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BriefConsulting 2.3: Is-ness As Usual

I can always reasonably expect that I’ll encounter ‘Is-ness’ whenever I consult. Our language pretty much insists upon us representing our experiences as things, and explaining these experiences—our impressions, conclusions, and thoughts—with the simplest, least descriptive word: ’Is.’ ‘Is’ might well qualify as the most insidiously powerful English word. This Brief Consultant listens closely when his clients speak, hyper-sensitive to the presence of this poison tell.

Poison tell? I call ‘Is’ the poison tell because it tends to materially misrepresent experience while fully satisfying the ear. I can say, “It ‘is’ cold outside,” when I really mean, “It feels cold outside” or, “It looks cold outside.” Outside ‘isn’t’ cold. A dictionary might define cold as a class of temperature positioned somewhere South of cool and well North of ‘my ass just fell off.’ No dictionary defines cold as ‘outside.’ Yet language comfortably tolerates this indiscretion. Only two letters. One insidious word. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 2.2: The Very Best

A special curse dogs The Best and The Brightest. Damned as superlatives, these poor souls dread the mediocrity the rest of us made peace with long ago. I call them The Blessed and The Blightest.

One client explained how, in the course of a week at age eighteen, she’d gone from being recognized as the smartest person in her county to realizing that at MIT, she was barely average, if that. She’d had a lot of tacit identity invested in her best and brightest persona, even though she’d never strived to be recognized. Once the gift evaporated in that lofty Cambridge atmosphere, she didn’t know who she was, or who she was supposed to become.

Life seems comprised of peaks and valleys, and the narrowest road always follows the ridge line. Stuck on top leaves few lateral possibilities, and it’s a long way down from up there to the valley floor. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 2.1: ehT metsyS

”How do you happen to be here?”
This open-ended question often starts one of this Brief Consultant’s engagements. Rather than starting with the end in mind or dwelling on The (infernal) Problem, I’m curious about the person in front of me. I want to hear their story.

Many notice that nobody ever asked them this question before, and most have been inching for someone to tell their tale to. Might as well be me.

Within the first five minutes, this client will say something that seems to jangle a chain of understanding, and not usually my chain. Theirs. Something significant shifts when the focus changes from hopefully peering forward into casually reflecting backward.

Nobody gets to understand forward. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 2.0: The System

The System takes the blame for almost everything. And why not? Over the last century, our society has become obsessed with system this and system that, as if The System certainly must be the solution. Whenever it turns out not to be the be-all and end-all, it’s a handy Shmoo.

The second stage entails trying to fix the system so it will work as I thought it was supposed to work. This seemingly reasonable response encourages ‘creeping featurism,’ as the system, originally—and unavoidably—naively designed morphs to accomplish ends unimagined by the original designers. Rarely does any system get discarded in favor of wholesale redesign after encountering difficulties, even after catastrophic failures. The original design sticks, and the fixes tend to accumulate until they ascend to the status of the latest problem with The System. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.9: Generosity Too

BriefConsulting® features few tricks. I have no master list of steps, prescribed phases, or replicable method to my ‘madness.’ Some phrases, however, do seem to repeat themselves, and while I don’t feel like I over-rely on them, and they’re certainly not magic bullets, I do hear them coming up again and again. The most common one serves as a most-purpose, if not an all-purpose unsticker because the situation within which it comes up probably serves as by far the most common stuck point: the unspoken conspiracy.

Unspoken conspiracies amount to unconfirmed conclusions about another’s motives, purpose, character, or beliefs. These commonly emerge from a small violation of the generous interpretation rule, and usually require only one to play, but may metastasize into into urban legend-quality stories, where a large group engages in something not unlike mind reading; usually, unusually inept mind reading.

The pattern starts when someone decides what another’s behavior means, then responds as if their behavior meant that, creating a perfectly self-sealing situation. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.8: Generosity

Generosity seems an unlikely element of BriefConsulting. Brevity implies an economical, perhaps even stingy allocation of at least time, so where does generosity fit in? It fits in right beside interpretation.

I’ve explained that Brief Consulting avoids interpreting behavior as pathology, transforming what might otherwise seem dysfunctional into merely differently or curiously functioning. This little flip demonstrates generous interpretation in action: Interpret difference as difference rather than pathology. If I couldn’t possibly know, I’m free to make up any meaning that works best for me. Heck, I could even get curious and ask.

