Consulting 2.0

Jevon Macdonald‘s been thinking about the future in particular of consulting, as Euan‘s picked up. (I worked with Jevon this year – it was great fun.) I like the idea of thinking about how to do a kind of consulting 2.0, and please take that title lightly.

I wrote this in Jevon’s comments and thought it bore repetition.

So, reflecting on my year, I think the theme that’s coming out strongest for me is to challenge the notion of separation, in which we think of the other person as the problem, to be either dismissed as stupid or difficult, or solved/cured etc. I know Rob didn’t warm to the Senge book on Presence, but I did enjoy its notion of experiencing ourselves and the other as parts of the same system, and act from that sense of connectedness. Seems to me that’s a similar notion to the one you’re evoking here.

It’s easier said than done, as it means foregoing the slightly masturbatory pleasure of a good rant against those who, by my own lights, dont “get it”. But fun to try, even as experiment.

Going forward, I think I’d like to generalise less about big organisations (including big consulting firms) not getting it. It seems to me that in doing so, I instantly turn thousands of individuals into 1) a lumpen mass and 2) a *stupid* lumpen mass. So it’s easy to cheer you on the “people, not the brand” theme, and recognising the person who’s hiring. Organisations can be changed by anyone within them, I find there’s less magic than I hoped in the CEO’s office.

(Actually, organisations are constantly changing as the individuals change. Maybe we need to think of organisations as verbs, not nouns.)

I suppose I should elaborate on the verb/noun thing. We often talk about a big company, say Shell or Coke as if it’s a thing, like a table. Actually, it’s a really way more fluid than a table, it’s really a dance of all sorts of constantly changing people in action. If we called it an organising, would that help? (I realise that at an atomic level the table is all moving parts too, but let’s not go there just now.)

This might change our perspective on how we relate to this organisation, and our sense of its capacity for change. It might make us more optimistic about how we might be able to engage with it, and suitably less pie-eyed about the ease of implementing a vast change programme.

7 thoughts on “Consulting 2.0

  1. R World

    I like the idea of staying open to the changing nature of organizations. It does seem as though we can easily study still photographs of an organization and from that make conclusions about their future. Thanks for that insight.

    I also find that one of the scariest things I hear as a consultant is “They.” I use to think it meant something when I was told, “They … want this … don’t want that ..” In large companies, with diverse functions, business divisions, project teams, and personalities, it seems as though “they” don’t ever exist in big enough numbers to help you to effect change.

  2. Mark McGuinness

    I think verbs are more useful than nouns in any kind of change work. Things get easier when you forget the labels and start focusing on what everyone needs to DO to move things forward.


    Manifesto for an Emerging Consultant Counter Culture: Why Change?

    My earlier post about the change in how consultants will operate in the future helped me get some long standing ideas out “on paper”, but not everything I have been thinking about got in there, so I will keep posting as things come to mind….

  4. Johnnie Moore

    R World, thanks for your comment. Sounds like we share a concern about the power of shadow conversations. Being present is probably a good response to that stuff.

    Mark: Thanks too. I think there’s a lot of value in shifing our focus from identity to behaviour. For example, is presence an innate quality that you have or don’t, or is it actaully something you do? If it’s the latter, maybe more of us can have some.

  5. Jesper Bindslev

    hehe – i like the idea of “an organizing” but it is dangerous to see Organizations as either a noun OR a verb. Applying both views will support a better understanding than if we only choose one.

    check researchers’ discussion thereof(Sorry only an abstract)

    A more fitting frame for the organization may be a movement or many movements by subgroups along side each other.

    Organizing – as an act – then becomes the act of directing these subgroup movements to create synergies between the actions of the various movements made by organisational members.

  6. Dave Russell

    Maybe this relates to the idea of an organisation as an organism rather than a machine, almost a living thing. Has anyone read “The Living Company” by Arie de Geus ?

  7. Swan

    Great thinking. I fell into the trap of over-generalization of consulting firms in my most recent blog post on “Future Consulting”

    Once process and hierarchy gets a few levels deep, it becomes “they”. If a consultant believes something is sub-optimal, but they cannot see the path to improve it, they tend to have bitch-fest “shadow conversations” (if I am using that correctly).

    Each manager’s goal then should be to help their reports understand the rationale. If, after hearing an explanation, the consultant still believes change is appropriate, the manager should pave the way to help them make it happen. If all levels acted that way and the idea was worthy, it would happen.

    I am very embarrassed to say that I just had a flashback to the Reese Witherspoon movie where she goes to Washington to make a difference.


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