Brief 1.3-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


Brief 1.2-MissedUnderstanding

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 ...


Brief 1.1-Universe-ality

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 ...


Expert Tease

Pity the expert. He seems able to already know how the play will turn out, to have out-run his own past, and to confidently hold his presence. Novices crowd around after his keynote, hoping, I suppose, that some of that goody might slough off on ‘em.

Expertise seems to come in at least two flavors: information and definition, savory and sweet, but these apparent flavors might not qualify as flavors at all. Perhaps they arise from completely different classes of experience; one sensual, the other notional; imagined.

None of this perspective rises to even the lowliest threat level unless the novice or the expert mistakes the one for the other: information for definition or definition for information. Each seems easily misplaced. Slip over here for more ...


BriefConsulting 2.8: Because and 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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.7: Tickling The Tickle Point

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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.6: Up To Something

”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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.5: Saying 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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.4: Purpose Full

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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.3: Is-ness As Usual

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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.2: The Very Best

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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.1: ehT metsyS

”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 ...


BriefConsulting 2.0: The 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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.9: Generosity Too

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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.8: 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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.7: Leadershit

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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.6: 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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.3: Not Supposed To Talk About

“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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.2: 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 ...


BriefConsulting 1.1: Bare Naked

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 ...