This article appears in the Louisville Courier Journal and addresses some issues related to the free movement of labour.
Awhile back I wrote about a willingness to have my ideas stolen and used.
I was reminded of how unreasonable a stand this is in a conversation with a friend of mine who expressed an interest in becoming a consultant. My basic advice was that it was indeed difficult to do well in the profession, but not for the reasons most outsiders think.
The difficulty is related to a question I am asked frequently — how do you market yourself?
Consultants are best known for some area of perceived expertise. When a consultant has really done good work at branding themselves, their name becomes synonymous with a field. For example, the name McKinsey & Co. immediately evokes the word strategy, and the phrase “strategy consulting” immediately evokes the name of McKinsey (among others).
However, the association is more than a function of mere advertising, marketing and promotion. These short-cuts just do not work in isolation, and hardly work when the link to be created involves ideas, concepts or thinking — such as “strategy.”
Instead, this kind of relationship takes time to create, and does not come from a billboard. What gets formed over time is an increasingly strong connection between the listening public and the intellectual heart of the firm, consultant or individual.
When a client looks to a consultant for assistance, the implicit assumption is that they are looking to spend their dollars on expertise or knowledge that is uncommon, and specialized. Consultants that provide an average service in every respect will only be hired to do things like fill in manpower shortages. At the highest end, consultants can make themselves unique by developing expertise in the eyes of their clients. This can be done by developing a bundle of 2 things — Questions and Answers.
Developing this bundle, and making it available to prospects is the essential marketing a consultant should do. This bundle is the consultant’s Intellectual Heart.
Picture a possible client CEO. She stays awake at nights in her home in Kingstown, St. Vincent, wondering about a new executive that she is thinking of hiring from Chicago. He comes highly recommended, but she wonders about the cultural difference between him – an African American – and the workers in her company.
Will he fit in? How can she prepare him, and her workers, for this very new relationship?
She starts to look for professional help.
The first firm she calls (a large multinational) lets her know that they can find someone in their network of 10,000 consultants world-wide who has done work in this area, and they could fly them in to assist. The person would not have direct experience of Caribbean culture, and might be quite expensive. She is not satisfied with the idea of bringing in another outsider (probably not Black) whose very presence would introduce a new dimension. She mentally puts them on hold.
Next, she calls a solo consultant who assures her that he can do this kind of work. While he sounds quite willing, it sounds to her as if this is the first time he is considering the issue seriously. He can sense the opportunity, but she thinks that he will say anything he can to get the business. When she presses him on the issue, he gives no evidence that he has done any more thinking than she has. His website is vague, and does not mention the topic, even in passing.
On her third attempt she strikes gold. The third company, was referred to her by a friend who happened to hear the CEO mention the topic in passing in a speech to a local Rotary Club. She calls and finds him honest in telling her that they have completed no actual projects in this area.
In fact, all they have been doing for 2 years is thinking about the issue, and what they think companies should do to overcome it. They freely admit that the field is not very well developed.
However, when she listens to them talk about the challenge she is facing, she can hear a distance between where she is and they are in thinking. It almost seems as if they are 2 years ahead. She visits their company website and downloads a white paper on the subject. A short search of their blogs shows some how their thinking has evolved in the past few months. An entertaining recording of an interview of an African American and his Jamaican subordinate tells her that she is right to be concerned.
It is not too hard to see why the CEO would chose the third company in this fictitious example. She was easily able find a place for herself in the Intellectual Heart of the company.
When people ask me how I market my own firm, I find it quite difficult to explain that I want to be like the third firm above. In fact, when I recommend that they consider doing some things along the same lines, what I get back is derision – “You must be mad!” This was the response of my friend who originally shared the interest in becoming a consultant.
Following the retort, often I hear a story from them along the following lines… “I once put my ideas in a proposal, and the client turned around and stole them, implementing them without paying me a cent!”
