BriefConsulting

ChangingStory1.18-CultureChains

chains1
Engage with any consultant and you’re likely to learn that your organization needs a culture change. Culture grows rotten over time? Either a union’s insidiously trying to get more for less, or management’s playing that game; opposing parties stalemated pursuing the same end. Perhaps the organization’s moral compass’s gone haywire due to executive avarice. Maybe safety slipped down to Job #2 or #3 from its prescribed Job #1position. The possibilities seem endless. Pick your favorite reason, then get down to changing.

I can’t pick up The Washington Post without stumbling into waves of culture change recommendations: Congress “needs a culture change,” so does Metro, and The Pentagon, not to mention (which means I’m mentioning) the IRS, The DOE, DHS, and, of course, The State Department. Private companies, public organizations, even non-profits, seem in dire need of this most curious kind of change; or so say the editorial boards, attorneys general, independent watchdogs, blue ribbon committees, and every freaking inspector general in the DMV. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.15-ShThFuUp

439px-SHUT_UP^_NAME,_RANK,_SERIAL_NO._ONLY^_-_NARA_-_515415
My inbox overfloweth. So doth mine Facebook stream, Twitter feed, LinkedIn thread, Google+ queue, Pheed feed, newspaper, and neighborhood listserv. They swell with advice, people telling other people what to do, what the sender sincerely believes others should do/ think/ feel/ believe/ support. On rare occasions, someone will broadcast some personal insight, something they’ve personally decided to do without anyone else exhorting them. These bring sweet respite to the fetid wind that seems to otherwise blow nobody any real good.

I’ve been looking for any concrete evidence that telling anyone what they really should otta do in any way results in them following these instructions. I’m concluding that these exhortations might be for the sole purpose of feeding the exhorter and nobody else. Like the street corner screaming preacher, nobody pretending to be invisible as they slink by ever finds Jesus on their way past, though the preacher sure seems to. Perhaps the very form of the injunction shuts down the ability to follow the advice, or, I think more likely, telling just does not work. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.14-Mis-formed

mis-formed
I seem to possess the superpower that enables me to mangle any form. Give me even a smallish index card-sized one, and I will quite reliably find myself unable to fit something into one, often several, of the handy boxes provided to contain information. I sometimes start on the wrong line, uncertain if the label hangs over or under the space provided, entering my name into the first address line. I run out of room by the bottom of the form or have a line leftover.

I score no better when completing surveys. Many forget to include a ‘none of the above’ choice, and most seem to insist upon an answer, however irrelevant my forced response might be. Slip over here for more ...

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True-th

true-th
In this culture, deep truth seems indistinguishable from deep cynicism. We learn at an early age to deeply discount the (air quotes) wisdom of anyone more experienced, AKA: older; anyone, in other words, who might know better. Just because they’ve never yet seen anything like MY brilliant strategy work, doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant. Or that it won’t work. Enthusiasm trumps experience. Naivete supplants knowledge. Youth must make its own mistakes, which tend to be the same mistakes their elders made in their time.

I’m feeling older now, probably because I have grown older. I notice my age in my growing inability to feel cynical about anything, and also in my growing acceptance of what matters. I once believed that I might have stumbled upon a bit of radically new knowledge. I now understand that my elders had staked claim to both that knowledge and its adjacent folly long before I appeared to deride them. Slip over here for more ...

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Co-Hear-ence

hear
Nothing seems to work very well without it. Push, shove, wink, nudge, nothing really makes anything better without some ability for it to hear itself. Without some mysterious coherence, we’re never more than the simple sum of our parts, and often much less. No instruction manual ever showed how to create or even install coherence. For most, it’s either there or not; and might be the most commonly overlooked component. We might not consciously notice its absence.

I believe we each can feel its presence, though we might not have a ready name to assign to it. We might mistakenly ascribe its effect as luck, or synchronicity, perhaps superior design, though no spec sheet ever prescribes its presence. Only charlatans ever promise to deliver it. Only rubes ever agree to accept that delivery. It might be the rarest element, sufficient without ever approaching necessary; the cherry on top. Slip over here for more ...

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Gently

gently
Even a half-assed consultant can see far more choices than even their most insightful client ever could because they’re not climbing the spiral staircase, but watching their client climb. Their perspective mostly goes to waste, however, and could not possibly help their client see. Long consulting engagements often start with the so-called consultant trying to persuade their hapless client to see what they could never see from where they stand. Should the client say they can see what their ... ahem ... consultant just directed them to imagine, the half-assed consultant might feel a burst of validation without realizing that they just hobbled rather than helped.

I’ve long espoused the conviction that change arises from choice. I don’t always understand the more subtle point that choices seem scarcest whenever someone’s stuck, and I can (really, I CAN) proliferate choices forever for anyone else, but to no useful end. Until the client sees a choice, he cannot make a choice, and who knows where the insight necessary to see alternatives comes from? I don’t, though I used to believe that I did. I didn’t. Slip over here for more ...

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Who-ey-Two-ey

cat_bag_impossible_object
Reason, long-presumed to be the only thing other than fashion separating us from the chimps, seems over-rated. What the old, reliable predicate calculus can represent kind of skirts around the edges of human difficulties, but we rely upon it anyway; probably over-rely upon it. Just because there’s no reasonable way to resolve something doesn’t limit choice much. Limiting choices to only reasonable ones might be the most common cause of modern difficulty.

