I cringe when I tell people that I am a consultant. There are too many greedy consultants who are in it for the wrong reasons: their own personal gain. They give the rest of us a bad name.
So I was alarmed and disappointed when I saw HBR’s recent article, “How Consultants Project Expertise and Learn at the Same Time.” Yes – there is always learning that needs to occur. I need to understand my client’s culture and study their organization before I can dive in and start working with them. I need to learn about their pressure points and what is going to deem the project a success for them. While I may not be a subject matter expert in my client’s field, I definitely study up on it so that I can understand the nuances. But I wouldn’t hesitate to turn down a potential project because I’m not an expert or because I don’t have the capacity to do it well.
There have been times where I went into a project and had no idea if or how it would go as planned. But I was up front with the client about that. Last year I was asked to develop a new tool for a client. They had no preconceived notions of how it would work or what it would look like. Some initial research indicated that nothing existed for what they were looking for. I told them, “I would love to work on this project, but we’re going to have to create it together.” And we did. And it was kick-ass!
HBR’s article makes me want to shout from the rooftops, “We’re not all like that!” When I’m working with a client, I’m not “performing,” as the article suggests, or “experimenting” or “faking it.” I’m doing what I need to do to provide a value-add to a client. To help them improve their systems or their programs or tell their story. I understand the intent of the article, but I think it just reinforces the bad reputation that consultants have.
I’m not a big fan of titles. The next time someone asks me what I do, I’m tempted to say, “I solve problems.” But then someone might mistake me for Winston Wolf of Pulp Fiction.
Oh, forget it. Just give me a royale with cheese.