This reasoning, although widely shared and often repeated, is deeply flawed. Beyond the fact that it is based in a paradigm of fear and scarcity, the ultimate results are the most damning.
Essentially, a consultant who seeks to be successful must become known for their ideas. However, if the fear expressed above is to be believed, the effect is to limit the consultant from ever being seen as a source of ideas. The consultant who tries to save or even worse, protect their ideas will never write a white paper, author a blog, become a columnist, publish a book or give a decent speech. The fear that this thinking generates is enough to stop any bright consultant from becoming recognized, and ever discovering its Intellectual Heart. The same is true for for knowledge professionals in any field, at the individual level.
Over time, I have come to believe that ideas are not mine to own. Instead, they come from the Universe/God, and I am like a television set, transmitting these ideas into the world. If someone uses them, good for them. If not, I don’t care.
I prefer for them to be picked up and used by others, rather than ignored. I prefer to put them out in the world rather than to die with them bouncing around in my private thought-box (i.e. brain.)
After all, my experience has been that the more I write, the more I receive to write. The more ideas I express in writing or speaking, the more I receive.
When I slow down my writing, they come more slowly.
I am therefore quite willing to have my ideas “stolen,” and I see it as the only path to becoming a firm known for having an Intellectual Heart.
The same applies to professionals — there are those who are invisible in their profession, and do not stand out in any way from the sea of mediocrity around them. Then there are those who have the courage to share their ideas, along with the criticism, “stealing” and risks that are involved.
The difficulty in becoming an effective consultant has to do with courage — developing the guts to not just share ideas and thinking, but to invest time in developing them in a serious way, in the face of the existential risk that it might all amount to nothing.
That, I think, is a heck of a surprise to a would-be consultant.
Usually this is said with a slightly cynical undertone, implying that something less than honorable is involved in the awarding of jobs, contracts or promotions. Usually the person saying it implies that you can work all you want, but they know from harsh experience that merit is not as important as familiarity. They imply that there is something corrupt going on that is fundamentally unfair to those who are decent, play by the rules and have integrity.
I am here to confirm the fact that who you know is critical.
But not as important as who you are.
After all, all of us know either Beenie Man and Machel Montano (respective “Kings” of dancehall and soca.)
However, just because we know them does not mean that we will be inviting them into our companies to do that important Human Resource Audit. They might be fine for the Christmas Party programme, as they are both known for their ability to move audiences. However, the image of them as management consultants is a bit comical.
The fact is, the person who knows the right people, or is known by them deserves to get the advantage, but not because they happen to play at the same golf club or attend the same tea parties.
Instead, they have earned the right to be known by virtue of hard work of a particular kind that we in the Caribbean seem loathe to do, for factors that I hopefully will be able to discuss in future blogs on this topic. For now, let us say that the hard work to do is on “Who You Are.”
Assuming that you are a professional working in one of the Caribbean countries, it is safe to say your opportunities to network are about to explode. Here in Jamaica, the largest of the CSME countries by population, we have 2.5 million people, and there are approximately 6 million people in the entire region.
In terms of GDP, the growth will even be larger as we become part of a market that is more than twice our size.
What can the professional do to prepare themselves for this opportunity?
Deepening One Area
The starting point, from my experience, is quite simple for those who enjoy their professions.
Pick an area of interest and deepen it.
Whether or not you actually ever become the world’s expert in the area is not important, yet. What is important is that you free up your creative juices, and engage your mind in its own expansion and training, and it has already given you an important clue on what to focus on — something you are already interested in.
It is a fact, however, that our education system in the region is not designed for this purpose, and you may have to teach yourself to tune into your interests, before even developing the will to pursue them. Such is the legacy of teaching that is geared towards passing the Common Entrance, GSAT, SEA, CAPE, CXC, and GCE exams.