I subscribe to the perhaps delusional belief that reason makes a better excuse than it does an imperative. Much of what everyone does every day makes little sense, it just works. If it has to make sense to even qualify to be tried out to see if it might work, we shouldn’t need to make any excuses if we’re stuck. We know the cause and it is us. Slip over here for more ...

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Who-ey

groucho
Hooey’s hard to spot. It seems to show up dressed up like anything else; sometimes professorial, other times, harmless clown; maybe a touch pissed off, or just plain hard-to-stay-on-point distracted. We’re all prone to slip into our disembodied selves; The BriefConsultant, too.

I almost never catch myself slipping into my second person, where a disembodied ‘he’ replaces me. I’m a zombie then, looking for fresh brains, undead but not yet realizing it. I feel strangely powerful when I pad myself behind some projected persona rather than presenting myself as just my little old self. I can spew mindless he-mes as if ithey were genuine self-reflection, and I’m usually the last to know. Again. Slip over here for more ...

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Object-ivity

Falling Cow
We live in an ever-changing world, but we live within a nominal (noun-centric) language. We take snapshots of our experiences, turning motion into statuettes, verbs into nouns, then respond in kind; rather woodenly. Our representations bushwhack us a lot. We might live more securely within our language—within our objectified representations of this world—than we ever do out there where nothing ever stays the same.

I sometimes suffer from a form of noun poisoning. I’ve bestowed a name, a good meme-y one, then strut around as if I’ve conquered it, though it wasn’t an ‘it’ until I objectified my sensory experience into that handy pocket size. I doubt that anyone could ever muster a completely proper characterization. I deal in impressionistic portraits, hardly photographic quality. You probably do, too. Slip over here for more ...

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StepTooFar

StepTooFar
StepTooFar stands prominent on the list of common unknowables. Sure, I can know in retrospect that I took a fateful step, but until then, I’m probably just hypnotizing myself again. I mention StepTooFar here because it well represents The Common Unknowables, pseudo-information everyone seems familiar with ... when observed in someone else, and generally clueless about whenever we’re doing it to ourselves. We do these to ourselves.

These are delicate subjects. Only the most dedicated masochist enjoys awakening from this dream, even though the dream seems to be dooming him to an unwanted fate. It seems way too late for anybody to do anything about much of anything. Fate seems to have already won. What now? Slip over here for more ...

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Ineptitude

ineptitude
“At some point during this engagement, you’ll very likely feel overwhelmingly justified concluding that you’ve contracted with the most inept consultant in the universe,” The BriefConsultant cautions his prospective client. “What we do then will determine the success of this effort.”

There, I’ve done it again. I’ve tried to chase off another client. Some won’t be so easily dissuaded, but others will. You see, I’ve deliberately committed a taboo, and one of the more powerful ones, too. Ineptitude, or, more properly stated, the appearance of ineptitude, might outrank malfeasance on the Must Be Avoided List. A stumble quite easily amplifies far beyond mere accident to tarnish even the most otherwise innocent reputation. Generosity doesn’t seem very high on anyone’s to-do list. Slip over here for more ...

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Smalls

smalltz
Not everyone can pronounce my surname. I suppose it has too many consonants for some. For them, the sch comes out as ess and the ltz sounds like an unadorned s. Schmaltz becomes smalls. It’s okay with me. It reminds me to focus upon the small rather than the huge.

“Let me paint you a broad brush overview, Mr. Smalls.” Every client tries to first show me a big picture of their difficulty, but I’m listening for small things.

BriefConsulting doesn’t scale, but it doesn’t need to scale. How would The BriefConsultant influence an enterprise-wide initiative? Certainly not by focusing upon the enterprise, whatever that is. Size serves as a distraction, a distancing abstraction when scaled beyond small. Slip over here for more ...

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FableTales

fableTales
Have you noticed how we structure our stories? They seem to start with good intentions before startling themselves with some surprise disappointment, then finish with either a redeeming flourish or a catastrophic crash; saved or doomed. Maybe no experience qualifies as a story without satisfying this rough plot outline. The most believable stories seem to be the most redemptive ones. Life doesn’t play out very much like this, but our stories about life certainly do.

The distinction between story and reality seems difficult to maintain. Stories too easily sneak across that unguarded boundary to inhabit the place real life lessons used to live. These invasions tangle up expectations, leaving even the most mindful anticipating salvation or doom, and little else. Clients call the BriefConsultant when anticipating doom, seeking some kind of salvation. Slip over here for more ...

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Project-ionManagement

Project-ion
Management closely trails leadership as the presumed one-size-fits-all prescription for danged near everything. When a project fails to satisfy expectations, we immediately commence to blaming the absence of either 1) leadership, or 2) management, then set about securing more of these apparently indispensable elements.

The BriefConsultant might receive a panicked telephone call about this time, when the earlier projected lifecycle threatens to become an absolutely unanticipated death spiral. Being a skeptic by nature, I almost half-listen as the prospective client recounts the many surprising L and M shortcomings so recently and shockingly uncovered. I’ve heard the story so many times before, only the reported color of Goldilock’s shoes varies from prior tellings. Slip over here for more ...

