Mutterings of a consultant

October 1, 2008

Complexity

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 5:29 am
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I have always found it interesting how corporate vision statements become like wallpaper.  They are always present and visible but fade into the background.  This is certainly the case with the vision statement for my team, it is there, it is meaningful and largely it is ignored. 

I, more than some others in my team, have to pay a little more attention to the vision.  Not only am I a leader in my team but from time to time I am required to present our vision.  At these times I go back to the vision and marvel at the clever collection of words, full of meaning and promise.  On a recent trip back I spent some time thinking about meaning, in particular focusing on one key word in the vision statement, complex.

In the case of our vision statement complexity is postitioned in terms of the problems we are trying to solve.  I had never really thought deeply about what distinguishes a complex problem from other problems.  When I did put aside some time to do so I was a little embarassed that I had difficulty getting to the nub of what a complex problem might be.  It could simply be the opposite of a simple problem however I thought there must be more to it than this.  After a bit of reading I found a description of complexity that helped me make sense of the vision statement.

Complex problems are distinguished by the inter-relationships and dependencies between aspects of the problem, the amount of unknowns and that the problem cannot simply be broken into smaller parts to solve.  Taking the decomposition approach will not work for complex problem due to the inter-relationships, the parts are all moving and are all connected to each other in some way. 

By contrast complicated problems also have many inter-dependent parts but the relationship between these parts is more static.  One can solve a complicated problem by breaking it down into smaller parts as each one acts independently and interacts with other parts in a predictable manner.

So there is was, a description of complexity that seemed to make sense in a consulting environment.  As with most things in life my new found clarity simply allowed me to see another problem/issue.  If we are solving complex problems why is it we apply the ‘divide and conquer’ model so often?  Clearly I will have to spend some more time thinking about that one.

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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.

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 :-))

July 13, 2008

A rant on the use of inner, the word

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 8:55 pm
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This is from a book titled ‘Is it just me or is everything shit?’

There was once presumably a time when the word ‘inner’ just referred to things that were not ‘outer’.  A bicycle’s ‘inner tube’ was the ring of rubber that nestled snugly inside the outer rubber tyre.  The bicycle never had to discover its inner tube, or nurture its inner tube, or even explore the cosmic dimensions of its inner tube.  It was just an inner tube.

But something happened and the word ‘inner’ started implying a righteous quest towards the glowing centre of ones glorious self.

July 12, 2008

New Zealand’s Future

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 7:55 am
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I was recently sent an article by Rod Oram that discussed scenarios for New Zealand’s futures.  The format of the presentation which is based on research from Landcare was a little off putting at first however the more I read it seemed to get it’s message across efficiently.  In essence four scenarios were developed against two primary variables (resources and our national identity).  These scenarios are presented in the form of a conversation between two people (a little trite but in the end effective).

I reacted quite strongly toward one of the scenarios, ‘the shire’.  I am unsure if this is due to the way that it has been written and the future that is predicted (i.e. does a bias come through from the researchers).  It seems that in further research with the community at large there is a strong tendency for this scenario.  It either speaks to the mindset of New Zealand or it was presented in such a way to lead most people to the same conclusion (or perhaps the other 3 scenarios lead the reader to back to ‘the shire’).

Possibly of more interest however is the research finding illustrating that: 

1.  Where we think we are now and;

2.  Where we think we should be in the future and;

3.  Where we think we are actually heading.

Are all in different segments of the scenario model.  Now I have heard us as a nation described as being somewhat neurotic, perhaps this is all the evidence needed to prove this observation.

If you are interested check out the scenario and follow on research.  Thanks to cheap storage on the web and Google’s desire to still be around in 100 years we should be able to check back in 50 years time and see how things developed.

June 17, 2008

Is the web making us stupid?

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 2:23 am
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I came across a very interesting article titled Is Google Making Us Stupid? and thought I would reflect on its contents (note the title of my post is slightly different so as to avoid plagarism).  The article takes a sweeping review over our reading patterns and the way that we consume information in the internet age.  It covers many topics from the reflections of Nietzche upon losing his eyesight and moving to a typewriter all the way to comparing the plans of Google to the sophisticated conclusion to Fredrick Taylors work on scientific management, quite a read let me tell you.

While I think we are all aware that our patterns of consumption, research and recreational reading have changed dramatically due to the web I had never considered how these changes may be affecting my brain.  The author puts forward a perspective of an adaptive brain, one that adjusts to the environment and the context in which it operates.  Nothing startling here however the conclusion drawn with respect to how the internet (a world of snippets, links, soundbites, bouncing, glancing, surfing, instant information etc etc) could be affecting our ability to think, hence it could in fact be making us stupid.

The observation that Nietzche’s writing style and in fact thoughts started to change as he moved from hand writing to typewriter was quite interesting.  In Nietzche’s own words ‘our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts’.  The affect was confirmed by scolars who noted his writing moving from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style’.

One can easily reflect on the influence that txt spk has had on our language and how the medium has altered ones expectations regarding personal communications.  Language evolved to be rich and complex because it was needed.  It was needed to express complex subject matter and it was required for efficiency (one complex word rich in meaning can substitute for a sentence of simple words describing a topic – example in context of this article pedagogy).

Perhaps the most interesting observations in the article is the linkage between the philosophies of Taylorism and the plans that Google have.  The Google strategy, when placed in this context, is indeed somewhat frightening.  Particularly the suggestion that Google will have reached its logical conclusion when it can act as an auxilliary brain connected to the one that will be wasting away in our heads.

