April 17, 2015 Show Notes: We’re All Consultants Now!

Ed discussed how we are all consultants now. This material is based on Peter Block’s seminal book, Flawless Consulting.

Consulting Definitions

A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, group, or organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.

A surrogate manager is a person in a position who acts on behalf or in place of a manager. If you are being asked to “complete this report,” “design this system,” or “figure out what to do,” you are in the position of surrogate manager.

Consultants and surrogate managers are two distinct roles. You cannot be both because that would be a contradiction. It is irrational.

Consulting Assumptions

Whenever performing in a consulting role, it is important that the consultant must be clear about one’s own basic beliefs. Our own behaviors must be consistent with what we recommend.

It makes sense to spend some time thinking about what your personal beliefs are about what makes for good management and leadership. To this end, presented below are three assumptions about consulting for the purposes of our dialogue.

Problem solving requires valid data. This data not only includes objective or hard data, but personal or soft data. Hard data are not only computer system data, but other hard facts such as events or situations. Soft data are also facts, but relate to the personal feelings of those involved. If people feel that they have not been trained effectively on a new system, then this is a fact, even if we have a sign-off sheet saying they were trained. Throwing away this data because it is soft, puts actual problem solving in peril.

Effective decision making requires free choice. If a decision is to be truly implemented, the people involved in carrying out the decision must feel that they were a part of the decision. When they do not feel a part of the decision, they have a tendency to get defensive. If “no” is not a choice, than it is not really a decision.

Effective implementation requires customer commitment. If a customer is not fully committed to the implementation of a decision, it will fail. Support is not enough, commitment is required. In order to gain commitment, people need to clearly see the benefit this will have for them.

Consulting Levels: The FORD Model

Customers desire consultants to work on many different levels within an engagement. Often times the desired consultant level is not effectively communicated by both parties.

It is critical to the success of any engagement that both the consultant and the customer are clear about the desired level. These levels are:

  • Findings
  • Options
  • Recommendations
  • Decision

See Ed’s blog post on the FORD Model.

Chris Marston’s Concentric Circles blog post.

Consulting Goals

Along with consulting assumptions, a consultant should have some basic goals. These goals may not always be attained, but they should indicate your preference. Like assumptions, presented below are three goals for this material.

To establish a collaborative relationship. Collaboration is proven to be the most effective way to maximize both the consultant and customer’s resources. Secondarily, it provides a model for the customer to see and use to solve problems in the future.

To solve problems so they stay solved. Many consultants act in a way so as to fix the immediate problem. This is what has given consulting a bad connotation. Solving problems so they stay solved is a key differentiator. Teaching customers to solve problems on their own in the future requires a higher level of skill.

To ensure attention is given to both the technical problem and the relationship. Most organizations pay attention only to their technical problems. Consultants are in a unique position that allows them to see the people and process issues that surround the technical problem.

To develop customer commitment. As was stated earlier, without customer commitment the consultant has no chance to succeed. Therefore, the underlying goal of every action is to develop customer commitment to a solution to the problem.

To quote Peter Block:

We may cling to the fantasy that if our thinking is clear and logical, our wording eloquent, and our convictions solid, the strength of our arguments will carry the day. Clear arguments do help, but they are not enough. The customer will experience doubts and dilemmas that block commitment. Flawless Consulting, p 21.

Positive Deviance

I also asked Ed about Peter Block’s concept of “positive deviance”: Are we here to merely solve a problem, or create a new future for ourselves?”

Peter Drucker thought we should pursue opportunities, not just solve problems. Solving problems, at best, only returns us to the status quo. Executives need to spend the majority of their time—and allocate their best talent—to the opportunities of tomorrow.

Ed’s Statement of Intent

“It is my intention to help you and your organization make the best possible decision.”

Not Final Thoughts

What I love about Ed’s concept that we are consultants now is that is positions professionals at the top of Joseph Pine’s Progression of Economic Value Curve—that of transformations.

For if consulting is done right, you are transforming a person, a group, or an organization, rather than just delivering services.

This is one of the most effective strategies to de-commoditize your offerings!

November 7, 2014 Show Notes: How vs. What Matters

Ed and I discussed Peter Block’s seminal book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters.