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Patterning

patterning
Software developers have created an encyclopedia of reusable routines they call patterns, under the notion that many systems perform similar functions and so should probably use the same processes to accomplish them. They repurposed this idea from the field of architecture, where Alexander proposed what he called A Pattern Language to describe otherwise indescribable common design aspirations. Both ideas seem founded in the modern notion that reinventing wheels constitutes wasted effort. Might as well leverage others’ work.

The BriefConsultant doesn’t think like this. While it might seem perfectly possible to classify any observed activity into a pre-existing grammar of actions, I find little leverage in this pigeonholing. BriefConsulting seems deliberately inefficient because it isn’t interested in pattern matching, but pattern pulling; patterning. Slip over here for more ...

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BlankPage

blankpage
BriefConsulting doesn’t deal in universals; BriefConsultants like me were never persuaded that we could be privy to any of the secrets behind even one of the multitudes of One Best Ways. I remain skeptical when encountering anything labeled Best Practice, curious about who licked that label before sticking it on, and why. Neither advocate nor adversary, not over-bearing or objective, I start with a BlankPage. I must seem curious in every possible sense of the word.

I can’t rightfully say that I know much, but I do hope to be learning. I try to acknowledge the here and now as here and now rather than then and there in disguise, and recognize that this moment fully qualifies as virgin territory. Nobody’s ever been exactly right here before. This fact disqualifies my experience but might more fully qualify my senses—my presence, should I somehow find the ability to sense the here and now; right here and now. Slip over here for more ...

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Re-late

network
I might be a little late arriving at this recognition; not that I haven’t been bombarded with clues since before you-know-who outgrew his diapers. I was always related, but couldn’t relate. I competed instead, seeking superiority. Who would settle for parity when the possibility of dominion begins batting those long eyelashes?

I tell a passable, but unconvincing story. Everyone says we’re all about community, but we have yet to develop a convincing dialect to support that assertion. Most often, community serves as code for .community, abbreviated to .com, which means I want to sell you something. If you buy, you belong. If you buy again, you belong more. If you buy early and often, you’re a best customer, qualified to receive special attention. Slip over here for more ...

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Sides

shapes-special
Most controversies seem to demand the taking of sides. Even though most every controversy has fewer or many more than two sides, the invitation always comes addressed to either or to or. This narrowing of perspective might be characterized as the root cause of the controversy, though no one engaged in resolving it would ever suspect that the cause was meta to the maelstrom. This paragraph explains the human condition.

No day ever goes by but what I’m invited to stand up for this or its logical counterpart, that. I’m challenged to show my true colors, as if they could not possibly include a rather fuzzy grey. My clients insist that I see their world through their eyes, and I surprise myself when I find I’m almost able to, but without the conviction they bring to the experience. I might be able to appreciate the sides they see without actually seeing or ever really believing in them. Slip over here for more ...

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SacredResponsibility

gordian-knot1
I’ve grown to understand that every client holds the sacred responsibility to at least try to thwart my every attempt to help them. Most seem fully capable of fulfilling this obligation without anyone reminding them to do anything. Even those who innocently mistake me for a helpmate eventually understand that I would not help them, if only because I couldn’t. No matter how diligent, knowledgeable, insistent, or clever they or I might think I am, they’ll still have to untie their own Gordian knot. I need to be diligent anyway, to deflect their insidious pleas for help, and knowledgeable enough to recognize that line I should not wander beyond, and insistent in my belief that my client is fully capable of untying their own knot, and clever enough to successfully engage in this dance.

The BriefConsultant might be mistaken for help, or even for a helper, but he cannot be either. The role, properly deployed, might involve more shoving back out onto the ice than rescuing the apparently inept skater. The client is usually the source of his own difficulty. He might as well be the source of the resolution of that difficulty, too. Slip over here for more ...

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ExpertTeasers

expertTeasers
The Muse was reading out loud juicy bits from an Inspector General report about a project she’d been watching augur into ever deeper ‘yogurt’ for months, and I heard myself responding, as distracted husbands often will, “Amateurs! Amateurs!” Most of us have seen what happens when someone with great expertise in one area finds them self assigned to an area they have no experience with. The new context easily gets mistaken for some familiar one, and with little more than the raw power of authority driving, auguring ensues. Experienced contributors might get savaged for resisting change when they mention complications only visible to someone, unlike the designated leader, with practical experience.

These adventures almost never turn out well. Often, it seems, the clueless decision maker will amplify his own cluelessness by engaging his expertise. Some manage to transcend this downward trend, though this seems to demand an almost inhuman ability: the unlikely ability to demonstrate expertise in NOT being an expert. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.6-NoLedge

ledge
I left the salon conversation feeling angry. The subject: Common Core, yet another revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming the primary education system employing BIG data and frequent feedback-producing examinations. “The results will be demonstratively worse in the short-run,” our evening’s provocateur reassured us. “The data will most certainly show that our students have been performing more poorly than the old, poor data showed, but once we start measuring the right things, students scores will start to improve.”