Deepening your interest may mean doing some of the following, for example:
- using Google to find websites devoted to the topic
- downloading white papers in the field
- finding and joining related professional bodies
- locating others who share the interest
- using online newsgroups to tune into the most recent developments (or creating them)
- setting Yahoo! or Google news feeds to receive the latest news
- learning how to use RSS to collect important datastarting, and commenting on blogs such as this onevisiting UWI library to research the topic
- offer to give speeches on the area or host talk-shops at conferences
- be available to the media for comment on the issue
These are only possible avenues to explore the interest, and the point is to start somewhere, anywhere, rather than to shy away from the overwhelming idea of being interviewed on prime-time television.
Ensure that the area is an authentic area of interest, and not one that is manufactured to “fit the market.”
Also, forget about trying to figure out “the job of the future.” When I was an undergraduate in the U.S., I remember after warning that the need for computer programmers was going to be far under that supply for the many year to come. At the time (1989) it was said to be an occupation that could not fail.
Fast forward to 2001 — when it was impossible to find a job as a programmer in the U.S. due to a combination of offshoring and new technology.
So, instead of trying to be a career obeah-man/woman, instead start with what you have a real and truthful interest in. If you like what you do, then simply start to believe that you can become an expert in that area, for no reason other than that it pleases you to do so.
While the area may not evoke words like “passion,” it is enough to start with just a sense of curiosity and a lot of questions that start to open up the possibility of answers that might be intriguing. It is said that real masters know more about the kinds of questions to ask, rather than the right answers to give. They know about the questions because they are always asking them, and never believe that they have reached the end of the story. In fact, they have accepted the fact that they might someday die with in the middle of a question, much in the way that Albert Einstein passed away while trying to achieve a Grand Unified Theory.
I am calling this way of thinking about connecting with others: “Question Based Networking.”
Organic vs. Forced
Thirdly, and fortunately, the work on Who You Are requires more patience, and tact than personality and force. Once the area of interest has been discovered, and it appears to be one that reflects an authentic curiosity, the final step is to allow one’s actions to unfold at a rate that is commensurate with the form of the question.
In other words, as one develops a series of questions related to the area of focus, and seeks to get them answered, what quite naturally evolves is a relationship with other people.
Because more often than not, their cooperation is vital in seeking answers, and in many cases they can help to share the questions themselves.
This process is quite organic, and natural, and is far cry from pretending to be interested at Chamber meetings, or trying to “Win Friends and Influence People” by feigning interest during stilted conversations.
For example, someone who has an interest in CSME and regional labour laws, could very well follow the questions they have all the way to various Ministers of Justice and Permanent Secretaries in governments of different countries! Someone with an interest in union negotiations could end up working with CEO’s of multinationals that must negotiate with multiple unions in a number of countries at the same time.
The key here is to allow the interest to grow at its own rate, and for the necessary courage and knowledge required at each stage to develop and mature.
As the process unfolds, what will naturally be there will be a network.
It will not be the kind of network in which your face is recognized from uptown or expensive fetes. Instead, you will be known for your Questions, and when people know you for your Questions, they will trust that you have something to say about some answers.
Starting today, in a short speech that I will be delivering to a monthly HRMAJ meeting, I will kick off an interactive, online series on the topic of networking in a Caribbean context. It will culminate in the final edition of the series on November 16th which is the final day of the 2006 HRMAJ conference.
The arrival of the internet and computing technology has fundamentally changed the way in which networking is done, and the use of this blog as an interactive medium is one way in which I hope to introduce conference participants to my ideas on this topic.
Furthermore, it will present an opportunity to answer questions from those involved in the field on the topic, whether they plan to be at the conference or not.
For more information on the conference: see the HRMAJ website.
The third issue of FirstCuts can be found at the following link:
To discuss the contents, add comments to this entry.
An imperfect rendering of the newsletter is included below (sorry, but I have not figured out how to make it work in this blog.)
