Consulting: Idea fight club

By | April 29, 2015

I coined this phrase on my last project.  This is the simple admission that consultants should be confident in their ideas – backed up by data, research, and thinking – and be willing to allow their ideas to stand the testing of their peers, managers and clients.

Ideas get stronger the more the are tested.   It knocks of the weak dross of thinking. Smart consultants know that getting trusting, but critically thinking people to look at your material is a free gift.  Testing your ideas in a safe environment.  Beating up your ideas a little bit, for the good of the client.  Think of it like training for a young Spartan.  Think of it as a strands of braided wire which gets twisted and turned, reinforced and stronger.

ConsultantsMind Idea Fight Club

Consultants should be confident in their ideas.   Do the hard work.  The client is expecting $10,000 of value from your day.  Are you pushing yourself, your thinking, your persuasion, and your ideas far enough?  Have you simply interviewed a few people, and regurgitated the facts back to them?  Are you guilty of the old consulting criticism, “stole my watch and told me what time it was”.

Did you really think about the problem logically, drive hypotheses?  Where did you find your data?  Did you just analyze the data that you were given?  Did you think about the data that is hard to find, or not in your data request?  Are you guilty of only looking for answers in the easy places, proverbially looking for lost keys under the lamp “because that is where the light is the brightest.”

Willing to allow their ideas to be tested.   How well-thought and robust is the analysis?  Are you proud of your work?  If you were to leave the presentation on someone’s desk, would they understand the logic, and be convinced on its own merits? This takes a certain amount of confidence + a touch of arrogance to argue for something that the client was unaware or unwilling to change.

You have to be open to feedback.  If you are sensitive to criticism, you are in the wrong business.  In professional services, we get nearly daily feedback on our thoughts, behaviors, and intentions. Consulting is an apprenticeship; healthy, but brutal.  Start with the easiest people – your peers and friends.

Peers and friends.  Don’t be afraid to share initial ideas and WIP (work in progress) with those closest to you.  It’s all built on trust.  Chances are they are working on a parallel work-stream (same client), and can clarify some of your thoughts.  Friends are often encouraging; they will help you think of novel ways to get your point across.  They can do the mindless proof-reading, format checking and things often overlooked.

Manager.  This can be tricky.  If you have a good working relationship, you know “how baked the cake needs to be” before sharing it with your manager.  Some chiefs are happy to see very early prototypes and course-correct with you.  Others would give you a bad review for sharing “rubbish” with them and wasting their time.  Know your boss.

Tip: Either way, be flexible enough to share progress reports by email, verbally in the rental car, or with simple 1 pagers that give status updates.  Don’t get so far down the analysis, that you are building something useless.

Client.  Socialize your recommendations.  The more clients who see the deliverable before the presentation day the better.   Nemawashi (pre-selling the recommendation) is critical in consulting. Don’t have meetings where you don’t know what the client will think.  That is death.  Simply, that is death.

This week, we had a presentation.  In blackjack terms, it was a 20 on the dealer 5.  It went well.  Was proud of my team, the client was engaged, and people were happy.  The project lasted 10 weeks, and we spent the last 3 weeks in idea fight club.

Idea fight club with each other, and with the client.   Every time there was a change (there more than 100), the deliverable got better.  It made more sense and was stronger.  The presentation actually had scar tissue.  Unlike the movie though, it is okay to talk about fight club.  Actually, the more you use it and talk about it, the better.

2 thoughts on “Consulting: Idea fight club

  1. Rob

    Love the idea and great blog i love reading your stuff keep up the great work

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