This assertion seemed about as unlikely as every other confident prediction accompanying every other revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming primary education I’ve watched crash and burn over the last more than half century. Primary educators seem more prone to seduction by The Next BIG Thing than anyone, with the possible exception of your standard Snake Oil Salesman. The wise S.O.S. cautions their ‘fish’ that the elixir might taste unimaginably horrible and could leave the severely deficient feeling much worse in the short run. In the longer run, of course, the canny S.O.S. will have beat town, leaving no forwarding address. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.5-Dot2Dot

dot2dot
Doesn’t matter where I start. It matters THAT I start, but I could begin anywhere then work out from there. No, I do not have a picture of the end result in mind before I begin. More often, I feel inspired: some interesting thought just popped into my head, usually while distracted, often in the shower. Then, writing becomes an imperative. I must find my keyboard and start.

The first sentence just blurts out, though it’s often right and survives every editing pass to remain there on top. From there, I scan the immediate neighborhood, certain that some likely lilly pad will appear. I often hear it calling me, echoing the sound of the seed sentence, without pretense. I hop over there, listening carefully then, bending the initial inspiration only slightly to lightly echo emerging rhythm and assonance. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.4-ThreeThirty

alarmclock
The best alarm clock never rings. I set it, sure, before falling asleep the night before, but I awaken long before it ever starts ringing. Some dream woke me, still streaming story like sea foam streaking off some surfacing submarine. I turn off the alarm while fumbling for my glasses in the dark, holding a short phrase sleep passed to me to carry into this world. I slip into my slippers, quickly brush my teeth, and somehow avoid tripping over either cat as I creep downstairs to awaken my keyboard, repeating that phrase all the way.

It’s three thirty this morning; cold and dark outside. The light from my office window casts long shadows of the garden furniture across the garden wall. Not even the squirrels stir out there. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.3-PhiloSophy

PhiloSophy
“Philosophy begins when you don’t know where to look for an answer.” Philip Kerr, Hitler’s Peace

Anyone setting out to accomplish anything should encounter some daunting contradictions, otherwise they’re probably dozing at the wheel. When selecting a method, none available should exactly fit the situation. When acquiring resources, some will prove unavailable and others abundant but of undesired quality. Even selecting a goal should seem to demand encumbering compromise. No recipe ever baked a cake.

Filling these inevitable gaps seems to require a meta-understanding, acknowledgement of the gaps and acceptance of the personal responsibility for seeing them filled. While we might well rely upon experience and knowledge to guide us up to the edge of any gap, something else bridges it. Almost anything but experience and knowledge might work. Luck, even.

But being human, most of us will try to reason ourselves across. We’ll pull out the Rules of Thumb bag we keep hidden in the front hall closet or dredge up the clouded over laminated card containing what we once chose to be our ethical imperatives. Almost all of us will rely upon what feels like a sixth sense, a quiet angel who rides on one shoulder, whispering in our ear. Each of these comprise our philosophy.

Far from the distraction from action it’s sometimes characterized as being, philosophy might well be our constant, if often quiet, companion. While we might effortlessly describe technique, the reasoning and world view behind that technique remains largely undiscussable, perhaps because that reasoning seems at root unreasonable. I could mention the Münchhausen trilemma, named after the mythical hero who managed to pull himself and the horse he was riding out of quicksand by merely pulling up on his own hair; an illogical impossibility. Proving any truth or falsehood easily devolves into one of three popular techniques, hence the trilemma: Circular argument, where theory and proof reinforce each other, Regressive argument, where each proof begets another--ad infinitum, or by far the most popular, Axiomatic argument, where we “just know” it’s true. Much of what we hold to be self evident, isn’t, but an axiomatic insistence instead.













©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved












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Brief 1.2-MissedUnderstanding

missedUnder
I’d perfectly stated my brilliant idea. Nobody else seemed to understand. Was I suddenly speaking Swahili? Had my thoughts turned to mush? Had I lost my silvered tongue?

My identity felt it first, turning ghostly pale. Maybe I’d become overly ego involved, no longer dealing in ideas but self. To miss understanding my idea might mean I do not exist, or exist distinctly enough. I cannot even muster a decent me without connecting with you.

I’ll try the same message louder, I might even s-l-o-w down, hoping the disconnection came from faulty volume or hasty presentation. These tactics never work. Never. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.1-Universe-ality

spectralpatterns
Franklin calls me on my shit. When my whining exceeds the limits of propriety, he pulls me over to issue a helpful warning. When I don’t quite understand how lost I’ve become, he points me home. He fairly steadfastly refuses to tell me what I really should do, but he can look down his nose at me, and even on a stop-action Hangout® display, I can see that he’s caught me out. Shortly thereafter, I catch myself out, too.

Authoring involves an awful lot of foiled self-deception and foibling self disclosure. It shaves the old pig until it squeals and scurries home. Home isn’t just where the heart resides, but it sits smack dab in the center of the universe. Franklin insists that the key to universality lies hidden in the deeply personal. The more personal, the more likely others are to find themselves peeking out through the prose. The one thing we all have in common might be that we all experience the personal, and we each recognize the presence of the universal in that seemingly least-likely place. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.0-Id-Entity

cigar
Most of every writer’s day will be spent alone. Writing must be the most solitary sport, an internal Olympic competition featuring cognitive Greco-Roman wrestling, conceptual Winter Biathlon, and solitary synchronized swimming. The games always involve dredging up to translate, rediscovery more than invention, rearranging the same old notes into new-sounding tunes. Like with all games, the boundaries deeply influence play and the rules, originally arbitrary, seem inexorable now.

