I recall being in a consulting firm, related to the real estate industry, and the 2009 downturn and we were facing a huge drop-off in business. This was to be expected, given the market conditions that were unfolding. So the owner said we needed to think outside the box.
By the way, this is the kind of situation the consultant can expect. While you are often there to provide key assistance, it will definitely happen when they are in deep trouble. And, of course, they want help in getting out of the box they are in. First of all, they put themselves there, but pointing that out is of little value. It won’t produce an improvement to the situation.
What this goes to is Einstein’s proposition is that you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it in the first place. It is up to you to be out of the box of “conventional wisdom.” Convention doesn’t help in a crisis. So you Mr./Ms. Consultant need to make sure you are out of the box. As you know, industries have certain ways of thinking and acting. You cannot be trapped there.
How do you remove common constraints. First, is to not get caught there in the first place. Do this by studying other industries and ways of thinking. I once was creating an org chart for an architectural firm. The common leader of projects is called the project manager. But I wanted to change this up. So I used the term “account manager” which I borrowed from the advertising world. This brought a change in thinking. Best of all, it created a focus on the client (account) and not on the work (project). For at the manager’s level the client is the focus. Its more about managing expectations.
A second way to avoid the box is to use contrarian thinking. Which way is the crowd doing? Look at the other. What is the conventional wisdom? Be unconventional. In other words, don’t do what has always been done. It is either outdated or going extinct. That same architectural firm I did the org chart for, was like all the others – all hand-drafting of plans. It was the mid 80’s and the computer was just beginning to arrive. So I got a CADD system. That’s short for Computer Aided Design & Drafting. Preparing plans by CADD is now common place. The next level of resistance to change is the adoption of 3-D modeling, so that inevitable conflicts in plans can be spotted early and better visualization than 2D is possible.
Technology today is the harbinger of constant change and evolution. That is the consultant’s role today – to aid movement forward and not maintain the status quo. Those that do the latter are having troubles.
So, when your client asks you to think outside the box, you can respond, “what box.”
Steve Kellogg is author of the e-book: “Successfully Start, Market & Run Your Own Consulting Business” on Amazon.