Blood Type of a Consultant

Before getting into blood type, it’s worthwhile to define the term “consultant” as I believe the industry has muddied the term to the point of confusion. Unfortunately, it is common today to refer to all labor external to an organization as “consultants.”

Consultants are hired to advise (or consult) in areas which are outside the body of knowledge inside the organization. Consultants will typically have either extensive first hand experience in the subject matter, or a research arm which identifies the issues and best practices in a leading edge area of business. Organizations hire consultants to provide their opinion and “advise them what to do” often for the purpose of driving highly material decisions. This is in sharp contrast to a contractor who is hired to “do as they are told.” [discussed here]

The term blood type refers to the collection of characteristics which are possessed by consultants. Professional consultants typically have all of these characteristics, often in the extreme, and therefore share a unique “blood type.”

Consultants will possess the following characteristics:

Unquenchable Curiosity. Consultants will have an unquenchable curiosity to stay on the leading edge of their area of specialty coupled with a deep desire to apply their knowledge to many varied situations, and in doing so deepen your area of knowledge.

Solid Domain Specific Frameworks. It was once said that you can judge the quality of the consultant by the quality of their frameworks / tools. There is something to this. Consultants have typically developed and refined (or develop as part of the engagement) a solid set of frameworks to apply to the situations encountered within their body of knowledge. Each time the frameworks are used, they will get increasingly refined and increasingly valuable. [Update: See Chris Brogan's post on Frameworks here]

Framing the Issue Correctly. Consultants have the ability to identify and pull apart the real issue(s) from the situation (as opposed to the stated or too obvious issues). Paraphrasing, it is said that a question correctly asked is half solved. Consultants know how to ask the correct questions, and ask them in the correct way to properly frame the issue solve the real problems.

Focused Deliverables. Consultants typically think through (as defined by frameworks) the deliverables to be produced and work diligently to complete these deliverables. This requires an ability life themselves up to stay above the fray while staying focused on the deliverable set. This is opposed to performing “activities”.

Working in Someone Else’s Home. Consultants need to be comfortable with the fact that the culture they will be working within (culture that helps / hinders the organization to operate) is not the culture which you must follow – referred to as the danger of “going native”. In many cases it is the culture which needs to be fixed in some way.

Hired to Go Away. Consultants are comfortable with the fact that they are hired to go away once they have addressed the issue they were hired to go away. The premium associated with the consultant’s expertise often necessitates a short term for the engagement. It also means that the friendships made within the organizations will last, but the social aspects of the work will not exist in the traditional sense.

Personal Sacrifice. At a personal level, Consultants need to be comfortable with the sacrifices which they will make in order to ply their craft. At one time being a consultant meant living in a hotel in some far off city on weekdays, and at home with your family on weekends. (Strangely, the further a consultant needs to travel to a client site, the greater the perceived credibility – at least initially). Great sacrifices are made by spouses and families as well as the life of the road warrior puts much greater stress on the home life of those carrying on independently. At the beginning of a professional consultant’s career, the travel seems somehow romantic. Within a year, there is very little romance left in the constant travel, and this feeling is replaced with drudgery.

To turn a phrase made famous by Jeff Foxworthy, if you…. have an unquenchable curiosity, develop solid domain specific frameworks, regularly accurately frame issues, work off of focused deliverables, are comfortable working in someone else’s home, realize that you are hired to go away, and endure personal sacrifice by yourself and your family for the sake of your craft,… you might just have the blood type of a consultant!