The trick, once mastering bald aloneness, lies in daily re-mastering it, for solitude serves as no more than soil within which unlikely seeds might sprout, where the completely cognitive and conceptual push beyond the leaf litter into space where anyone might experience them. What blooms seems so very different from the parent seed or rhizome that even the solitary gardener might mistake them for volunteers, accidents of potential, nutrients, and time. Slip over here for more ...

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FUQ

inspirationcan
“Inspiration is needed in geometry just as much as in poetry.” Pushkin

I find it easy to proclaim that insight resolves more difficulties than answers ever do, even though this notion might initiate a slow, self-referential, inward spiral in search of insight. Where does insight originate?

I know, or I think I know, where answers reside. I pose a question then initiate research with the implicit assumption that someone’s already answered it, or something similar, before. The friendly research librarians can help, though these days, search a-la Google® more often stands in for old-fashioned research. And if I’m fortunate enough to hold a fundamentally decidable question, either search or research will likely satisfy my curiosity.

Few of my questions seem to comfortably carry the fundamentally decidable label anymore, if they ever did. Slip over here for more ...

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The Burgeoning Self Deception Industry

self-deception
I am part of the burgeoning self deception industry. You probably are, too, either as a purveyor, a (probably enthusiastic) consumer, or, most probably, both. This market segment has enjoyed huge, unprecedented growth over recent decades, yet the top of its market remains beyond anyone’s ability to see, a bubble seemingly incapable of bursting.

Self-helplessness accounts for most of the activity within this industry. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.8: Because and Affect

affect
Thirty years ago, I supervised programmers responsible for maintaining the most remarkably convoluted mainframe financial systems. Their nightly processing ‘cycle’ frequently emerged as a choke point. One of the systems would crash trying to process some unexpected booger in the data stream, and one of my crew would get a pre-dawn summons from the night shift operator and head into the office to get around the stall. Time was always short, as the processing cycle needed to be finished in time to bring up the online system before the following morning’s day shift started.

I was interested in what happened in those small hours, so I’d sometimes mosey in under the guise of offering my support. I suppose my presence hurt more than it helped achieve resolution because I was deeply interested in understanding why these problems happened. I learned that the most effective midnight debuggers didn’t really care about finding the root cause of these problems. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.7: Tickling The Tickle Point

tickleme
Ever since Malcolm Gladwell hit the best seller list with his The Tipping Point, I’ve been finding clients chasing their tail, pursuing that almost eternally elusive point where their system might actually tip. This doesn’t quite qualify as a fool’s mission, but I usually recommend ‘investing’ in lottery tickets as a viable, much more likely-to-be successful, alternative. The Tipping Point, you see, might be that point where a system crosses the Rubicon, unable to return to its old status quo. I promote a more easily achieved objective instead, The Tickle Point, where attention might shift without tipping anything over ... yet.

Anyone who’s ever wrestled a three year old out of a tantrum into a giggle fit understands the nature of The Tickle Point. It’s that point where the seemingly permanent frustration notices some brighter-shinier. True, nothing’s really changed at that point, except, perhaps, for focus. But once the focus changes, the previously impermeable barrier’s penetrated. Then, anything might happen. Even something really different. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.6: Up To Something

up2something
”Nobody’s apathetic, except when pursuing someone else’s goals.”

I look for that look in their eye, that smirky stare that swears it’s not up to anything, ... honest. The poorly-concealed joke. The heart-lightening nod. Their affect emanates quiet authority because these people are up to something.

This matters. More than almost anything. More than higher purpose. More than lofty goals. More than that promotion, paycheck, or bonus. Being up to something salts and spices and sweetens every engagement, while cynicism stalks anyone unfortunate enough to not be up to something.

”Who stole your tricycle?” Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.5: Saying Something

something
Cops work in pairs. Responding to a Disorderly complaint, only one of the two will enter the noisy nightclub. Their partner will Watch The Door. Experience teaches this simple protocol: entering a room subsumes one into that context. Perspective skews. Judgement, too. The one left by the door’s in charge of the intervention. The one who enters the room follows the watcher’s direction without question.

Brief Consultants often work in pairs, one seeming to engage while the other looks to be just hanging around the edges there. The one who looks like they’re slacking, they’re in charge.

Even when I’m working solo, this Brief Consultant watches because most of my presence value comes from me noticing something. I engage briefly because it doesn’t take long for me to inherit the same blind spots as everyone else within that space. For a brief few hours, I can see more than anyone already immersed in that soup, and no context needs more than a day or two to weave its trance. Nobody feels anything as perception fades. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.4: Purpose Full

purposefull
I’ve been to the week-long workshops and the retreats and the brown bag booster shot luncheons where we sat together hoping to conjure up that feeling of being connected to a higher purpose. I’ve been saved, enslaved, and raved at; over-charged, barged in on, and marginalized in my pursuit. Either I’m full of it or they are, or maybe we all are.

