Thursday, July 2, 2009

Consult creatively.

I just started teaching a new course on "Consulting Communications," targeted to students who are sure, pretty sure, or wondering if they want a career in consulting.

I think consulting is a great career for many people, that consultants can provide very real value to many organizations, and that communication -- or more properly, mastery of all aspects of communication -- is one of the three key elements that are critical to being a great consultant.  The other two?  Well the first is easy, and is probably what many or even most people would name first: good critical and analytical thinking skills.  No doubt about it, good consultants are good analysts.  But great consultants are more than that.

Great consultants are expert at using communications tools and techniques to get accuracy and build relationships.  Consulting, to me, is a "social contract:" you haven't promised the organization your terrific analysis, insights, and recommendations as much as you have promised them to a person or team.  And truly great consultants make good on that promise by developing a great relationship, and by not just providing the "deliverable," but by showing how recommendations can be turned into action.

That said, there's still one piece missing.

Hmm.  Good analysis.  Good communication.  What's left?

What's left is the real value-add of consulting: a creative perspective.  An innovative idea or two.  A breakthrough.  And that's tough.  Jeffrey Bernet of Studio B had a great quote this month in a Fast Company video on designing a new chair for B+B Italia: "Different is easy.  Better is hard."  That makes me think of consulting, and of consultants: it's easy to come up with the "usual suspects" solutions.  Any competent firm with competent consultants can do the usual analysis, find the usual insights, make the usual recommendations.  But the better ones, the unexpected ones, the breakthrough ones?  They're hard.  They don't just come from analysis.  They come from creative thinking.  From seeing the world a different way.  From seeing the end point not as it is, but as it could be.

That's what great designers do (by the way, I love the design of Bernett's Tulip Chair).  What great architects do.  What great engineers do.  What great creative people in every discipline do.  And it's what great consultants do, too.

It's one of the fastest ways to go from good to great in consulting, and in every other aspect of your life.