High-Stake Interventions — New Ideas Issue 3 September 17, 2006
The 6 Hardest and Best Ways to Learn a New Skill
Coming up with a new topic each month for this eZine is an interesting exercise. Whereas I can happily put anything I want in my blog, and just “follow the way the wind is blowing,” I started to think that I should choose only “official” and “serious” topics for the eZine. The problem with doing that, is that I then began to focus on writing what I “should” rather than what I enjoy.
A wonderful book on the art of writing called “Weinberg on Writing,” advocates writing only about that which inspires, without exception. To break that law is to court real trouble, I am learning, as the “serious” topics are the ones that I find the hardest to complete.
Furthermore, finding the time to write “official” material seems to be impossible. People often ask me: “Where do you get the time to write?” When I follow Weinberg’s advice, and ignore my own fears, the answer is easy — I follow my own, positive, inner energy, and the result is a virtuous cycle of “needing to write” from which I have been unable to escape since I started writing my first blog last year.
And yes, I am loving it!
The 6 Hardest and Best Ways to Learn a New Skill
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is to take the most difficult path.
The most effective, and by far the most challenging form of skill development I have found occurs using video-based training, accompanied with immediate “full frontal feedback.”
How does it work? Here is the recommended recipe in 6 Ways.
1. Start with a new interpersonal skill that is difficult to learn to do well.
It might be listening, motivating, reflecting or probing. Or, it might be a combination of several skills such as coaching, public speaking, performance feedback or selling.
In most cases of superior performance, the formula is simple:
Frequent practice involves creating multiple learning opportunities to improve performance. Unique distinctions are principles or mental models that are used to achieve better performance, but may only be used subconsciously by the most successful performers.
2. Create a workshop or seminar in which the new skill can be learned through repeated practice. Attempt to simulate the real environment in which the skill is to be used, and then provide opportunities to try different approaches, and learn from repeated attempts.
For example, if the skill is selling, a workshop could be built
3. To maximize learning, set the training up as an
Working colleagues serve wonderfully as familiar sources of
To balance the feedback given by colleagues, include someone new in the group giving feedback to provide a source of “fresh” insight. This person can double as the group’s facilitator.
4. To ensure that feedback is given at a rate at which
5. Use video-tape recording to capture the simulated roleplay, and to replay key moments. This ensures that the feedback given is based on the factual events from the simulation as they are recorded, as opposed to how they are remembered.
6. Provide sound principles to participants at the precise moment when they are looking for clues on how to improve performance. These principles might be known to experienced managers from prior training. However, they gain new life when they can be used immediately to improve roleplay performance. Once they have heard the principles, give them a chance to practice them in untaped replays until their performance visibly improves.
Furthermore, most participants experience a slight shock when they see themselves on tape for the first time, struggling through a difficult roleplay.
When the feedback starts, most are quite nervous at being so
Yet, most report at the end, that it is the best opportunity they have ever had to practice and learn at the same time.
Some of the reasons given are that the feedback is based on
Participants often report a particular surprising discovery.
Often, it starts with a feeling of embarrassment at a
Participants say they are surprised that the new approach they are trying feels strange, unfamiliar and even uncomfortable, in spite of being told that their performance in the replay has visibly improved. We liken this to learning to write with one’s non-preferred hand.
This is all the encouragement that a participant needs to give up old habits and learn new practices. They demonstrate that even though this method is nerve-wracking, it is ruthlessly effective.
In a recent project, we were able to use the 6 Ways to deliver training to 80+ executives in three Caribbean region countries from a single company. These top-level managers were able to receive more feedback from their peers in a single session than they had ever received before, and many were able to demonstrate immediate, observable improvements in skill.
It helped us see that, like their extra-regional counterparts,
To download an article on training executives using the
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Upcoming Speeches: I will have the honour of speaking at 2 events. One is the upcoming inaugural Business and Management Conference sponsored by the University of Technology in October and the other is the annual HRMAJ conference — both in Jamaica. See the Framework News Room at our website for more information and details: www.fwconsulting.com
Current Research Update: Study of Trinidadian Executives Working in Jamaica. We are still in the process of conducting interviews. One new idea that we are backing is the formation of a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber of Commerce, with a vision of chapters in Port of Spain and Kingston. To discuss this idea, or to put your weight behind it, visit our blog at http://tinyurl.com/knjqf and add a comment.