I hold purposeful pursuit as one of my Seven Ethical Responsibilities. As a Brief Consultant—heck, as a man—I’ve grown to understand that few diseases do more damage than purposelessness. And for the longest time, I misunderstood where that purpose had to come from, and what purposeful pursuit really meant. Maybe all that church-going in my youth convinced me that little old me couldn’t quite qualify as a high-enough purpose; that what I wanted didn’t really matter if only I could connect with some ’truly’ higher purpose, I’d be in deep cotton. Deep shit, more likely. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.3: Is-ness As Usual

duckrabbit
I can always reasonably expect that I’ll encounter ‘Is-ness’ whenever I consult. Our language pretty much insists upon us representing our experiences as things, and explaining these experiences—our impressions, conclusions, and thoughts—with the simplest, least descriptive word: ’Is.’ ‘Is’ might well qualify as the most insidiously powerful English word. This Brief Consultant listens closely when his clients speak, hyper-sensitive to the presence of this poison tell.

Poison tell? I call ‘Is’ the poison tell because it tends to materially misrepresent experience while fully satisfying the ear. I can say, “It ‘is’ cold outside,” when I really mean, “It feels cold outside” or, “It looks cold outside.” Outside ‘isn’t’ cold. A dictionary might define cold as a class of temperature positioned somewhere South of cool and well North of ‘my ass just fell off.’ No dictionary defines cold as ‘outside.’ Yet language comfortably tolerates this indiscretion. Only two letters. One insidious word. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.2: The Very Best

trophy
A special curse dogs The Best and The Brightest. Damned as superlatives, these poor souls dread the mediocrity the rest of us made peace with long ago. I call them The Blessed and The Blightest.

One client explained how, in the course of a week at age eighteen, she’d gone from being recognized as the smartest person in her county to realizing that at MIT, she was barely average, if that. She’d had a lot of tacit identity invested in her best and brightest persona, even though she’d never strived to be recognized. Once the gift evaporated in that lofty Cambridge atmosphere, she didn’t know who she was, or who she was supposed to become.

Life seems comprised of peaks and valleys, and the narrowest road always follows the ridge line. Stuck on top leaves few lateral possibilities, and it’s a long way down from up there to the valley floor. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.1: ehT metsyS

backwards1
”How do you happen to be here?”
This open-ended question often starts one of this Brief Consultant’s engagements. Rather than starting with the end in mind or dwelling on The (infernal) Problem, I’m curious about the person in front of me. I want to hear their story.

Many notice that nobody ever asked them this question before, and most have been inching for someone to tell their tale to. Might as well be me.

Within the first five minutes, this client will say something that seems to jangle a chain of understanding, and not usually my chain. Theirs. Something significant shifts when the focus changes from hopefully peering forward into casually reflecting backward.

Nobody gets to understand forward. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 2.0: The System

System
The System takes the blame for almost everything. And why not? Over the last century, our society has become obsessed with system this and system that, as if The System certainly must be the solution. Whenever it turns out not to be the be-all and end-all, it’s a handy Shmoo.

The second stage entails trying to fix the system so it will work as I thought it was supposed to work. This seemingly reasonable response encourages ‘creeping featurism,’ as the system, originally—and unavoidably—naively designed morphs to accomplish ends unimagined by the original designers. Rarely does any system get discarded in favor of wholesale redesign after encountering difficulties, even after catastrophic failures. The original design sticks, and the fixes tend to accumulate until they ascend to the status of the latest problem with The System. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.9: Generosity Too

generositygenerosity
BriefConsulting® features few tricks. I have no master list of steps, prescribed phases, or replicable method to my ‘madness.’ Some phrases, however, do seem to repeat themselves, and while I don’t feel like I over-rely on them, and they’re certainly not magic bullets, I do hear them coming up again and again. The most common one serves as a most-purpose, if not an all-purpose unsticker because the situation within which it comes up probably serves as by far the most common stuck point: the unspoken conspiracy.

Unspoken conspiracies amount to unconfirmed conclusions about another’s motives, purpose, character, or beliefs. These commonly emerge from a small violation of the generous interpretation rule, and usually require only one to play, but may metastasize into into urban legend-quality stories, where a large group engages in something not unlike mind reading; usually, unusually inept mind reading.

The pattern starts when someone decides what another’s behavior means, then responds as if their behavior meant that, creating a perfectly self-sealing situation. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.8: Generosity

generosity
Generosity seems an unlikely element of BriefConsulting. Brevity implies an economical, perhaps even stingy allocation of at least time, so where does generosity fit in? It fits in right beside interpretation.

I’ve explained that Brief Consulting avoids interpreting behavior as pathology, transforming what might otherwise seem dysfunctional into merely differently or curiously functioning. This little flip demonstrates generous interpretation in action: Interpret difference as difference rather than pathology. If I couldn’t possibly know, I’m free to make up any meaning that works best for me. Heck, I could even get curious and ask.

See how this small shift might shorten the length of a consulting engagement? Sometimes mindreading or body-language interpreting seems like a shortcut, but it usually turns into the longer way around. If the client’s words and the music don’t seem to match, I could initiate a controversy by ascribing my ungenerous meaning or encourage understanding by simply pointing out what I see and asking what it might mean to my client.

