Until I change the way I look at things, the things I look at will not change
At various points in my career I have been fortunate to work as a consultant to businesses in rapid growth.
The primary asset that I leveraged was not industry experience, it was perspective.
Often, I would find clients consumed with a focus on what/who was wrong when problems arose, resulting from the demands growth places on corporate systems and processes.
Time and time again, I sat in boardrooms where owners and team members independently focused on two different :
“When will they see this is no way to operate?”
Or “Do they not see this will kill our business model!?”
The response and the meetings were driven by fear and darkness.
Often, I could feel the energy within the boardroom spiral downward, until the communication between team members was at a frenetic pace, bantering between blame and defense.
At the beginning of the consulting stage of my career, I would find my passionate self engaged by this energy.
I, too, would focus my attention on trying to solve the riddle of who was at the single source of the problem in any given anecdotal issue.
Soon my problem solving “to-do” list became endless.
Eventually, the very passion that I brought to the projects led me to resent the organizations, systems and even the clients I was seeking to be of service to.
My career options became:
1) The classic consulting model: Deny my passion and detach from giving a shit about the outcome of my client’s problems. Choosing to simply focus on getting more clients for myself, while milking the revenue of the existing mandate, one systemic issue at a time:
2) Reposition my view of the role I was engaged for.
At first, I thought the best model was option one.
I reasoned that the traditional approach taken by so many “professionals” (consultants, lawyers and accountants) seemed to be a very lucrative business model!
Often, I would hear the leaders in these professions justify big egos based on their bank accounts and cars, which they claimed were a direct result of them selling “brilliant solutions” to their clients.
Then one day I saw behind the curtain.
I came to understand that this model didn’t sell solutions, it sold dependence.
Just like my bartender who used to listen to my stories while serving me copious amounts of expensive single malt scotch.
Whenever a client was consumed in the grip of fear a call was made to the consultant to provide a “solution”.
At the beginning of this post I qualified with “at various points in my career“. I guess now I ought to provide a little more insight.
At other points, I enjoyed the opportunity to leverage my experience to earn a living both as as an employee and a business owner, in addition to a consultant.
In retrospect, it would seem as though the what I did to earn money was much more about my passion for lifelong learning than it was about some sort of predictable career path.
I would spend time in the employ of an organization after which I would satisfy my entrepreneurial yearnings and start/buy a business.
Sometimes it grew and I sold it and sometimes there were less ideal results.
Yet, whatever the outcome, it seemed that the experience repeatedly earned me mandates as a consultant.
It seemed like prospective clients were interested in benefiting from what I had learned, both positive and negative
From where I sit now it looks a lot like a one extended MBA ,wherein I had the good fortune to learn from different teachers on different campuses around the world.
What fascinates me now is I always seemed to end up in a “class” with a teacher, who offered me precisely the training in the area I most needed to work on within myself.
Sometimes the lesson was “not trusting blindly“, other times it was “learning how to take direction” etc.
Then, when a particular chapter was over, I would move into another role where I had the opportunity to live and practice the lessons of the previous “class”.
At several points in my career as a business owner or as an executive under the full time employ of others, I found myself seeking the services of external consultants
One day I found myself writing a check for an outrageous amount to a firm of lawyers, accountants and big thinkers who had a reputation of supporting owners with solutions to business issues.
Thing is, they didn’t actually solve anything.
They typically simply provided me with a list of the risks, outcomes and possible strategies that might be applicable.
At that moment, I had my first awareness of the difference between problem-based thinking and solution based thinking.
I have come to believe the different views come from different parts of our being.
I saw how focusing on anecdotal situations binds us to the “what is wrong” : whereas being untethered from the fear allows us to leverage our capacity to imagine what could be.
We’ve all attended those meetings where the entire room is focused on the minutiae of how things were not right: circling the bowl, analyzing “what if” scenarios and how stakeholders are currently challenged or might be impacted by the negative outcome of any given problem.
Soon, depending on the hierarchical positon of the a leader caught up in problem based thinking, the rest of the team finds itself caught up in picking at the wound.
During one career stage when I was in the employ of a powerful young man, I sat in on one of these meetings one afternoon, and it hit me:
“How is it possible to arrive at a solution when I am concentrating all my energy on the problem?
I find myself lowering my energy to a level of frustration and even questioning my choice to work with .?!”
On that day, despite having participated in countless similar meetings, all of a sudden it was like I was viewing the same room from different seat.
It became clear to me that I needed to then shift the perspective of the entire team toward “solution-based thinking” in order to get free from problem.
” You know,” I began,
“I’m really actually happy we have this problem”
The room stopped bickering, blaming and went silent while all eyes turned to my direction.
The company president looked a wee bit pissed and said ” WTF!?”
” Ya, the way I see it now, this problem is not a threat but actually an opportunity for job security.
When we figure out the solution we will have a unique competitive advantage, and that’s precisely what you are paying each of us for.
So let’s figure this problem out and while we’re at it could someone bring us another clusterf*ck please?
Then I went on…
We’ve all been sitting here exhausted by the endless stream of problems. It’s like they never stop coming.
Yet once solved, we usually end up saying problems are just a part of doing business- right ?
So rather than wish we didn’t have them, why don’t we welcome and embrace them?
Taking the view that solving problems is how we feed our families.
Then the more problems we solve, the more practiced we will become at solving them and the better we become at solving them, the further we will leave the competition behind us.”
The room looked at me like I had two heads for what seemed like an eternity.
And then the crustiest shop foreman in the room says
“So, um, are you saying problems are actually our livelihood?”
Nervously glancing at the owner I replied,
“yup … in a manner of speaking that’s exactly it”
More silence … and I feared I may have ended that job and maybe my current career choice prematurely.
Then from the corner, the next voice to speak proposed a solution with such clarity that the rest of the group quickly agreed and we were out of the boardroom in about 5 mins.
The owner approached me months later and said,
“I was afraid you were gonna introduce a culture where people would actually create problems as part of a ‘make work project’ but in fact that’s not what happened at all.
What has happened is that the team now acknowledges dysfunction is part of the reason they are employed and embrace them like they would a new client.
They have developed such a systematic and methodical process to problem solving that they spend no time distracting themselves by seeking to scold or blame, they just embrace dysfunction and the solutions then almost seem to surface more freely”
He then handed me two tickets to St Lucia.
I now view “problems” and dysfunction with gratitude.