May 22, 2008

Consulting 2.0 – adding to my thoughts

Filed under: General rambling,worklife — grantfrear @ 9:05 pm
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In a previous post I presented some open questions about Consulting 2.0.  The main reason for presenting open questions was that I really had no formed ideas on what Consulting 2.0 actually is.  All I could find on the web was bitter posts by disgruntled ex-Consultants.  So where did this leave me?  In that somewhat uncomfortable place where one has to think for oneself, put ideas on paper and see what people think.  So here it is (comments and critique appreciated).

Purpose of consulting – best start at the beginning

The way I see it the purpose of Consulting is to apply experience, knowledge and expertise to help a client change.  Clearly change comes in many guises and therefore this broad definition allows for advisory engagements, implementation engagements, strategy engagements etc.

Consulting 1.0 – how have we traditionally delivered on the purpose

Consulting has typically been practiced through people.  The model of Consulting 1.0 is to bring experience, expertise and knowledge to the client through a people channel.  Teams, large and small, descend on the client and practice their craft.  Approaches differ, some are more collaborative, some present themselves as the sage.  What is common however is that the client must buy people to get access to the experience, expertise and knowledge.  Other aspects of Consulting 1.0 that are easy to observe include – proprietary methodologies, closed engagements delivered by one firm, protecting property etc.  In Consulting 1.0 value comes from what you have managed to harvest internally and how you can channel this through your people.

Consulting 2.0 – emergent methods to delivering on the purpose

One of the issues with Consulting 1.0 is that it does not scale.  People are a constraint to growth and ultimately constrain clients and their ability to change (i.e. get access to people and experience).  There are however emerging models whereby services can and are being delivered in ways that ease the reliance on people.  One of the challenges with these models is to ensure that the value proposition is redefined, no point selling the IP and experience without the people as this will chip away at the bedrock of your business.  Emerging models are packaging the IP into services that support the core business, to bring revenue to the Consultant when the client is helping themself change.  A recent example of this in my world is the leadership academy.  This sets about helping clients improve the leadership capabilities in their businesses.  It brings together great IP from consultants (in this case human capital expertise), packages this with contemporary thinking from business schools and wraps this together to support the core services (people oriented) of the consultant.

So in summary my current thoughts on Consulting 2.0 is summarised as follows

– Less reliant on people to support change in clients

– More open and less protective of IP

– More collaborative

– Complimentary to 1.0 models not a complete substitute

– Technology enabled

– Scalable

– Supports change in clients when the consultant is not there

May 19, 2008

TED – Ideas worth sharing

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 6:06 am
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The web really is a wonderfull thing.  I am constantly amazed where I end up and what I find.  Recently I came across a web site titled TED.  TED is an annual conference that is held in Montery, CA that attracts some of the worlds best minds to present on a wide range of topics.

I am not a huge TV fan and have found the TED site somewhat addictive as a TV replacement.  I have lost many an hour on this site watching some great presentations.  They probably have the best video streaming technology that I have seen.  It is indexed and allows you to fast-forward the streaming – very nice.

I have provided a link below to a truely great presentation on poverty and the development of nations. 

TED – poverty and the development of nations

 

May 4, 2008

Powerpoint suicide

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 2:29 am
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Every now and then you get to look at our profession from the other side, from the clients perspective. I was recently invited as the client’s representative to a meeting with a team of consultants who had one of their regional ‘big swinging dicks’ in town.

As soon as I entered the room I could tell I was in for a treat. There they were, a team of consultants with a laptop on the table, poised to attack. It was clear they had one thing in mind, a powerpoint duel. There was one thing that was for sure, the presentation was going to be all about them.

After the introductions off they went, over to the most senior member of the team who opened with the following fateful phrase “I have a few slides prepared, we will not go through all of them’. After about 20 slides we finally got to the most notorious of all consultants slides, the brag slide. This slide is usually jam-packed full of client logos that the client is meant to be impressed with. I often wonder however if all this does is confirm how promiscuous the consultant really is.

I have to admit that I have been in many similar meetings where I have been on the other side of the table. Myself and my collegues have been so keen to impress we launch into some form of powerpoint suicide before even addressing the simple questions
– What is the client expecting from the meeting?
– What are the important issues that as a consultant we should focus on?

This experience was a timely reminder to how our profession and approaches are percieved across the other side of the table. I can only wish that I could have these experiences more often as I am sure that it would make me a better consultant. Perhaps I should have asked permission to video the experience so that I could replay it at times when I found myself getting adrift from the client’ perspective.

April 9, 2008

How strong are your convictions

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 9:57 am
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It is very easy to say that you stand for something or believe in something. Somewhat harder to demonstrate it.
Having recently sustained an injury as a result of a mountain bike accident I could no longer ride my scooter to work.  While contemplating my injury I also spent some time reconsidering the scooter as an transport option.  Quick, efficient, low environmental footprint it may be but it is also dangerous as they say it is only a matter of time before you are an unwilling participant in a serious accident.

So here I am, about to give up the scooter and being confronted with what next. 

I am quite open in my views on sustainability and have in the past promoted public transport.  The scooter has however provided a way for me to promote my sustainability views while still having the convinience of private transport.  

Are my views for real or are they just for show?  This was the question that I put to myself when I evaluated my choices.  So where have I ended up?  While my current situation ‘forced’ me to take a bus, it transpires that it is not that bad.  In fact it is remarkably efficient.  It has even provided an opportunity for me to clear e-mail in an otherwise jam-packed day.  I have therefore decided that between the bus and cityhop (car pool scheme) my transportation needs are satisfied.  Clearly there will be occasions where timeliness is a priority and when this is so I plan to travel by taxi.

I guess this means that my convictions are reasonably strong.  Time will no doubt test and challenge these convictions however.  In this case time will most certainly tell.

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