What You Know Now May Not Be Enough
You know that consulting clients are struggling to understand and respond to the rapidly changing, risk-filled environment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. You may have some ideas of how you can help them, but you may be feeling the same confusion and uncertainty about what to do now and going into the future as they do.
So what can you offer that really makes a difference and has clients clamoring to have you help them?
Relying on Current Expertise and Knowledge May Hold You Back
Like I do, you may have years of experience in your industry or market. You know a lot, and you’ve seen a lot. You may have seen major shifts, other crises, and new dynamics emerge throughout your career and helped clients get through those times. Does that make you valuable to them? Absolutely! But is it enough? I would say no. Not now.
If you are largely relying on your past experience and expertise about your industry or market, you are likely limiting your value to them. Worse, they may not believe that you can help them during a time when the context in which you helped them before—the past normal—no longer applies. They may think that you are stuck in the past and not able to think or do things differently.
How do you break out of that and show them you are the right person to help them during this crisis?
Expand Your Value
You need to acquire new knowledge, skills, and ideas. Why? So you can help them explore options for surviving now—options they and you may have never imagined. And you need to help them shape a future with new information and new ideas.
That means you need to look at your industry or market with fresh eyes and not assume that the knowledge and tools you gained in the past are adequate for what clients need today. My advice, which I am taking to heart myself, is to set aside your assumptions and examine what is happening in your industry and market today and may happen in the future with fresh eyes.
Years ago, I remember an executive talking about major changes happening in our industry, changes many didn’t expect or like or believe would stick. (Spoiler alert: The changes did happen and are sticking. In fact, the crisis has made some of the changes happen at whiplash speed.) He said that we can’t use the same knowledge, skills, and tools that got us here to get us there. He said, “I know the only way to survive and be successful is to look at this industry with the fresh, innocent, eyes of a new graduate student.” That got a lot of laughs in the room. New graduate students often don’t have much experience. They don’t know what the “givens” are that should never be unquestioned. They have new ideas that could never work in the real world.
But what if he was right? What if that is the right way to view things right now? I think it is. We have to admit that we don’t know enough today to help our clients with everything they need. Then we need to adopt a “beginner’s mind” to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable. That doesn’t mean we throw out everything from our past, but we have to deliberately pick what stays and what goes.
We need to be willing to question the fundamental “truths” about our industries and markets. We need to ask absurd, naive questions. Questions like: What if nothing ever goes back to the way it was? What long-standing or new assumptions didn’t pan out or now no longer apply? What did? What disruptions or changes may be permanent? What may be temporary? What don’t we know? What new imperatives have been revealed because of the crisis? And my personal favorite: If I was the ruler of the universe, what would I want a new normal to look like?
We also need to explore and test out wild and wacky new ideas that maybe we thought were impossible before. But disruption—especially a worldwide disruption of this magnitude—can make the impossible possible.
Find Smart People Who Have New Ideas…And Then Become One of Them
There are always a lot of smart people in various industries who look at crises and early on begin to imagine what the changes could mean. Some take a high-level view and identify themes and patterns, which they use to create a broader vision of what is happening in an industry and market and where things are and could head. Some start to explore what those changes could mean on the ground and how organizations and companies could reconfigure themselves and innovate how they operate to take advantage of disruptions.
Look at what they are saying and writing to jumpstart your new thinking. Look at how related—or even unrelated—industries and markets are responding, planning, and considering a new future. Reach out to industry leaders to share perspectives, intel, and ideas. Talk to them about how you and others are answering the fresh questions and have them add to your thinking.
As you are absorbing new knowledge and ideas, set aside dedicated time to think. Just think. Put uninterrupted time in your calendar to process what you are reading and hearing and develop your own ideas for your clients. Test a few ideas out with people in your industry or market and then refine your ideas. Then, go share your ideas with clients and others in the field. Write. Make videos. Do webinars. Host online events. Whatever you can do to share your best thinking and use your new ideas to help more clients. And, of course, keep adapting as you get more knowledge and feedback.
Now is Your Time to Shine
Now is the perfect time to do this work. As consultants, we likely have more bandwidth to make this effort than our stressed out, overwhelmed clients. Plus we have access to information from the top thinkers and doers in our fields as well as across other organizations, companies, and industries.
The return on your investment of time and brain power can be tremendous. Imagine how richer your conversations with prospective and existing clients will be. Imagine being able to bring clients something they aren’t getting from anyone else. And imagine your clients telling others how you showed up with fresh ideas and, by doing so, helped them create stronger, more resilient futures.