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Consultant’s dilemma: Asking questions or serving answers?

- 3 min read By Gurudev Prasad

10 January, 2018

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Twenty months since I started on my own and what an incredible journey it has been.

I still remember the last week of my job. Mind clouded with anticipation, anxiety and varying advice from friends, family and well wishers. One set telling me that it was a good move, while the other cautioning me about leaving the comforts of a safe job.

In my exit interview, a well wishing HR manager wondered “aren’t you too young to start a consulting outfit. You are good at what you do, but you know how it works. Clients choose experience and grey hair. Why don’t you do this after few more years”. Unconvincingly, I tried to explain her “you know times are changing. There are so many young people who are venturing out, trying to build their own start ups. I want to work with them. I am sure unlike the traditional clients, they will give someone like me – who doesn’t fit the conventional notion of a consultant, a chance.” She smirked and left it at that.

The most important piece of advice came from my one of my previous bosses, someone I really looked up to as mentor and a guide (yes, such a thing exists). He said, in his usual nonchalant fashion “I think one of your biggest strengths is that you are young. You will be teaching while you are learning yourself, unlike the know-it-all attitude of most consultants. Don’t let the learning spirit die and you will be good”

Making a mental note, I repeated to myself “Teach while you learn”

This has become a guiding principle for us, since the day we started. This is what we keep reminding ourselves, like a mantra that keeps our moral compass in check. 

Always embark on a project with a curious mind. Just because you use that product, brand or category – don’t believe that you know everything about it. In fact, challenge whatever you know about it. You are just among the thousands or millions of consumers using it, so don’t be arrogant to think that you are the definitive target group for the brand and hence, you know everything about the consumer.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – basic, silly or even the hypothetical ones. Question that challenge status quo. 

Questions are good. Questions lead to discovery, questions lead to answers and eventually its questions that lead to solutions.

Don’t over burden yourself that because you are a consultant, you should know it all. Nurture that child like spirit of curiosity, that wide eyed enthusiasm to learn something new.  Believe me, not all clients are looking for that ‘Mr. knows It All’ who has all answers.  Few are also looking for someone who is willing to work with them to unravel the answers to the questions that are troubling them, and these are the clients you should work with.

Because working with them is like a jamming session more than an assignment and I don’t have to tell you which one is more fun.

Probably that’s what Peter Drucker meant, when he said “my greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

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