Ignorance and Arrogance – An Industry’s Achilles Heel
by Gene Muchanski
Editor, The Dive Industry Professional
This is the most difficult article I have ever written. Being in the diving industry for close to fifty years, I have met tens of thousands of dive industry professionals who have built our industry into what it is today. Some were pioneers and some followed in their foot steps. Many were self-employed Entrepreneurs while the majority were company employees. Some of us made diving our life’s work while others participated in it on a part time basis. Like my Mother used to say, some of us gave our heart and soul to the industry while others went out and got a “real job.” Regardless as to how the industry controlled your life, what we all had in common was our love of the water and an adventurous spirit that compelled us to explore the wonders of the sea. For many of us, it all started out as a recreational and turned into a lifetime career choice. But either way, we are all independent, adventurous, fearless and in love with a watermans lifestyle.
The subject of ignorance and arrogance in the diving industry has come up for discussion many times in the past but somehow always in a negative manner. As a confirmed believer in Dale Carnegie Training, I couldn’t write this article until I could present it in a manner that did not criticize, condemn or complain. I did not want to give the impression that all Dive Industry Professionals are ignorant and arrogant or that everyone but me in the industry were guilty of it. I had to wait all these years until I could confirm that ignorance and arrogance is a toxic combination that could and has stifled growth in the diving industry and ended many a career in the process.
This article may not make any sense to you unless I first describe my cumulative interest, education and experience in the Diving Industry. In the past fifty years, I have called the diving industry my hobby, recreation, vocation, avocation, collateral duty, career and lifestyle. I’ve worked in and out of the industry but my interests always revolved around business, diving, and the business of diving. I’ve be fortunate enough to have worked in military operations, manufacturing, sales, education, training, marketing, consulting, travel, media and finance. I have been a business owner, an independent consultant and an employee. I received a well-rounded work experience by working for Military Diving Units, Dive Equipment Manufacturers, Certification Agencies, Travel Companies, Retail Dive Centers, University Scuba Programs, Trade Associations, Non-Profit Organizations and Media Companies. I’ve owned my own Retail Dive Center, Wetsuit Manufacturing Company, Trade Association and Non-Profit Organization.
Ignorance is defined as the state of being ignorant because of a lack of knowledge, education or awareness. Like many of my friends in the diving community, I consider myself a lifelong student and teacher of everything to do with diving and the business of diving. When it comes to diving or business, we are all born ignorant. We have to learn everything from our environment, education and experience. We are not born with a super instinct that makes us a great diver or business person. We have to learn as much as we can and experience as much as we can. We have to be willing to participate in trial and error. We have to expect success and failure. That goes for diving and for business.
In our diving community, we see individuals who always seem to grow in their knowledge and experience in diving. They continually learn new techniques, experiment with new equipment and dive in new locations. They are the ones who learn, write, speak, teach and grow. As they learn new things, they come to a realization that the more they know, they more they realize they don’t know. These Industry Professionals have a good grasp on their Knowledge / Ignorance Balance. Contrast that with the person who only knows enough about diving to be dangerous. They know very little, but surprisingly they think they know everything. They are a danger not only to themselves but to their diving buddies as well. Case in point: Ignorance is a natural part of life and growing up, as long as you realize that in certain areas we are all ignorant.
If you want to be a good Diver, you have to keep learning and experiencing. If you decide to become a Diving Instructor, please realize that teaching diving is different than being a Diver. Yes, you still have to continue learning to be a better Diver, but now you must also learn how to become a good Educator and continue growing as a professional diving instructor. If you decide to open a dive store, realize that being a professional retailer is different than being a good Diver or a good Diving Instructor. Now you have a third thing to learn, practice and grow at. Like all other things in your life, you’ll start out ignorant at first and then have a need and an opportunity to learn, experience and grow.
Dive Industry Professionals and the diving industry itself would be much better off if Divers would only pick a few things to master in the community. There are so many opportunities to excel at diving, instructing, retailing, photography, manufacturing, marketing, training, travel, environmental volunteering, and so on.
