Stop looking for the solutions

By Chris Helm

Chris is fascinated by how people and businesses connect their aspirations together to create mutual benefit.

Could a deeper level of listening help management consultants to deliver better solutions?

Margaret Thatcher was quoted in the 1980’s as saying, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, and generations of highly qualified and well-intentioned management consultants have been making this their motto ever since. So why is it that the management consulting industry is constantly criticised for coming up with expensive and unimplementable ideas? There is often no doubting the quality of the ideas involved and the level of innovation and strategic thinking applied so why do we so frequently hear the criticisms? Quite simply, sometimes the answers are great but nobody bothered to work out what the right question was.

To fix this, we take a look at the medical profession in the UK, specifically GPs. In an industry so constrained by heavy workloads and a lack of financial investment, the people on the front line do a frankly incredible job. Data shows that 85% of people go to the doctors with a pre-formed idea of a diagnosis, whereas only 21% of those pre-visit diagnoses proved to be correct. How do they do it? By slowing things down and getting a deep and holistic understanding of the problem itself. So how do we learn from this? Well, it turns out that most clients of consulting firms aren’t so dissimilar to the self-diagnosing patients. Most of the time, when faced with a business problem, people tend to spend a great deal of their effort identifying the solution but accord little time to truly understanding the depth of the problem – or even the breadth of opportunity available. By the time people engage a management consultant, they’re often talking about solutions implementation. And what do most management consultants do? They deliver exactly what their clients “want” – and probably very little of what they “need”.

So let’s change how we do this and fly in the face of Margaret Thatcher’s wisdom. Bring the problems, evaluate the data, run diagnostics, brainstorm the issue to death and create a clear picture of the current state and the future desired state. Only then should you start building solutions. Albert Einstein said, “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and only 5 minutes developing the solution.” Bless Albert, he was a seriously wise fella. There’s a good chance that with his logic, you could be smart too.


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