I had dinner this evening with a friend that I have known and worked with for many years. He taught me many things about consulting so when he called today to say we should meet, I made room in my schedule and he drove 2 hours to meet with me. Its what old friends do.
One of the most important things I learned from him was when we had just met and we were creating a Business Intelligence system for the State of Florida in 1992 (when nobody knew what BI was). We had every executive of the state agency attending 1 session and 1 session only and he wanted to start it by handing them crayons and a piece of paper. These executives controlled a $9 Billion state budget and they were very conservative and senior. I pushed back and said, “no way… that’s too juvenile”. My friend insisted and then said “No.. just trust me”. I did and have ever since. There are elements of consulting that to really excel at it, you must think outside the box.
The exercise he put the executives through was visioning. Having them create their ideal world pictorially and then explaining it to us. It worked amazingly well. I have er… “borrowed” the technique for years after and taught the technique to other consultants and clients. Most recently on a BI project in British Columbia.
So thinking outside the box comes naturally to some, some it requires prescription meds and others just need to learn techniques to make it happen. But it is a requisite skill of consulting excellence.
Visioning includes exploring possibilities
- Using creative thinking techniques
- Answering the client’s “question” in as many ways as possible
- Producing a long list of possible solutions
then Reducing Complexity
- Clustering possible solutions together into a few options
- Filtering ideas
then Refining Possible Solutions
- Challenging each possible solution and discarding unworkable elements
- Presenting to the client a set of workable solutions with specific advantages and disadvantages and the reasons for the preferred solutions.
So how about a technique to help with exploring possibilities?
No not brainstorming, let me introduce Edward De Bono the originator of the term lateral thinking.
“The purpose of six thinking hats is to unscramble thinking so that a thinker is able to use one thinking mode at a time – instead of trying to do everything at once. The best analogy is that of colour printing. Each colour is best printed separately and in the end they all come together. The six thinking hats method is designed to switch thinking away from the normal argument style to a map making style. This makes thinking a two stage process. The first stage is to make the map. The second stage is to choose a route on the map. If the map is good enough, the best route will often become obvious.”
Choose topic or problem area. For example: How to lower costs? How to maximize the return on capital invested?
Gather and record thoughts from all participants under each of the five thinking hats in turn:
- White Hat = Facts (names, numbers, indisputable)
- Red Hat = Emotions (I feel…)
- Black Hat = Negatives (There is a danger that…)
- Yellow Hat = Positive (Would not it be great if…)
- Green Hat = Ideas (Wild, absurd, lateral…)
- Blue Hat = Overview (Recap, summary of next steps)
It’s a fun technique. It works very well in teams and it’ll just cost you a few hats. Go buy some and give it a try the next time you vision with a client.
There are elements of consulting that to really excel at it, you must think outside the box.