See how this small shift might shorten the length of a consulting engagement? Sometimes mindreading or body-language interpreting seems like a shortcut, but it usually turns into the longer way around. If the client’s words and the music don’t seem to match, I could initiate a controversy by ascribing my ungenerous meaning or encourage understanding by simply pointing out what I see and asking what it might mean to my client.

I tune up my generous interpreter by engaging in what I call High Quality Consultant Humor. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.7: Leadershit

I classify myself as a leadership skeptic. Seems like whatever the difficulty, somebody will start pleading for more, better, wiser, ... leadership, whatever THAT might be. This difficulty arises from a definite know-it-when-I see-it notion of what constitutes leadership, and the unclear implication that there’s probably no such thing. There’s probably no such thing.

Pity the poor devil perceived as the leader. Slave to Utopian notions, center stage, performing to a critical audience, certain to dissatisfy. The human response seems to be to try harder: to please, appease, ... Oh, pa-lese! The mythos surrounding leadership seems greater than the sum of its parts.

Leadershit has two parts. The first part lays undefinable expectations on some individual because they happen to occupy some position, often a position of presumed authority. The second part gives away personal authority, like peasants paying tribute to their king, to someone presumably more authorized to have it . It seems incongruous that a democratic society should rely so much on crypto-kings and pseudo-serfs, leaders and followers. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.6: Presence

All change occurs in the present, whether influenced by the future, the past, or a just-now painfully stubbed toe. So much attention flows outward toward the future or sticks back in some previous experience that the present sometimes seems the very least accessible place. We could be excused for trying to fix the past and exonerated even though flailing to fix the future, but our real work always happens right here. Identifying cause—even root cause—often over-presumes a causal stream unlikely to actually exist. Sure, it’s satisfying to savor what we woulda or coulda and perhaps even more gratifying to believe we’ve guaranteed some projected gonna, but any course change hasta happen right here. Now.

Staying present in this present when surround by clever planners constructing even cleverer plans might be the greatest challenge for anyone, consultant or client. Slip over here for more ...


Bare-assed Consulting 1.4: The Mess

Messy might just be the natural order of everything, though I strongly prefer my universes tidy. This difference between apparent natural disorder and strong preference for unnatural orderliness creates opportunities for this bare-assed consultant. Most of my clients call for help when they’re struggling to avoid or tame some mess, and they always hold some powerful notions about what constitutes mess and what might distinguish messiah. One man’s mess might be another’s masterpiece.

The bare-assed consultant only rarely resorts to sorting through—physically re-ordering—any mess. He first sits with it instead, under the belief that until he’s sat with the chaos, he’s unlikely to understand its nature well enough to avoid making that mess even messier. I make a crucial distinction, though, between sitting with the mess and plopping myself down in the middle of it. Slip over here for more ...


Bare-assed Consulting 1.3: The Blindnesses

The truly bare-assed consultant is blind, but blind with a twist. Like with cholesterol, blindness comes in both good and bad varieties. The worst of the bad blindnesses comes from being blind that one is blind: unconscious blindness; the best of the good blindnesses emerges from the full acceptance of just how unavoidably blind one is: conscious, bare-assed blindness.

As a truly bare-assed consultant, I can’t hardly help but acknowledge how blind I must be. Blind because I’m here, not there; me, not you; wagging on the tail-end of a lifetime of experience which probably doesn’t qualify as representative, universal, or particularly enlightening. I’m blinded by this shred of enlightenment, almost certain I cannot see even half of what’s before my eyes.

Before, when I was still inflicted with the curse of unconscious blindness, I could muster certainty from scant evidence, and could even swagger with the sour scent of confidence. Slip over here for more ...


Bare-assed Consulting 1.2: Add Vice

Consultants have a long and troubling relationship with advice. The young ones innocently presume consulting to be a means for dispensing advice, and their clients won’t readily dissuade them. The more experienced might have developed a dependency on advice-giving, and unselfconsciously inflict it upon everyone. Many consultants have been divorced. More than once.

The bare-assed consultant deeply appreciates that giving advice, cheapens it. Further, unbidden advice rarely produces intended results. Conveniently deflected and comfortably ignored, the very best advice might be to avoid giving any advice. Still, The Advice Vice seems as common to consultants as Brooks Brothers suits.