In my first discussion in May 2004 with Ed, he informed me he read two books in the prior year that changed his life: my first book [out of print], Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing, and Peter Block’s The Answer to How is Yes.

It is an absolutely profound work. I told Ed it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write.


The following are some snippets from the book, along with the six most common “how” questions, which questions Block says should be asked instead, and then how Ed’s tweaked two of Block’s questions based on his experience in change programs.

Book Snippets

  • Epigraph: “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”
  • We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going to the question of “How do we do it?
  • Give up saying “how” for six months!—give priority to aim over speed.
  • Value what matters, not just what works.
  • How implies we just lack the right tool, it becomes utilitarian and pragmatic.
  • How questions deflect us from considering our deeper values.
  • Also assumes we don’t know, a defense against taking action—we become the blind man looking in a dark room for a black cat that is not there.

Here are the six questions that postpone the future and keep us encased in our present way of thinking:

  1. How do you do it? (Skips “Is this worth doing?”)
  2. How long will it take? (Oversimplifies the world)
  3. How much does it cost? (Ignores what price are we willing to pay?)
  4. How do you get those people to change? (Ignores the fact that you can’t get others to change!)
  5. How do we measure it? (If you can’t measure it, it does not exist. Things that matter most defy measurement [love, art, poetry, music, life]. Our obsession with measurement is really an expression of our doubt—we’ve lost faith in something. So much for imagination and creativity [how do we measure something new?])
  6. How have other people done it successfully? (We want to be leaders without risk of invention and innovation)

The alternative to asking “How” is saying “Yes,” a stance towards the possibility of more meaningful change

Here are Peter Block’s alternative questions:

  1. How do you do it? To What refusal have I been postponing?
  2. How long will it take? To What commitment am I willing to make?
  3. How much does it cost? To What is the price I am willing to pay?
  4. How do you get those people to change? To What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?
  5. How do we measure it? To What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my life/work?
  6. How are other people doing it successfully? To What do we want to create together?

Ed has changed two of Block’s questions: #3 to “What is the value of it to me?”

And also #5 to “What is the judgment I need to make?”

Some Final Thoughts from Peter Block

When we follow fashion and ask for steps, recipes, and certainty, we deny our freedom, for we are trapped by the very act of asking the question. Freedom asks us to invent our own steps. “to be the author of your own experience.”

Asking how is an escape from freedom/accountability. We wish to go to heaven and not die.

Knowing how to do something may give us confidence, but it does not give us our freedom. Freedom comes from commitment, not accomplishment.

The pursuit of certainty and predictability is our caution speaking. Freedom is the prize, safety is the prize, what is required is faith more than fact and will more than skill.

There is little discussion of faith in organizations, but it is only with faith that significant changes can begin.

Idealist is “one who follows their ideals, even to the point of impracticality.” The willingness to pursue our desires past the point of practicality (the heart wants what the heart wants).

Who decides what is possible and what is practical?

Idealism dissolves in a world of measurement and instant results.

Institutions are based on consistency and predictability, while intimacy relies on variation and surprise (people aren’t resources/assets).

Without willingness to go deeper, little chance for any authentic change. We prefer actions and answers.

What is absent in a world dominated by the engineer and economist is the artist. The artist needs to enter our institutional experience in order to create a space for idealism, intimacy, and depth.

One of the beauties of volunteer organizations is that they know how to take advantage of people’s gifts, whereas what he calls “systems” are more concerned with people’s limitations.

Demanding a solution, or an action plan for everything, is also arrogant. It’s a wish for perfection. It’s our wish to be God.

We keep going from fashion to fashion, consultant to consultant, looking for an answer that’s not there—like looking for the fountain of youth.

Not “scientific management.” Organizations never in control, the unpredictability and mystery of life.

We do walk by faith, not sight. Peter Block’s philosophical book reminds me of how George Gilder ended his classic book, Wealth and Poverty, by Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr:

Nothing worth doing is completed in one lifetime.

Therefore, we must be saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any context of history.

Therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, no matter how virtuous, can be accomplished alone.

Therefore we are saved by love.

Other Resources

The text of the speech can be found here, including Q&A.