about themselves. Most people like the importance of being the source of knowledge and information. Best, if you can ask a question that's important and can't be answered without some work on the part of the bureaucrat. Then he can call you back ... that's the surest way that you can trust you are remembered by the bureaucrat.
to senior executives in the automotive industry, you need to be familiar with the culture of members of the Detroit Engineering Society and the
Consultants are in the business of selling ideas, and selling ideas is difficult. Selling ideas requires a familiarity and comfort with the culture in which we operate.
In every way, I am now an American. While I speak a number of different languages, I consider English my native language. But I am very aware of micro-cultures within every society. In David's terms, there is not one network, but many overlapping networks. In America we can define a horsey set, a golfing set, the tennis players and fans, the football tailgaters, the baseball fans, the opera club, the fitness fanatics, the symphoney set, and so on. But there are many other groups and micro-cultures based on their affinities, common jobs, and common perspectives.
Selling ideas is hard! How many successful idea salesmen can you name? On my list are Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Helut Kohl, Karl Marx, Mao TzeTung, and Adolf Hitler.
Consultants are in the business of selling ideas, and selling ideas is difficult. Selling ideas requires a familiarity and comfort with the culture in which we operate. How does graduate school prepare someone to interact with police officers or their commanders, or with senior business executives? The short answer is that it doesn't.
In my case, I felt especially handicapped. Experience is difficult to share, when mine was son unique. I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after the second World War. My native language is Estonian. I arrived in Boston on an immigrant ship, the USS Blatchford, when I was five years old. As immigrants, my family held only menial jobs ... social context missing.
On the strength of my college entrance exams, I was admitted to the University of Illinois, where all of my efforts were centered around studying. College social life left me cold... Social organizations and social fraternities were uninteresting.
Later in my life, I recognized them for the importance they held. College social organizations and fraternities and sororities are important because they provide the foundation for the networking that is important in life. The Kappa Sigma Phi father encourages his son to pledge the same fraternity. And, in that way, the social networks are passed on from generation to generation. It's the same with military command, or Ivy League colleges, or community service organizations ... they provide a support network upon which we can call on for help when we need to promote our ideas.
3 mile island & Edward Teller
selling ideas: Erich Von Braun
How many super idea salesmen can you name? Ayatollah Khomeini Adolf Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Mao TseTung, Karl Marx, presidents
Collaboration easy if you understand (1) there are no original ideas, (2) Dale Carnegie, (3) Don't keep secrets, (4) communicate ... it's part of the job: socialize, coffee breaks, lunches, dinners, parties, telephone calls .. all the time. It's at least as important as the gnome stuff.
Embarrassment about your life style and your possessions shouldn't be a barrier. The most important think you can share is your time and everyone appreciates it if a busy person takes off time to spend with them. Food: food you make yourself is always appreciated ... even if it's taste is strange. Don't be embarrassed about your food. It's the gift closest from the heart!
Analogies - visuals -
Its much like organizing a train. You have to get all of the right components on the track, moving in the same direction. You need the engine (champion - right strength for the weight of the train) you need the fuel (the research support), you need the passengers to get on, and you need enough passengers to make sure the train has enough momentum to break through the inertia of the system ... the friction of the tracks.
 Why J. David Sanner would think he needs a better network is beyond me. He is one of the most creative tax lawyers and CPAs in the Chicago area, and his practice has earned him a leisurely life at his horse farm in Morris, Illinois. Now he rarely drives to Chicago to work!
 FORTRAN, of course, is a number-crunching language and was completely unsuited for a project of this nature, and I quickly discarded it for BASIC which is better at alpha-numeric string processing. But, the DEC-10 computer system at Alpha Systems (now CompuServe and a subsidiary of AOL) that I used did not have a BASIC compiler and only had an interpreted BASIC system. To process a few thousand records, each BASIC statement needed translation to machine language over-and-over again, and the program performed so slowly that it was unusable. To finish the damn project, I had to re-write my computer code once again, learning database programming in COBOL, with ISAM processed records.
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