I tune up my generous interpreter by engaging in what I call High Quality Consultant Humor. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.7: Leadershit

plead
I classify myself as a leadership skeptic. Seems like whatever the difficulty, somebody will start pleading for more, better, wiser, ... leadership, whatever THAT might be. This difficulty arises from a definite know-it-when-I see-it notion of what constitutes leadership, and the unclear implication that there’s probably no such thing. There’s probably no such thing.

Pity the poor devil perceived as the leader. Slave to Utopian notions, center stage, performing to a critical audience, certain to dissatisfy. The human response seems to be to try harder: to please, appease, ... Oh, pa-lese! The mythos surrounding leadership seems greater than the sum of its parts.

Leadershit has two parts. The first part lays undefinable expectations on some individual because they happen to occupy some position, often a position of presumed authority. The second part gives away personal authority, like peasants paying tribute to their king, to someone presumably more authorized to have it . It seems incongruous that a democratic society should rely so much on crypto-kings and pseudo-serfs, leaders and followers. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.6: Presence

presence
All change occurs in the present, whether influenced by the future, the past, or a just-now painfully stubbed toe. So much attention flows outward toward the future or sticks back in some previous experience that the present sometimes seems the very least accessible place. We could be excused for trying to fix the past and exonerated even though flailing to fix the future, but our real work always happens right here. Identifying cause—even root cause—often over-presumes a causal stream unlikely to actually exist. Sure, it’s satisfying to savor what we woulda or coulda and perhaps even more gratifying to believe we’ve guaranteed some projected gonna, but any course change hasta happen right here. Now.

Staying present in this present when surround by clever planners constructing even cleverer plans might be the greatest challenge for anyone, consultant or client. Slip over here for more ...

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Bare-assed Consulting 1.4: The Mess

chaos2
Messy might just be the natural order of everything, though I strongly prefer my universes tidy. This difference between apparent natural disorder and strong preference for unnatural orderliness creates opportunities for this bare-assed consultant. Most of my clients call for help when they’re struggling to avoid or tame some mess, and they always hold some powerful notions about what constitutes mess and what might distinguish messiah. One man’s mess might be another’s masterpiece.

The bare-assed consultant only rarely resorts to sorting through—physically re-ordering—any mess. He first sits with it instead, under the belief that until he’s sat with the chaos, he’s unlikely to understand its nature well enough to avoid making that mess even messier. I make a crucial distinction, though, between sitting with the mess and plopping myself down in the middle of it. Slip over here for more ...

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Bare-assed Consulting 1.3: The Blindnesses

Blindness
The truly bare-assed consultant is blind, but blind with a twist. Like with cholesterol, blindness comes in both good and bad varieties. The worst of the bad blindnesses comes from being blind that one is blind: unconscious blindness; the best of the good blindnesses emerges from the full acceptance of just how unavoidably blind one is: conscious, bare-assed blindness.

As a truly bare-assed consultant, I can’t hardly help but acknowledge how blind I must be. Blind because I’m here, not there; me, not you; wagging on the tail-end of a lifetime of experience which probably doesn’t qualify as representative, universal, or particularly enlightening. I’m blinded by this shred of enlightenment, almost certain I cannot see even half of what’s before my eyes.

Before, when I was still inflicted with the curse of unconscious blindness, I could muster certainty from scant evidence, and could even swagger with the sour scent of confidence. Slip over here for more ...

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Bare-assed Consulting 1.2: Add Vice

vice
Consultants have a long and troubling relationship with advice. The young ones innocently presume consulting to be a means for dispensing advice, and their clients won’t readily dissuade them. The more experienced might have developed a dependency on advice-giving, and unselfconsciously inflict it upon everyone. Many consultants have been divorced. More than once.

The bare-assed consultant deeply appreciates that giving advice, cheapens it. Further, unbidden advice rarely produces intended results. Conveniently deflected and comfortably ignored, the very best advice might be to avoid giving any advice. Still, The Advice Vice seems as common to consultants as Brooks Brothers suits.

It took a very long time to wean myself off my advice-giving Jones. Slip over here for more ...

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Bare-assed Consulting 1.1: The Normals

normal
We live in exceptional times, just like our forebears did. Living seems to encourage a deep sense of exceptionalism; understandable, I suppose, since alive seems so mysterious and unpredictable. In this space we presently inhabit, exceptional qualifies as normal.

Maybe it just comes with the territory, but we seem awfully interested in fitting in, in following the trends, in adopting the most up-to-date. Perhaps we don’t want to be left behind. The ensemble’s performance, though, masks remarkable variety. Nobody lives like the population average, yet that average might be the most reliable reference to what’s normal and what’s not. The result can be an awful (with particular emphasis on ‘awful’) lot of theatrics: going along to get along, fitting in, passing as, mimicking, and the thousand other artifices, small and large, which seem to separate us from our preferences, from our selves. All perfectly normal.

If individuals are easy prey for such quagmires, organizations seem to encourage second-order versions, where individual adaptations tangle together, producing genuinely Gordian results. The popular term ‘dysfunctional’ might aptly describe every individual, every organization now, but I prefer the more normalizing term ‘differently functioning.’ Slip over here for more ...