Arrogance is defined as an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner. Unlike ignorance, we are not born arrogant. Arrogance is a learned behavior or attitude. It could manifest itself from a physical, psychological or social imbalance. A normal balance of human hormones, healthy physical assets and well developed physiological abilities may be present in many of our industry Leaders, but the ones I worry about are the Industry Professionals who don’t understand the industry, the products, customers, or markets, and don’t have a clue how to run a successful, profitable business but think they do. And the worst thing for all of us is that they have been able to convince the owners and investors of their companies that they are the ones who can run their businesses best.
Poor Leaders and unsuccessful companies are easy to identify in the diving industry. The first dead give away is a company that believes in the theory of “status congruence.” That means if you have high status in one field of endeavor, you naturally have high status in all fields. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you make a fortune in one industry, it does not mean you will also succeed in the diving industry. For every industry or market you compete in, you have to understand the products, the customers and the market. Knowing the industry’s history and significant industry professionals also helps to give you a competitive edge. Having a ton of money to invest in a diving company when you don’t understand the products, the people or the market is a fool’s idea of success.
Another problem that has faced the business community forever , not just the diving community, is the placing of people in positions they are not qualified to work in. The first thing that comes to mind is how companies destroy their sales potential by taking their best salesperson and making them a Sales Manager or company Executive. Sales people do their best for the company when they are selling. Sales Mangers don’t have to be great salespeople, they have to be great managers. Company Executives have to know how to manage the company resources of time, money and manpower effectively. It is said that managers do things right and executives do the right things.
There are a lot of companies in our community that don’t believe in Marketing. It’s not only that many don’t invest in marketing like they should, some actually don’t believe in spending anything on marketing. That’s both ignorant and arrogant. The deadly combination. Marketing paves the way for sales. Marketing Managers do their best when they make the Sales Person’s job easier to sell. Sales people do their best when they are selling. Sales Managers do their best when they manage their sales force. If you don’t have Marketing people, then the Sales people have to do the marketing, which they are not qualified to do or are not interested in doing because marketing doesn’t pay commissions. And if sales people are marketing, they are not selling. Period.
Another problem for many companies in our diving community is the aspect of International Sales. International Sales are very important but only if it can be scaleable, seamless and profitable. All markets are different. What works in one country, may not work in all countries. There are a number of dive equipment manufacturers competing in the U.S. Market that are headquartered outside of the United States. There are a number of challenges to this business model, considering where the senior executives work, where the inventory is warehoused, who manages the Sales Force and from where. Some of the companies manage this better then others. The key here is to realize that understanding the market you are competing in is the most important factor to your potential success. Regardless of what you think about your company, your product or your senior executives, if your potential customers don’t know or trust your products, don’t relate to their local sales reps and don’t identify with your company culture (image), you don’t have a chance to be successful in that market. To think you do is both ignorant and arrogant.
How can you tell if you’re guilty of being ignorant and arrogant? Since knowledge is power, ask yourself who controls the company? The Boots-on-the-Ground or the Suits? Who understands the products, the customers and the market? Who knows the facts on your number of Dealers, the number and competitive nature of your sku’s, your sales in units, sales in dollars, profit per units sold, your percentage of market share and your positive percentage of sales growth? How familiar are your local people with the market’s demographics, geographics, psycho-graphics and genagraphics?
How about the arrogance aspect? That’s easy. Do a company analysis. Take out your current Business Plan and Marketing Plan. Did you create a baseline when you started? Have you detailed what your projected outcomes are and how you were going to achieve them? Is your company achieving its goals and objectives? Have you grown your product offering, dealer base, customer base and sales in both units and dollars? By what percentage? What is your percentage of growth? What is the percentage of your cost of growth? Overall, how has your company prospered under your watch? If you know all that, you’re not arrogant, you’re a Professional.
Summary: Ignorance and arrogance in an industry is a deadly combination. It affects our entire business community and can happen to any company. It creeps into our corporate culture and festers over time if gone unchecked. It’s difficult to spot but easy to fix. Einstein said that you can’t correct a problem with the same thought process you used to get into the problem. It requires a different set of eyes to see and a different thought process to correct. That’s why paradigm shifts are so effective. Another thing that is effective is having a strong moral compass that motivates business owners to do the right things, for the right reasons, for the right people. There is nothing more satisfying than a company that takes a positive active role in its community, locally, nationally and worldwide.