Pound This!

There’s a saying among lawyers who practice litigation that, if you have the law on your side, pound the law.

If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts.

If you have neither … pound the table!

The message, of course, is that you’re most persuasive when effectively playing the hand you’re dealt. Play to your strengths.

If you do, you’ll be focusing the attention of the jury on those aspects of your case that are most compelling, and that distinguish your position from that of the competition (or, in the case of litigators, their adversaries.)

Of course, the lawyer who has neither favorable law nor facts on her side has little in her arsenal other than the ability to poke holes in her opponent’s arguments, or the ability to “pound the table,” i.e., make as much noise, distraction or obfuscation as she can, in order to make things more difficult for the other side.

Perhaps it’s just the “recovering lawyer” in me, but I think we can draw some useful analogies from the courtroom and apply them to the world of foreign direct investment (FDI) attraction.

Skillful FDI practitioners know what they have and what they don’t have to offer to potential investors. They play up their competitive advantages and hone their message so that it resonates most effectively with those whose needs fit the assets and resources available.

Got location? Got universities? Got talent? Got cheap energy? Go for it!

Less experienced or less skillful FDI practitioners, or those who have been dealt fewer trump cards in the way of business assets, may be tempted, if not to pound the table, at least to paint with a broad brush and speak generally of their community’s overall quality and general suitability for business.

But is that in any way helpful to the investor? Remember – the investor, or the site location adviser, must be able to articulate the reasons, both qualitative and quantitative, why a particular location makes sense.

Solid FDI professionals know when to pound the law (or the facts), and know, too, when pounding the table is not persuasive.

It all comes down, as it so often does in international business, to knowing oneself – one’s company, one’s products or services, one’s community, one’s assets – which in turn requires a frank and unstinting self-appraisal.

Far better to pound your forehead in frustration (and in private), than to pound the table foolishly and at great expense in an unlikely quest to win the case. Some battles can’t be won, and some can only be won under certain circumstances.

The professional possesses, in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, the serenity to accept the things he cannot change, the courage to change the things he can, and the wisdom to know the difference.