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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Central Question

Today I ended the lecture series on Consultancy at the University of Tartu. We watched the movie Thirteen Days, which seems to have received too little credit for what it is as a study in crisis decision making (and also political advisory).

When I left the room, I took this photo of the whiteboard with the last line of text I wrote while giving the lecture. It somehow reflects the very essence of being a consultant. So simple and at the same time mostly unanswered... The ultimate question... before getting complicated, let us remember, any decision making is based upon the answer to this question.


Henk Verbeke said...

Dear Daniel,

The question you put on the net is a good one. As a consultant, I experienced quite often that such questions only can be answered after the consultancy activities are already well on their way. Than you might suddenly find out that you are being used in a simple struggle for dominance. I only was told once in my entire career as consultant that the official required results did not matter that much. The client wanted a break through in a long simmering conflict between two department heads.
But as far as I can remember, that has been the only case where the – for others – hidden agenda was made clear from the beginning.
For the rest, the consultant should always be aware of the fact that the service mentioned in his contract rarely is the only (or even: real) service that is required. Every time you have to draw the line for yourself.

Henk Verbeke

Distant Signals said...

Dear Henk,

thank you for this very relevant remark! I have seen these things happening too and probably there are vested interests behind any decision to hire a consultant (just that sometimes these interests are more dominant and sometimes less).

So, the consultant itself has to ponder "what the hell is going on between me and my client" first :).

I even had a funny story with a friend, who asked my advice and I told him 3 negative comments and finally one positive comment on his idea. The moment he heard the positive idea, he shouted: "Thank you! I will use this as a supporting argument!" And off he went.

But from the other hand then, we may say that this is nothing specific to consultancy? Hidden motives may be present anywhere where decisions are made. Every profession has to be aware of the human nature and extreme idealism will take us to some alien world.