To my mind there is no better job in the world than that of the consultant.
My own field of consulting is business IT, but whether you’re an architect designing a building, an engineer designing a car, a doctor diagnosing an illness, a systems analyst creating a system, a detective investigating a crime, or a lawyer constructing a case, the excitement is the same.
What does a consultant do?
A consultant uses his knowledge, experience, intelligence and imagination to investigate, understand, and advise on the resolution of problems brought to him by a client. He may also manage the task of resolving the problem.
The process is similar, whatever the profession. There’s an investigative phase, which involves researching, listening, questioning, and confirming. There’s an advisory phase, where a solution or a number of solutions must be put forward to a client. And finally, though not in all cases, there’s an execution phase, when a solution is implemented. The last requires the additional skills of pragmatism and persuasion beyond those involved in diagnosis.
I wouldn’t do any other job. Even though I manage a number of companies, I’m still involved in sales and consulting. And I’m still excited by the first days of the sales process, when I must, as rapidly as possible, understand what an organisation might need a system to do, whether the organisation is making chocolate, selling insurance, monitoring expenses, scheduling services, or extracting sugar from sugar beet.
As an IT consultant I’m interested in understanding what an organisation needs to know in order to run a business well, and what it is practical for me to suggest. And when a ‘system design workshop’ begins if our software or ideas have been chosen, there’s nothing to beat the concentrated effort involved in gathering opinions, reviewing a business from top to toe and then inventing a solution.
Every client, every business, every culture in which you work, is different. You learn about so much from so many different people. If you’re good, you’ll end up not as a Jack of All Trades but a Master of None, but as a Master of Many Trades. When I think of how I might have spent my professional life, quietly, perhaps equally prosperously, unambitiously doing nearly the same tasks every day, I rejoice in my good fortune. Never mind the stress of failing to sell more often than not, of long hours, of distant travel, of uncomfortable hotels, of demanding clients, the sheer intellectual challenge justifies it all.
I’ve spent 30 years in consulting, and now run a business software consultancy and reseller. I’ve seen a lot, but there’s always something new for me to think about each day. But one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that some of the essential skills of consulting are not particular to a profession. They’re needed by the lawyer, the engineer, the PR consultant, the architect, by anyone who must research, listen, question, imagine, devise, design, explain, describe, sell, persuade and implement.
So, in a series of posts I’m going to write about some of these skills and how a consultant must bring them to bear on what he does. And, as the title suggests, I firmly believe it’s an art, not just a skill. Imagination plays a hugely important role in the process. Consulting is creative.