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On a recent project, I found some research on waiting psychology that I believe that I can trace back to some work done by David Meister.
He recently reproduced the content of the original paper in his blog: http://davidmaister.com/trackback.php?id=201
The thinking is original, and brilliant and speaks volumes on how easy it can be to satisfy customers, even when they are waiting, by being in their world.
Recently, our firm had the opportunity to strengthen its approach to performing business research. Given the fact that we are committed to documenting the way we do business (a la “The eMyth”) and in sharing as much of it as possible for others to use, I thought that I should start to do it in this blog.
The end result of doing this revamp was that we created a method that gave us a surprising set of insights and understanding.
At the outset, I should say that I have found business research to be boring as hell. And I say this from experience – I teach the damned subject in the University of Phoenix business school.
To be honest, my students usually don’t find it boring. Instead, they are usually found complaining about how difficult the material is! Fear of not doing well overcomes ennui any day.
With that in mind, I took the lead in designing an approach that seemed to make sense for the kind of research that our firm is called on to do here in the region. Given that we focus exclusively on solving difficult people problems that impact the bottom line, it seems fitting that research studies that involve people would be a natural part of what we do.
Furthermore, our firm’s tagline is “High Stake Interventions” which means that we should be doing the kind of research that makes an unforgettable impact, whether it is actually implemented as we recommend or not. It definitely should not produce a run-of-the mill set of outputs.
Furthermore, given our focus on people, our approach should account for the relatively low levels of education found in parts of the region, and some of the cultural nuances we have come across. In some companies, employees are not functionally literate, let alone computer literate. Also, many are wary of completing surveys, no matter what the guarantee is of anonymity.
The Opening Bias
It might be fair to say that most business research takes place in the form of employee surveys.
The research firm tackles the assignment with no biases or predispositions, with no pre-set agenda.
Our research is quite different.
It starts with a focused question, concern or issue. It ends with a clear answer, new mental models and a framework designed for action.
In this respect, it is an important part of what we deliver – High Stake Interventions – and quite different from opinion surveys (although survey instruments might be included.) The difference begins with the need to decisively answer a Single Question that is of concern. Diving into the Single Question may lead to the raising of others, but they are incidental to the main point.
Coming up with Single Question sometimes involves several clarifying as the client management itself is often not clear on what it wants.
Example questions might include:
- what is the source of low employee motivation?
- why is the CEO disliked?
- Is the foreign ownership of the company a major problem?
- Why are employees not referring our company’s products and services to others?
- Why is there no evidence of the culture we want to create?
These questions are not easy ones to answer, and when they must still be answered the wise executive can sometimes see the need to bring in outside help to give an objective point of view.
Yet, at the same time this is not about discovering some scientific truth. Instead, in our research we bring along our prior understanding and experience, and fully understand that that the very process of asking probing questions by itself changes the answers that are given. Ultimately, the kind of research we do is about attitudes and perceptions, and they are not amenable to perfect scientific measurement.
Once the Single Question is defined, a Mind Map is constructed to bring together all of the related issues into a single place. This act of “emptying the mind” is a powerful, nonlinear way to brainstorm. The result is a diagram showing how issues and sub-issues are woven together and linked to each other. Click here for a link to mind mapping.
From the gestalt of connected pieces of information on the Mind Map, the team can develop an initial hypothesis, or early answer. This is given in the form of a complete solution or answer to the Single Question, as if the data that is known at this point were all the information that could be known.
This initial hypothesis is held in the background as a possible solution, and is only discarded when there is clear evidence that it is incorrect. At that point, a new early answer is developed to replace the old, and that one is treated in the same manner until the project comes to a close, and the final hypothesis is the one that the final recommendations are built around.
