The World of the All-Too-Narrow Consultant

I heard a priest speak in church today, standing in the aisle without notes, alternatively citing Thomas Aquinas, a court case of ten years ago, Einstein’s writings on the curvature of the universe, and the reasons to suspect that God just might exist. It was eight minutes of fascinating points underscored by examples, and several people remarked within my hearing that it was an excellent homily. (By the way, those are the elements of the perfect keynote speech, as well, a theme supported by several key points which are brought to life through examples and stories.)

The difficulty with so many consultants, large firm foot soldier to partner, as well as solo practioners and boutique firm principals, is that they are not very well rounded. They can talk about models and matrices, but they might mistake Erasmus for a neighborhood in New York and they believe that War Admiral is a naval rank.

Lawyers hold my personal record for being the narrowest of all professionals, though I readily grant the exceptions which prove my rule. Outside of the world of torts and Lexus-Nexus (or whatever that is) they aren’t able to glibly discuss many things, partly because their educational preparation is about as wide as the change slot in a candy machine, and partly because the rigors of the profession demand that they immerse themselves in little else. I guess I want such a lawyer defending me, but probably not befriending me.

Consultants need to avoid this diminished world view. If you agree with me for two seconds that this is a relationship business, then you had better be able to forge and nurture those relationships through the ability to discuss a variety of topics that are interesting to the other person!

It’s ironic that a globalized world with infinite stimulii drives many people to learn more and more about less and less. It’s nice to meet someone, I suppose, who knows all there is to know about team dynamics or the air routes to the islands. But unless they understand how teams relate to the general environment, or what my personal vacation objectives and disposition are, I don’t want them managing my people or my leisure time.

I remember an insurance professional who told me that the insurance he had in mind for me was a bargain at $35,000 per year in premiums. “Only an insurance guy could say that with a straight face,” I said. “Do you think I don’t mean it?” he protested. “No, you mean it,” I said, “but you’re not talking to an insurance guy. You’re talking to someone who wants to protect his family but who has a multiplicity of goals and interests. I don’t want to buy insurance, about which you’re an expert, but rather to balance my future prudently, about which you know nothing.”

He didn’t get the sale, and neither will you if you don’t take broader views of your client’s condition.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.


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