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BriefConsulting 1.2: Expertise

Consultants trade in expertise. Brief Consultants are no different, though their expertise might require a hard squint to appreciate, for Brief Consultants trade in their expertise at not being experts. Lemme ‘splain.

Every industry, every company believes they are unique, and presume specific knowledge of their particular operation essential for any consultant. Curiously, the most common difficulties are just that, common; universal. Stuck looks remarkably the same where ever it appears. Hire for industry expertise and you’ll get industry expertise when you might need someone with fresh eyes to look in on the situation.

Being an expert at not being an expert requires some rewiring inside the consultant first. My greatest challenge in my consulting career involves remembering to avoid overlaying my considerable expertise onto every situation I see. When becoming a professional, I learned the dialect of my profession, which included many words for describing how things were supposed to be—according to the profession —and for explaining how they were not supposed to be—according, again, to the profession, but few words helpful in describing how things actually are. My professional vocabulary might be more useful for noticing what’s missing than for helping me see, let alone appreciate, what’s already there.

It’s easy, for instance, for my professional self to notice that a project schedule’s not properly formed, but more difficult for me to understand, through my professional goggles, why improper structuring’s necessary, beneficent in this context. As an expert, I’m really a terrible scold. As an expert at not being an expert, I inquire better, observe more cleanly.

I’m no objective observer. Neither are you. Objectivity might be the persistent delusion that one could observe without bothering with having an observer. Whomever does the observing, it’ll be them observing, unavoidably filtering whatever they sense through acre-feet of internal gravel, unavoidably unconscious of both the filtering and of the filtering’s effects. Hence, the value of an expert at not being an expert. The power of Brief Consulting might lie in the quite deliberate suspension of belief, of the notion that I, Consultant, must know how to fix your problem. Trade in that notion for the radical suggestion that You, Client, have the power to resolve your own problem, if only you weren’t stuck. Imagine the authority You, Client, might regain should you be able to resolve your own problem without resorting to some outsider’s superior insider expertise.

Sergeant Shultz, the bumbling Nazi guard in the television-of-my-youth’s Hogan’s Heros, famously responded to every problem with the mantra, “I know nothing! Nothing!” Would that I could approach his mastery, for even as a Brief Consultant, I know far too much. I’m perfectly capable of overlaying some brilliant there-and-then on the most otherwise unassuming here-and-now. Sure, I’ll sound like a fricking genius, at least to myself, but provide little utility to my client. It shouldn’t matter how smart I am, but how smart my client discovers him/her self to be when I’m around.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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