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The value of thought

ThoughtPremise: The key to success is thinking things through, not rushing into uncertainty.

Whenever we perceive something, our brains immediately compare, categorize, classify, and evaluate it. We also project what will happen next and lay multiple contingency plans automatically. This ability is often lost when we engage with clients, especially when taking the first steps as business consultants. We tend to evaluate clients based more on wishful thinking than actual strategy, which means that our strategies rely on what we wish will happen instead of what the most logical course to the most optimal outcome will be.

When starting out in this business, my strategies were often influenced by how management wanted to do things, not how they could – and should – be done. An effective consultant will lay the best strategy he or she can as long as management overall expectations (usually growth and profit target) are met. A few years ago, I would present management with strategies that corresponded closely with how it wanted to run things but were largely ineffective as there were better options available. Today, my focus is on what will secure the operation in the long-term and secure its continued growth. Working with investors is slightly different as their primary objective is to recover their investment fast with interest. Securing that results in higher management salaries, a higher social status and the intoxicating effect of success. Management often attempts to resist strategies that are different from what it is used to seeing, but investors are generally more open for new ideas and pathways.

A strategy that does not result in increased wealth and status for management will be rejected and for obvious reasons. A strategy must therefore be shared in order for management to warm to it and be willing and even eager to participate. Laying everything on the table at once, however, is not recommended as it causes management impatience. Rather than revealing the entire hand, gradually unfolding the strategy piece by piece enables management to understand the main components and their sequential nature, and perceive that future that objectives can be achieved. The majority of this work is undertaken by thought, not working on a computer terminal.

When someone utters the word ‘work’, we immediately connect it to labor – that of physically doing something. Those that want to be laborers are encouraged to hold on to that image, those that do not are encouraged to alter what the word means to them. Some consultants appear busy all the time but have little to show for it; others appear to do very little but somehow get a lot done. A while back, I began perceiving this and decided to stay away from the computer and concentrate on human interaction instead (see ‘Selling your brain‘. The transformation was a game changer. Strange as it may sound, humanity prides itself on its ability to think yet appears to assign a greater value to physical labor.

Today, I spend my time speaking with investors, management, stakeholders, potential customers, partners and colleagues to gain a clear picture as to what the optimal strategy for any given scenario should be before drafting anything. It is a collaborative effort where each contributes valuable insights. I call it efficient laziness (that some misinterpret as over-delegating) that is based on creating the strongest core competency chain possible for each situation. Horizon 2020 consulting projects are particularly dependent on the ability to divide tasks among experts as they will eventually be evaluated by Expert Evaluators and EC Officials in Brussels. The first item on the agenda is to clearly understand what the client wants to do, formulate a plan as to how client objectives can be most successfully met, and then present the client with an outline that he or she can fine-tune if necessary. At this stage, we only compose a very short outline, usually half a page, that describes how client objectives can be accomplished. The majority of the work is done through thought and communication.

As with all these thoughts, this is my personal experience and journey through the business consulting world. Comments and counters are always welcomed.


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