Stormy Seas and Piracy
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
Things are getting ugly out there, but they could get uglier. With the threat of unemployment seeming to loom over everyone in the nation, it seems we might start looking at colleagues or clients as competitors or even as enemies. Euphemistic names for the process are disintermediation, reorganization, or even paradigm shifts. Uglier names are RIF (reduction in force), layoffs, shutdowns, closures, etc.
Regardless of the situation, the wisest course to follow is the course of wisdom. Calm, clear, insightful observation of reality plus a vision of what the future might bring — buttressed throughout by quality information gathering — should provide the best navigation tools for stormy seas. And if warmth towards those around us starts to cool as the gales blow, perhaps even leading us to regard colleagues and clients as pirates trying to steal our budgets or job functions, a prudent and long-term view of the future should remind us that networks of strong contacts may offer protection and succor if the storms continue to rage.
So what’s an info pro to do in these tough times? How can we weather the storm and maybe even surf the waves to a lovely Caribbean isle, where charming waitstaff stand smiling with outstretched trays bearing umbrella-adorned mai-tais and margaritas? Unlikely? Perhaps. But I’ve never forgotten a scene from a long-ago British comedy. The wildly overdrawn super-villain was getting his come-uppance at the end of the film by being buried alive up to his neck in the desert sands. He only seemed to have strength enough to beg for anything, anything that would slake his thirst. However, the liquid his parched lips called for over and over was “Champagne! Champagne!” Somehow it left the audience feeling that we haven’t seen the end of this villain after all. Even in the middle of a downturn, some things have an upside. If we only look for the least we can expect, that’s all we’ll get.
What should we look for? Well, questions come to mind. After all, we are in the answer business. What more appropriate source for guidance than questions? Break down the tasks you perform and attach them to the questions — and questioners — they answer. Of course, as you trim your budgets, you may already be doing this for economy’s sake. But look at it as a guide to promoting the value of the services you provide. Look at it in terms of promotion for those services and in terms of promoting you personally, e.g., in a resume. Look at your questioners too. Who do they serve and how? Could you expand their utility to their clients or superiors with more and/or different information? Could you serve those clients or superiors directly? Hey! It’s not piracy if it ends up keeping the ship you’re on from sinking.
Just as important — maybe more — as looking at the questions you get is looking at the questions you don’t get. Why not? Why does this department or subagency or particular type of functionary in the institution you serve never seem to call? Are they just know-it-alls? Are they so “dead head” they consider their existing skill set eternally adequate? Or are they getting their information from somewhere else? And, if so, from whom? Recently a library listserv buzzed with a tale of how a librarian had found a vendor “backdooring” their operation, i.e., selling directly into a department without involving the library. Since the library was already buying services from the vendor, that quickly led to discussions of “double-dipping.” But the first question should be why the library had not already marketed the licensed vendor content to the department.
While seeming to focus on maintaining one’s status within a traditional environment, these suggestions also help to promote preparation for future career moves. Looking at vendor activities from a consumer’s angle today could help
in placement in a vendor’s setting tomorrow. Keep your mind limber and agile in producing scenarios for service whenever and wherever they might pop up. You can’t tell. Some idea you come up with could bring Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists back from the roof edge on a dangerously tall building. Even if it just readies you for “daily bread” options, rather than Amazon.com-scale opportunities, that bread might have garlic butter on it.
For example, the other day I was chatting with my local grocer, telling him of the wonders of digital marketing. (Johnny One-Note, that’s me!) Suddenly, he looked at me and said, “Would you build me a website? I’d pay you.” Whoa! Actually, I was thinking that he should start with an email announcement service. It would be more comfortably low-tech and easy to maintain for him. And, in terms of marketing, a “push” tool that put his products into his customers’ lines of sight would make more sense than a “pull” service like a website that required his customers to remember it existed and go find it. Both would work well together, of course, but small steps first. Nonetheless, I was amazed that I suddenly found myself with a job opportunity. Though I turned him down, I had to admit that by the next day I already had identified the two people who I would draft for my team and what tasks they would perform. I also started musing about how many other groceries I might tie up and whether we would accept ads. Next time I chat with him, I think I’ll tell him where he could get product descriptions for the enewsletter. I might even offer to do some write-ups in my spare time. Hmm.
Times may be tough, but they’ve been tough before and gotten better, a lot better. As Faulkner said in the speech delivered when he won his Nobel prize in 1949: “I believe that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” The prevailing winds may not prevail for all that long, and, in any case, if we’re smart and attentive navigators, those winds may fill our sails and carry us to longed-for destinations. Shiver me timbers! No storm is perfect!