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Constulting3 - ParodyPathology

"Perhaps the parody of a parody lies closest to some fundamental truth"

I started becoming a Constultant after utterly failing as a consultant, primarily due to my apparent inability to properly promote, diagnose, and prescribe for the popular pathologies and their presumed cures. When I first became a 'consultant', or first carried the title, my mom asked me to describe what I did for a living now that I'd joined a consulting firm, and I chose an unfortunate metaphor. In the last fifteen years of her life, my mom grew to love being diagnosed. Actually, she loved visiting a doctor, though she also sincerely enjoyed having hunky EMTs come to put her back into bed at night after she'd tumble out onto the floor. The doctor would in the process of the customary (and pleasurable) laying on of his hands, invariably find something remiss and prescribe something. She'd return from her visits beaming at the fresh prospect. I chose to explain that I had become a sort of doctor for organizations. They'd invite me in, I'd poke around a bit, lay on my hands, then prescribe a curative regime.

This was a lousy metaphor, not because it misleadingly describes how consulting works but because it so poorly described how I worked.
First of all, I never was any sort of doctor, not even for organizations. I had not made any sort of systematic study of alternative operating paradigms and carried little interest in ever doing so. Secondly, while I could clearly identify even the less glaring shortcomings within any organization — there's hardly ever any noticeable shortage of them — I struggled to dismiss them as definitively pathological or blithely prescribe some wonder drug. In truth, I inevitably struggled to locate the proper aperture within which to insert my thermometer, let alone to properly interpret the results. I grew to outgrow the notion that organizations are naturally pathological to embrace the odd notion that they more probably just operate non-rationally.

In my dialect, there were no dysfunctional organizations, just differently functioning ones. My first job as a budding Constultant was not to give name to some all-too-obvious pathology, but to appreciate just how it was that a particular operation did operate. This appreciative mindset would murder any hopes I might have held to become a prescribing physician-type consultant. I took to encouraging my clients to more deeply appreciate what they'd already duct taped together rather than to scold them for using duct tape. Once they recognized their own genius, they might choose to employ that same ability they'd demonstrated in originally choosing duct tape to replace that duct tape with something more structurally satisfying, but that would remain their choice and not fueled by some quack doctor's parody of a diagnosis and prescription. I could see no clear benefit for finding my client stupid in the belief that their genius might later emerge. I chose instead to consider them genius first so that they might continue to leverage that genius into the future. This perspective often required some concerted squinting on my part.

I could never hold my mouth straight when a partner would describe a leadership crisis or some project management equivalent of walking pneumonia. Yes, their designated leaders might have daily demonstrated what a less insightful observer might easily characterize as crappy leadership, but their many subordinates seemed to quite conveniently compensate for the glaring shortcoming, perhaps becoming great, if under-appreciated and unrecognized, leaders themselves. And of course this makes little rational sense, but then organizations tend to operate non-rationally; not exactly irrationally, but never according to any wholly rational scheme. I finally concluded that these organizations who'd invited me in to 'consult' with them were invariably suffering from what I would call A Severe Case Of The Normals, a condition hardly qualifying as pathological, and one more conveniently addressed by some form of radical acceptance rather than by prescribing some painfully disruptive and invariably bitter-tasting medicine.

As a Constultant, I found I could no longer write prescriptions. My clients became patients fully capable of healing themselves, if they chose to, but they would have to choose for themselves. I would walk away from any opportunity to help change a culture because I could not muster an adequate belief in the concept of culture change, being that I'd never personally witnessed such initiatives changing anything for the better. The culture always won. The culture change rarely did, and then only to the detriment of the so-called culture, which seemed to hold the purpose for the organization even existing. These culture change initiatives tended to produce as a direct byproduct, legions of employees who would be later diagnosed as Change Resisters and prescribed to swallow more than spoonfuls of bitter medicine to little positive effect. I'd ask my clients what they'd like to do, not what they'd most probably find distasteful doing but felt they really needed to do anyway. I presumed my clients well rather than ill. I seriously considered them a whole lot smarter than I would ever be.

Constulting might seem like its own parody of real consulting. Perhaps the parody of a parody lies closest to some fundamental truth, I honestly couldn't say. I could and still do proclaim a disbelief in the popular ParodyPathologies, the leadership, management, operations, behavioral, and psychological shortcomings touted as illnesses needing improvement, diagnoses necessary and profound. We, I insist, are not usually broken, but perhaps confused. We've compared our practice with the noteworthy practices of others and found ourselves wanting. We genuinely ache to be more like them without fully appreciating that what we heard about them might well have been some clever promotional chaff. Those who work inside Toyota could tell you about the Japanese cultural practice of telling others what they want to hear rather than what someone from another culture might characterize as the truth. The Toyota Way arose directly from that proud and ancient tradition, then every company under creation seemed to find the compulsion to mimic what Toyota said it does, producing yet another instance in a very long line of parody productivity improvements which generally resulted in genuine disruption instead, employing legions of prescribing consultants in the process. Any half-decent Constultant would have declined to engage.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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