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Bare-assed Consulting 1.0: Sick's Sigma

sicksigma
Even bare-assed consulting turns dicey when a client sets his mind on some process improvement scheme. It never really matters what the scheme might be, you can be certain only that it’ll fairly quickly produce the opposite of the attracting intention. Whether by initial interpretation or the influence of organizational antibodies, that true north veers due south. ’Twas always thus.

And the timing of the consultant’s arrival won’t much influence the outcome. The tariff, as Peter Block once noted, on imported method inevitably exceeds the expected return.

These initiatives always start as bright ideas,”I know, we’ll just put on a show!”-quality fantasies, laden with invisible externalities. Whether a Senior VP read some article in an airline magazine or transferred in from a company that had fully integrated some scheme, the mandate comes from the top down. The suits arrive shortly after the announcement, mustering a committee of ... cough ... cough ... volunteers ... chartered to change the company’s culture from the bottom up.

Therein lies the disabling paradox Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.5: Outing The Fix

outtathere
I stood up, explained my difficulty, and a small group of fellow authors gathered around to engage in a little session. Their role would be that of inquisitor. They’d ask me questions, hoping to help me gain some deeper insight. Doing this, they might gain insight, too.

I thought my challenge was a common one, especially for writers. I’m a hesitant joiner, though I’m absolutely convinced that community produces by far the best outcomes. So, when I’m invited to a writer’s retreat like this one, I spend at least the day before I leave trying to talk myself out of attending. I’m usually better at this than I was this time, so I’d shown up. Then, in this last session, I stood up.

Once en-grouped, I explained my experience in greater detail, then the inquisitors began. I noticed a twinge of thrill in my chest as we began, a sense that this session just might fix my life-long reluctance, and this possibility felt really, really good. Maybe I could fit in instead of force-fitting in. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.4: Too Small Shoes

toosmallshoes
I call one class of complaint Too Small Shoes, in homage to Eric Newby’s Short Walk In The Hindu Kush. In that book, Newby tells the story of his several weeks-long trek through rough Afghan back country. In preparation, he’d ordered custom-made boots, which he had delivered to Istanbul. Not bothering to open the box containing his new boots until after the several hundred mile drive to the trailhead, he discovered there that the boots were considerably smaller than expected, so small that his feet barely fit inside them. He faced a clear choice then, since his alternative footwear consisted of a pair of soft sneakers completely unsuitable for uneven ground, of either wearing the boots anyway or abandoning the adventure altogether.

Many organizational initiatives and personal adventures feature a similar decision point. However careful the planning, some otherwise insignificant element gains prominence and threatens the entire enterprise. Going forward means accepting quite different from expected terms. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.3: Not Supposed To Talk About

Shhhh
“What are we not supposed to talk about here?” I start most of my briefest consultations with this question because anyone responding to it tends to unstick shortly thereafter. I believe that the primary cause of stuckness lies not in any sin of commission, but in insignificant-seeming pseudo-sins of omission. What we dare not mention holds us captive, to mention whatever we’re not supposed to talk about tends to release the prisoner.

Sometimes my client responds, “Oh, nothing. We’re very open around here. We can talk about anything, anytime.”

”Fine,” I respond, then I watch and listen more carefully to hear what doesn’t get talked about. What dog isn’t barking? What birds never sing? Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.2: Expertise

Expertise
Consultants trade in expertise. Brief Consultants are no different, though their expertise might require a hard squint to appreciate, for Brief Consultants trade in their expertise at not being experts. Lemme ‘splain.

Every industry, every company believes they are unique, and presume specific knowledge of their particular operation essential for any consultant. Curiously, the most common difficulties are just that, common; universal. Stuck looks remarkably the same where ever it appears. Hire for industry expertise and you’ll get industry expertise when you might need someone with fresh eyes to look in on the situation.

Being an expert at not being an expert requires some rewiring inside the consultant first. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.1: Bare Naked

peekaboo
Where did they go, those who used to inhabit those empty suits? Where are they now? Speaking for myself, I’ve become the bare naked kind, no flash suit to deflect any naked truth. Pimples, dimples, and scars quite obvious. I figure, “Why suit up for what will have to become a bare naked engagement?”

My transition from Empty Suit to Bare Naked consulting will never end. Vestigial misgivings remain, tugging whenever I start a new engagement dance. I’d quite honestly rather hide behind the protective starched shirt chest plate armor, dabble in nice-nice banter, then ‘suggest’ some solution, but I don’t. Not anymore. I never once saw the formality accomplish what I’d quite foolishly promised. The problem I’d been asked to resolve was never once even half the problem that the formalities turned out to be. If we can’t do this naked, we won’t be doing anything at all. Slip over here for more ...

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BriefConsulting 1.0: The Suits

emptysuit
The Suits quite deliberately dress a little better than you, disarmingly casual in their formal business wear. Who couldn’t be seduced? Shoes glossy, ties perfectly knotted, shirts starched into absolute submission, knife-edged pants, cuffs shot to show just a wink of onyx cufflink inside. Funny how I can’t remember a single face. No sincere smile, no twinkling eye, no wink of recognition, just those finely tailored empty suits.

Their advice seems equally disconnected. They share abstract models, distilled to wispy essence—ten easy, twelve step, top five best practices, and the most mysterious commodity of all, expertise. Slip over here for more ...

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