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What Value Do Consultants Bring?

Article Purpose: This is my attempt at contextualising and summarising a few conversations I've had this week.

Audience: My future self, and anybody who might find this interesting or want to opine/add their two cents.

No matter how great your idea, they will thrive or fail based their efficacy in the real world. It doesn't matter how well thought-out your plan is or how much money you've already invested - reality has a 100% batting average.

For many things in life, you only get so many bites at the apple. You can't restructure your organisation every time a new approach or paradigm comes out.

The biggest value people can bring to an organisation is being able to identify the real problem (or opportunity), and summarise it in a way where all stakeholders (people with a vested interest) agree.

That is a real skill, and to be able to do that well and consistently you want people who have earned a right to an opinion by:

  1. having lived experience in having done a similar thing themselves

  2. being able to "steel man" different views and concerns.

This is a lot harder than it seems, and you need a latticework of perspectives, experience, mental models, and the right environment and attitude to want to solve the real problem (not everybody does). It'll be obvious when you've done this well when your stakeholders say "that's right" or "I couldn't have said that better myself".

Shane Parrish recently published “Clear Thinking”, where he notes how quickly people offer solutions to problems. Shane points out that, once the first solution comes out, the conversation quickly turns to variations on that suggestion. To avoid this, he recommends having two separate meetings - one to clearly define and agree the problem, and another separate meeting for brainstorming solutions.

If you skip the step of not getting everyone’s perspective of the problem, or neglect to do this often enough, that’s where things go wrong and get really expensive. It doesn’t matter how on-time or on-budget your project is if you’ve built the wrong thing. Your team and stakeholders will grow frustrated, lose motivation, and you will certainly not get their best work.

Take Aways / Wrapping Up:

If you’re reading this and it resonates with your project or organisation, we’re good listeners, and really enjoy when we can help people find new clarity or insight into their challenges.

Nice people will tell you that you look nice - Kind people will let you know you have spinach in your teeth. As vital as it is “to confront the brutal facts”, there’s a real art in being able to do this in a friendly, collaborative way where people, rather than feeling threatened by change, feel they are being involved to be part of the solution.

Beyond leveraging other people's experience and network, speaking with a third-party (whether us or someone else) helps when you need to seek out honest opinions from your team, and steward people through the occasional tricky conversations people may otherwise feel uncomfortable to have.

Many Thanks!

Special thanks to Mark Dickinson and Gabrielle Earnshaw for their time this week - they're both very insightful, helpful, accomplished and amazing people, and I'm always grateful for our chats.

Thanks too to a few others who shall remain nameless but know who they are - always great to see you!

And a big thanks and recommendation to Shane Parrish of Farnam Street. I hope to some day meet and thank you, but I've absolutely loved your book, which was exactly what I'd expect after the excellent work you've done at

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