The completion of the map makes it possible to begin the linear process of analyzing the issues and sub-issues.
The initial question is broken down into a possible set of answers, and sub-answers.
For example, the question: Is the machine functioning? Can be answered with the following answers and sub-answers:
Is the machine functioning?
– It needs lubrication
– It must be overhauled
– The power source is corrupt
Furthermore, each answer can be broken down into several sub-answers. For example, “It needs lubrication” can be further broken down into other options such as “Use grease on joints” and “Use a light oil on pressure points.”
The questions and answers are brought together into a single diagram to create an Issue Tree that shows the important lines of inquiry to be explored. If a team is to be involved in the project, then the issue tree is divided up among the team members who each are accountable for ensuring that the correct data is gathered to answer their assigned issue. In this way, they are the “experts” on the project with respect to that issue. See a link here to a description to Issue Trees.
Questionnaires and Surveys
The next step in our methodology is to convert the branches of the tree into questions that can be asked in interviews, surveys and focus groups. At this point, it is important that the questions be worded in a way that the responses precisely match the data requirements of the issue tree. At this step, regional differences need to be brought into play, as standard English plus local dialect are used to convey the exact meaning and sentiment.
If a team is involved in gathering the data, then each member must be “trained” in seeking out the right kind of data required to meet the needs of the research team.
We use a multi-faceted approach to gather the information required. There are cultural and logistical limits to using any single approach to the exclusion of others, and a combination of approaches helps to balance out the quality of information gathered.
Given the fact that the interviews are usually not conducted by the full research team, then the data must somehow be shared among team-members. Our firm’s practice is to electronically scan and share notes through a wiki web-site. In this way, each team member can have at their finger-tips all the written notes taken from each interview. In the future, we hope to expand the data sharing options to include voice-based files.
Once the primary data is gathered using the methods described above, we perform secondary data searches using sources in libraries and the internet. Knowledge of how to conduct searches on Google, in the blogosphere and through human networks of regional contacts are all critical to finding information that is timely and relevant, but also credible.
Each team member uses the data gathered to help answer the questions in the branch of the issue tree for which they are responsible. They also use pertinent data from secondary research if possible to “prove” the final answer to the team.
This ”proving” conversation marks the start of the portion of the project that is probably the most creative.
The basic evidence that is gathered is presented, and the team starts to assemble a framework that can hold both new data being gathered on the project, and data from past experience. This creative process is a unique one that pushes the team in a search for more and more effective ways to answer the single question, and address the contents of the issue tree.
The method ensures that the framework developed is one that the company can use if the situation is ever repeated under similar circumstances.
The final report is, at its heart, a teaching document meant to persuade the reader that the recommended course of action is the one that will yield the greatest results. In this sense, it does not follow the academic method of report writing that I teach in my classes. Our reports would not get an A in a research methods class, and that is because we are not trying to meet academic requirements.
In our approach, however, the real value lies in the frameworks that we create. They are designed along the following guidelines:
n they must be memorable, and easy to pass on
n they must be simple
n they must be based on the data that has been collected
n they must pass the test of common-sense
The frameworks we build also have a heavy intuitive component, and rely on a blend of experience and insight for their creation. New phrases, distinctions and terms are freely created to avoid the concepts being presented to fall into old mental models that prevent our clients from seeing the problem and solutions in a new way.
For example, we created the term “emotional workplace maturity” to explain why the behaviour of a foreign owned company was so different from the behaviour found in the home country. This new definition helped to drive home the need for new and different ways of preparing managers from the home country to cope, and also helped the owners to see why programs they had used with great effect back home were not working.
Our method is designed to be a form of intervention, rather than an example of business research. Given the fact that we are looking at opinions, culture and attitudes in order to help solve business problems, our focus is on what will make a difference when the recommendations are implemented, and the new frameworks have begun to be used.
Notes: our approach is built in part on the method described in “The McKinsey Way” by Ethan Rasiel.