It took a very long time to wean myself off my advice-giving Jones. Slip over here for more ...


Bare-assed Consulting 1.1: The Normals

We live in exceptional times, just like our forebears did. Living seems to encourage a deep sense of exceptionalism; understandable, I suppose, since alive seems so mysterious and unpredictable. In this space we presently inhabit, exceptional qualifies as normal.

Maybe it just comes with the territory, but we seem awfully interested in fitting in, in following the trends, in adopting the most up-to-date. Perhaps we don’t want to be left behind. The ensemble’s performance, though, masks remarkable variety. Nobody lives like the population average, yet that average might be the most reliable reference to what’s normal and what’s not. The result can be an awful (with particular emphasis on ‘awful’) lot of theatrics: going along to get along, fitting in, passing as, mimicking, and the thousand other artifices, small and large, which seem to separate us from our preferences, from our selves. All perfectly normal.

If individuals are easy prey for such quagmires, organizations seem to encourage second-order versions, where individual adaptations tangle together, producing genuinely Gordian results. The popular term ‘dysfunctional’ might aptly describe every individual, every organization now, but I prefer the more normalizing term ‘differently functioning.’ Slip over here for more ...


Bare-assed Consulting 1.0: Sick's Sigma

Even bare-assed consulting turns dicey when a client sets his mind on some process improvement scheme. It never really matters what the scheme might be, you can be certain only that it’ll fairly quickly produce the opposite of the attracting intention. Whether by initial interpretation or the influence of organizational antibodies, that true north veers due south. ’Twas always thus.

And the timing of the consultant’s arrival won’t much influence the outcome. The tariff, as Peter Block once noted, on imported method inevitably exceeds the expected return.

These initiatives always start as bright ideas,”I know, we’ll just put on a show!”-quality fantasies, laden with invisible externalities. Whether a Senior VP read some article in an airline magazine or transferred in from a company that had fully integrated some scheme, the mandate comes from the top down. The suits arrive shortly after the announcement, mustering a committee of ... cough ... cough ... volunteers ... chartered to change the company’s culture from the bottom up.

Therein lies the disabling paradox Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.5: Outing The Fix

I stood up, explained my difficulty, and a small group of fellow authors gathered around to engage in a little session. Their role would be that of inquisitor. They’d ask me questions, hoping to help me gain some deeper insight. Doing this, they might gain insight, too.

I thought my challenge was a common one, especially for writers. I’m a hesitant joiner, though I’m absolutely convinced that community produces by far the best outcomes. So, when I’m invited to a writer’s retreat like this one, I spend at least the day before I leave trying to talk myself out of attending. I’m usually better at this than I was this time, so I’d shown up. Then, in this last session, I stood up.

Once en-grouped, I explained my experience in greater detail, then the inquisitors began. I noticed a twinge of thrill in my chest as we began, a sense that this session just might fix my life-long reluctance, and this possibility felt really, really good. Maybe I could fit in instead of force-fitting in. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.4: Too Small Shoes

I call one class of complaint Too Small Shoes, in homage to Eric Newby’s Short Walk In The Hindu Kush. In that book, Newby tells the story of his several weeks-long trek through rough Afghan back country. In preparation, he’d ordered custom-made boots, which he had delivered to Istanbul. Not bothering to open the box containing his new boots until after the several hundred mile drive to the trailhead, he discovered there that the boots were considerably smaller than expected, so small that his feet barely fit inside them. He faced a clear choice then, since his alternative footwear consisted of a pair of soft sneakers completely unsuitable for uneven ground, of either wearing the boots anyway or abandoning the adventure altogether.

Many organizational initiatives and personal adventures feature a similar decision point. However careful the planning, some otherwise insignificant element gains prominence and threatens the entire enterprise. Going forward means accepting quite different from expected terms. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.3: Not Supposed To Talk About

“What are we not supposed to talk about here?” I start most of my briefest consultations with this question because anyone responding to it tends to unstick shortly thereafter. I believe that the primary cause of stuckness lies not in any sin of commission, but in insignificant-seeming pseudo-sins of omission. What we dare not mention holds us captive, to mention whatever we’re not supposed to talk about tends to release the prisoner.

Sometimes my client responds, “Oh, nothing. We’re very open around here. We can talk about anything, anytime.”

