Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it. – Henry Ford
Many of us will face a situation where we have to come up with a one-sentence version of what we’re trying to say.
Our USP, mission statement or core value.
Something like that.
If you’ve tried doing this you know it’s not easy to do.
And that’s because we’re not always sure when we’ve reached where we should be.
For example, let’s say you want to strike out on your own as a consultant.
You’ve spent a number of years in different jobs and roles, you’ve managed people and are technically savvy and creative.
So, you’re in a position where you have some skills and some hunger and want to make your own way in life.
So, what do you say when people ask you “What do you do?”
If your answer is too broad they’ll look at you and ask more questions.
If your answer is too narrow they’ll squint at you and edge away nervously.
For example, if you say “I’m a management consultant”, they’ll ask what type of consultant you are.
Do you do process changes, analysis, restructuring?
They’ll try and come up with what they’ve seen consultants do and try to see if you do any of those things.
In other words, you’ve not answered the question so they’re trying to figure out the answer for themselves.
In a different situation you may say you’re an expert in Scandinavian lumber markets – perhaps something of vital consequence for everyone’s living room – but no one really gets why.
The thing is that you’re often going to be in situations where you need to try and explain something.
And the words you grasp for first rarely do the job.
What you realise is that you haven’t dug deeply enough yet.
So, you’re a management consultant.
Why do you do that?
Well, you solve business problems.
Why do you solve business problems?
Ideally, a business would have everything running perfectly – its operations would seamlessly work together – but that doesn’t happen in practice and so problems happen.
Why don’t business operations work seamlessly?
Operations are built over time, people come and go, knowledge is not evenly distributed. So often, someone creates something that works, and over time it is added to and modified and changed and stops working as well.
Why do things stop working over time?
Ways of doing things are just like material things – they get old and tired. Sometimes you can keep them going with maintenance and changes and sometimes you need to bring in a piece of kit.
Why do things change?
They just do – that’s one of the unchanging things about life.
So… if you stop digging at this point then you find that you’ve gone through several layers of rock.
You started by asking why you’re a management consultant and ended by knocking on the door of one of the ancient questions of life.
But perhaps you’re no closer to answering your question.
So, maybe you need to start again, go back up the chain of questions and try a different route.
No one said that the first place you dug would have all the answers.
All they said was you need to dig.
And maybe one day, if you’re lucky, you will.