While it may seem like a peripheral issue, I think the need to achieve the right balance between confidence and humility is critical to successful economic development efforts. I see over-confidence all the time in my work with economic development organizations – to the point of arrogance – and that leads to an inability to seek change or to understand why people are frustrated with what they see as ineffective economic development efforts. When confronted with criticism, many leaders hunker down and fight harder and harder to save systems and activities that they themselves must realize are ineffective.
I have commented on this at the political level in the past. Opposition parties will be quick to sharply criticize the economic development efforts of the sitting government but when they get in power – and own it themselves – they become passionate defenders of many of the same practices they abhorred while in opposition.
But this issue of confidence also applies to the practice of economic development. One of the more profound moments for me on this was when the folks from Swiss Air were in New Brunswick talking about putting a back office in the province. They told use they were offended by the arrogance of the Investment Quebec representatives who apparently scorned New Brunswick and the quality of the French language down here. For the Swiss this posture by the Quebec officials left a bad taste in their mouth and they actually preferred New Brunswick French.
My point is that the best economic developers have a strong sense of confidence in themselves and in the community (province) they are advocating for. I have been in meetings with economic developers doing their sales pitch to a company looking at their community and you could feel the excitement. The guy or gal was just oozing belief in their community and its people. At the same time, the best have a clear sense of their own and the community’s weaknesses and strive for self-improvement. They are quick to accept a fresh perspective – even from a sharper-than-required critic. They are always looking for ways to improve themselves and their organizations.
Above all, they crave metrics. They want to have a clear understanding of the impact or lack thereof they are having in the community or province. Self-improvement needs to be tied to benchmarks.
In the end I can’t tell you what the right mix is but I know it when I see it.