”Fine,” I respond, then I watch and listen more carefully to hear what doesn’t get talked about. What dog isn’t barking? What birds never sing? Slip over here for more ...


My Muse

I excuse my muse her trespasses,
I forgive my muse her airs;
she’s simply pursuing her purpose,
pulling my head out of there.

How my head ended up inserted
down where the sun never shines
won’t help resolve the dilemma
every great writer must find.

When picking up a pen leaves me stupid,
or setting fingers to keys strikes me dumb,
I’m thankful my muse doesn’t need an excuse
to disabuse what could never become.

She’s gentle as a ton on a toenail,
thoughtful as pie in the sky,
she opens up space by gettin’ in my face,
My response, universally tongue-tied. Slip over here for more ...


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. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.1: Bare Naked

Where did they go, those who used to inhabit those empty suits? Where are they now? Speaking for myself, I’ve become the bare naked kind, no flash suit to deflect any naked truth. Pimples, dimples, and scars quite obvious. I figure, “Why suit up for what will have to become a bare naked engagement?”

My transition from Empty Suit to Bare Naked consulting will never end. Vestigial misgivings remain, tugging whenever I start a new engagement dance. I’d quite honestly rather hide behind the protective starched shirt chest plate armor, dabble in nice-nice banter, then ‘suggest’ some solution, but I don’t. Not anymore. I never once saw the formality accomplish what I’d quite foolishly promised. The problem I’d been asked to resolve was never once even half the problem that the formalities turned out to be. If we can’t do this naked, we won’t be doing anything at all. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 1.0: The Suits

The Suits quite deliberately dress a little better than you, disarmingly casual in their formal business wear. Who couldn’t be seduced? Shoes glossy, ties perfectly knotted, shirts starched into absolute submission, knife-edged pants, cuffs shot to show just a wink of onyx cufflink inside. Funny how I can’t remember a single face. No sincere smile, no twinkling eye, no wink of recognition, just those finely tailored empty suits.

Their advice seems equally disconnected. They share abstract models, distilled to wispy essence—ten easy, twelve step, top five best practices, and the most mysterious commodity of all, expertise. Slip over here for more ...


Unstuck 4.0: Need

Why is this work needed now? This question left me stuck for months and months. Stuck because I didn’t ‘know’ the answer. The internal defense attorney pled that it called for facts not in evidence. The internal judge, the only one that matters, feigned indifference and would not rule, so I felt in limbo. The first question, unanswerable. Now what?

We’re all stuck on something all the time. Not that we’re always supposed to be unstuck and flowing, but the impasses, like this infernal why question, sure can prevent progress. I’d intended to finish the book by August, but the question held me through July and August, and then September, too. Shame accumulated like ever-thickening mud on my boot soles until I could barely crawl. I was channeling what I was writing about. Slip over here for more ...


Unstuck 3.9: Compassionity

Consider the point beyond which compassion becomes complicity. What began as an act of pure human generosity twists into shame. You thought you might be able to help. Later you learn you’ve been feeding a hungry black hole of need who’s now grown dependent upon you. What will you do?

Of all the many forms of stuck, the muckiest emerge from my compassionate heart. Perhaps I’m playing out some pitiful sort of pity, simply showing myself I care, and I wouldn’t dare deign to demand that you change. True compassion’s never conditional until it must be. After that, it won’t be conditional without more personal change than I ever would have signed up for, had I only known. Slip over here for more ...


Unstuck 3.8: Situational

Stuckness seems situational; tied to here, not there, or there, never here. It holds some specific space or that space holds it. Whichever, some specific situation seems to knot the ties that truly bind.

I eventually wonder where this specific context lies, for every context contains ten thousand situations; more. Which piece sticks me? I’m facing south, not north. Feet up, not down. Leaning back, not forward. Barefoot, not shod. In a rented room rather than home. Which specific rules this situation, and which shifted specific might unstick me this time? Slip over here for more ...


Unstuck 3.7: Insufficiency

Go ahead and wake up after two and a half hours sleep, then get out of bed. Take a cool shower, get dressed, then get on with your day. I know, there won’t be enough coffee to quite wake you up all day. You won’t be quite hungry enough for such an early breakfast. Eat something anyway. You might well be groggy, but you might be unstuck.

Curious how abundant insufficiency holds such power Slip over here for more ...


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