Mutterings of a consultant

August 29, 2008

3 Ps

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 9:11 am
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I have been doing a lot of reading about design recently.  On my trails I came across an excellent transcription of a presentation from one of the partners at IDEO in the UK (Mat Hunter).  While there are a number of good insights in this transcript I will share a one that I will refer to as ‘the 3 Ps’.  In Mat’s, or possibly IDEO’s, view a sustainable consulting company comes from a progression through three Ps

Portfolio – what have we done before

Process – can we repeat it

Point of View – having an opinion and the courage to share it

Mat suggests that you need to build your business left to right (top to bottom in this case).  Starting with portfolio and progressing to point of view.  The last is clearly the hardest to achieve.  While having a point of view is not particularly hard having the confidence to share it is something else again.  Often you may not be right, opinions are not facts after all.  Having the confidence to put forward your opinion typically means that you are ready for the criticism and in fact are willing to change your opinion.  It is a complex world we operate in after all, having an opinion is the starting point to understanding and decoding the world as it provides an essential perspective on the world, your perspective.

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August 28, 2008

We vs. You

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 4:16 am
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If one considers that consultants typically exist outside an organisation and provide services to an organisation then how consultants use the words ‘we’ and ‘you’ can pose somewhat of a dilemma.  Here are some of the issues as I see it.

‘You’ can give the impression that the consultant is lacking empathy or perhaps ownership of the client’s problem/issue, ‘we’ on the other hand can be presumptious, compare the following:

‘This is the situation you are in’ vs ‘this is the situation we are in’. 

The first clearly positions the situation as the clients own, it can however distance the consultant from the situation as the consultant is not putting themselves in the group that the owns the problem.  On the other hand the second statement, based on we, also presents some problems.  Has the consultant earned the right to put themselves in the group or are they simply assuming membership.  This is troubling indeed as the consultant-client relationship can be upset by either too much familiarity (percieved inappropriate use of the word we) or through detachment (consistent use of the word you).

While clearly this is a trivial post I often see consultants struggling with this and at times making mistakes.  Here is how I navigate my way through this:

1.  What is the situation, am I really part of the group or am I really an outsider?

2.  Have I earned the right to say we?  Have I demonstrated my commitment to the client and have I been invited into the group (how one knows whether or not one is ‘inside’ is even more confusing)?

3.  If in doubt (as I often am) use you, do it with empathy and we should have our bases covered.

(please note joke in the last bullet point for those of you who are slow :-))

August 7, 2008

Consulting – a whole of brain profession

Filed under: Uncategorized — grantfrear @ 1:14 am
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Having recently completed Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I have come to realise that consulting is indeed a whole of brain experience.  Pink presents a perspective on the changes in our workforce and society as we transition from an environment dominated by left brain activities (logical, sequential, rational) to right brain activities (experiential, non-linear, creative, empathetic).  While I have for some time seen consulting as a creative endeavour, or at least the way that I practice the profession, I had not really thought through deeply what this meant in terms of engaging my brain, and the two hemispheres within it.

So here I am, thinking more deeply about it.  Lets start with the consulting process (in very simplified form)

Analysis-Design-Plan-Implement-Change

Now if I think about this in terms of Left and Right dominated activities here is how I see things shaping up (left to right, top to bottom in good old fashioned left brain structured presentation :-).

Left                                 Right

Analysis                                   Design

Plan

Implement                               Change

So here in lies the challenge for consulting, consultants and the partnership that I work for in particular.  Most of our academic lives are spent on the left, we train and reward people to be structured, analytical, logical etc.  This clearly means that the we are well positioned to analyse, plan and implement (i.e. follow the plan).  We do not however get trained as much in the right brain activities (creativity, empathy, story-telling, play) and as such many consultants having done a great job with structured analysis launch into structured design (surely simply addressing the issues identified in analysis is in fact design?). 

How can this be overcome?  Here are a few ideas that may or may not take hold:

  • Teach design as part of the core training of consultants – empathy, creativity, observation, innovation
  • Increase diversity in the workplace (Andersen Consulting used this approach with mixed results, I can remember early training days with a history graduate, they were never going to make a C programmer)
  • Reduce dependence on methods – good for analysis, can be suffocating for design
  • Drop the neckties and reduce the hierarchy (perhaps that is simply me getting sick of wearing a suit)

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