Consultants Change a Lot In 59 Seconds

Consultants Change a Lot In 59 Seconds59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman is a book about changing a lot in short period of time. Time is consultant’s currency, change is why the consultant is hired in first place. Seems like a perfect match. Here are my thoughts on how the insights from the book can be applied in consulting and how to make the customers happy.

Write It Down

Wiseman writes:

From a psychological perspective thinking and writing are very different. Thinking can often be somewhat unstructured, disorganized, and even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work toward a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion, but writing provides a more systematic, solution-based approach.

lack of clarity brings anxiety which in turn brings the sense of helplessness. It’s not uncommon to see customers in panic only because they don’t have clear picture of their situation. Putting things in writing helps to bring clarity, map all the key data points and start connecting it. One of my favorite exercises was scoping the problem. I usually started with simple question – “what’s the story?” I was expecting to hear simple stories describing the customer’s day-to-day life. While listening I tried to capture the following: Who does what trying to accomplish what? By the end of the interview I usually had plenty of one liners with key players and their desired outcomes. I called these scenarios. Then I used to list the scenario out loud to test my understanding and then adding the price tag to each – effectively prioritizing. It’s pretty hard to do it inside your head. It’s quite easy though to do so in writing. Many times by the end of the exercises the customer realized they don’t need me since they can handle it themselves or the problem doesn’t actually exist. It usually took me little more than 59 seconds but less than 30 minutes.

Perfect Future

Wiseman writes:

In short, when it comes to an instant fix for everyday happiness, certain types of writing have a surprisingly quick and large impact. Expressing gratitude, thinking about a perfect future, and affectionate writing have been significantly proven to work – and all they require is a pen, a piece of paper, and a few moments of your time

Many efforts and time can be spent on defining what to do. It takes a little effort and a different approach to save this time by just asking a simple question – What’s your desired state? or What’s your perfect future state? This simple question makes important shift in people’s minds from what to do and how to do it toward what it should be in the end of the day. It’s a common trap especially with technical people and engineers who’s minds wired to solutions and approaches. It’s quite natural for technical and engineering  people to quickly start focusing on solutions before actually defining the end state or end goal. By asking this simple question about perfect future you save lots of time that could be spent on debating solutions for undefined outcomes. Ask this simple question – What’s the perfect future like? – before debating the solution. It will make a big difference and it takes less than 59 seconds.

Transform Work Into Play

Wiseman writes:

If you set children to an activity that they enjoy and reward them for doing it, the reward reduces the enjoyment and demotivates them. Within seconds you transform play into work.

It’s not always fun to work for a customer. The customer is already in trouble or anticipate it, otherwise why calling a consultant? The customer pays premium (ton of money) for consultant. It’s not how the fun usually perceived. Consultant usually works in hostile environment having limited influence, at least at the beginning of the project. It’s lots of tension, ambiguity, and sometimes even chaos. It’s no fun for the consultant neither. The trick is to flip the fun bit and call it a game. It takes less than 59 seconds to change the mindset and call it a game, a multiplayer game. Figure out who’s the boss (the one who actually in control), figure out who’s the allies and the “enemies”, but most important figure out what’s the prize and keep an eye on it while maneuvering in the maze. Pass intermediate levels, collect “lives” and “boost kits” along the way. It’s a game and you are on the mission. Make it a game, make it fun – it takes less than 59 seconds to get into this mindset but the difference is huge.

Busting Brainstorming Myth

Wiseman writes:

A large body of research now suggests that for more than seventy years, people using group brainstorming may have inadvertently been stifling, not stimulating, their creative juices. When working together they aren’t as motivated to put in the time and energy needed to generate great ideas, and so they end up spending more time thinking inside the box.

I am not a huge fan of brainstorming where crazy ideas thrown right and left and by the end of the day nothing achieved other than wild guesses. The more people attend such brainstorming session the crazier it becomes and the more time is lost collectively. I have seen a lot of such situations where folks compete one with another who has crazier idea losing the sight of the whole purpose of the exercise. I am much bigger fan of the scenario driven approach. It takes less than 59 seconds to shift to this mindset by simply putting an end user’s or a customer’s hat on. To quickly get into such mindset everyone should individually start thinking of what one would want to accomplish. For example:

  • As a developer I want to write code that runs faster.
  • As a solution architect I need to outline security approach for application.
  • As a an IT pro I need to be able quickly identify root cause of application’s failure.

So it’s not more of a problem with brainstorming rather how it’s organized and managed. The key though is putting yourself in the shoes of the customer by saying “As a customer I want to accomplish X” vs. trying to throw crazy solutions for unidentified problem on behalf of the customer.



image by RLJ Photography NYC

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This blog is dedicated to share simple practices I that get me results.

7 Comments on "Consultants Change a Lot In 59 Seconds"

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  1. J.D. Meier says:

    > people using group brainstorming may have inadvertently been stifling, not stimulating
    In my earlier days, I remember group brainstorms that were low value.

    I’ve found ways to group brainstorm that are effective. The challenge though is it takes asking the right questions, and faciliating in a way that keeps momentum, and avoids conflict. The results are outstanding, but it requires a lot of people skills and the ability to change focus, change perspective, and ask the right questions to keep the ball moving forward.

  2. Alik Levin says:

    Agree, brainstorming success depends on its facilitation.

  3. Lew Sauder says:

    Alik, you have a good eye for books. I learn a lot from your suggestions. This is one I have to read. I particularly like ‘Write it down’. I often practice writing down random ideas and coming back to them. It acts as a reminder and it allows me to mull things over and come back to them.
    I’m not so sure about not brainstorming. I’ve found it very helpful if the group is small enough. Maybe I’ll change my mind after reading the book.

  4. Alik Levin says:

    Thank you.
    I had mixed feelings about brainstorming either. I realize it’s about how it’s facilitated. It’s a tool and it’s about how you use it vs. the tool itself, or even further… it’s about the mix of both using the right practices with the right tools.

  5. Shilpan says:

    Great article Alik. It’s coincidental that I was watching a Youtube clip of MindValley. The founder was talking about the importance of expressing gratitude on a daily basis. He has a website that allows employees, suppliers and clients to login to express their gratitude. He mentioned that expressing gratitude elevates productivity and fosters positivity in his company.

  6. Alik Levin says:

    Shilpan, thank you. Good point on better productivity as a result of expressing gratitude. Makes lots of sense to me.

  7. Liara Covert says:

    Express gratitude and appreciation and the world reflects this back.

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