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#380: If You Assume You Know the Answer, You May Not Understand the Question

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, August 27, 2010
Updated: Friday, August 27, 2010
With a lot of hard work, we built a solid repertoire of consulting skills and approaches for our market and pretty much everyone comes to us for our knowledge base and perspective. Should we now be branching out to other markets?

This is not to rain on your parade (congratulations though), but there is an element of delusion in providing any service based on expertise. Both the client and the service provider enter a relationship on the premise that the advisor has the answers, or a unique ability to get them. This was easier when problems were simpler, insights were harder to come by, and solutions were more durable. Over the past few decades, there has been an interesting shift in this process to find the "best" answer. What is optimal depends on who you ask so cornering the market in "best" advice is not as enduring it used to be.

Now that agility is among an organization's most valuable capabilities and strategy is as emergent as designed, neither the client nor the consultant may have "the" answer, nor even a clue where it is. Therefore, our value as consultants may no longer automatically derive from diagnosing the problem, recognizing the pattern, and applying the right methodology. We need to recognize that the solution to what looks like an obvious problem needs to be created, not picked from our repertoire. If you have a doubt that this democratization of consulting is upon us, see Malcolm Gladwell's 2004 TED talk on spaghetti sauce (among other things) and on why we have the proliferation of variation on a theme of products in most markets. Even if you know the stories, this talk provides some real insights for your consulting and management practice.

Tip: Even the most senior consultants shouldn't assume we've seen it all. The nature and complexity of the problems we face as advisors is evolving as fast as we develop competent and "proven" approaches.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  customer understanding  innovation  learning 

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Michael E. Cohen CMC MBA says...
Posted Saturday, August 28, 2010
Agree completely. Every project and client are unique, and usually the better consultnats will be able to tailor apparaches and solutions to the particular needs of thje individual client. Maybe it's obvious- tailored solutions are usually better than generic solutions. Althouhg, every now and then, a clinet may ask for a generic approach to save money or to allow them to do the tailoring.
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