Thursday, April 20, 2006


I had a very frustrating lunch today with a self-employed business consultant I’ve known casually for a while.

She’s made a good living from her field for 18 years, but admits the big win has eluded her – the major, longer-term service contract that could provide income stability and serious money in the bank.

She is outstanding at what she does. And she clearly wants something to happen. But she’s been at it so long I think she’s lost the stomach for taking chances – and the will to try new things. I wasn’t trying to sell her anything – just looking for new ideas that would rekindle her passion for the business and connect her with the high-value clients she needs. But despite her current dissatisfaction, she wasn’t listening.

It was very strange. Every time I came up with an idea she told me a story. She wasn’t building on my idea, nor did she pooh-pooh it – she just talked about things she had done in the past. Sometimes it was about a similar initiative she had tried that didn’t work out, but often it was just vaguely related. She wasn’t saying my ideas wouldn’t work (at least, not directly). Just talking right past my suggestions, as if hoping they would go away.

Her evasion got so blatant that finally I pointed out what she was doing. Pointing out people’s flaws to their face is a high-risk strategy, but sometimes I’ll take the chance. (Just ask my friends, if you can find one.)

The consultant considered my feedback. Then, consciously or not, she kept on doing it. She didn’t reject any of my ideas, but continued to ignore them. Most involved only an investment of time, not money, but I guess the opportunities I was suggesting to her were not the slam-dunk she’s looking for.

I have rarely met an entrepreneur so in need of opportunity, yet so unresponsive to it. I think it’s called burnout.

I'll be thinking more about this person, and I'll try to help one more time. Suggestions welcome.


George Torok said...

I feel your frustration - and I learned to move past it. She needs what you offer - she just does not want it.

Stop trying to help people who are selling sun-dials.

Kiss them goodbye and move on.
George Torok

Rick Spence said...

You're right, George. That would be the sensible thing to do.

But I don't like giving up.


Anonymous said...

Your post is provocative because it forces me to hold up a mirror and ask, “How often do I reject input?”

The answer has to be often and the reasons are varied. It might be just a short-term issue of concentration or mood, or I might not respect the judgment of the purveyor.

In the case you cite the issue is possibly burnout but it could also result from a deeper issue, one that many experts can fall prey to. That is, over our careers we build up a body of knowledge and skills based on our experiences. At the start the techniques we employ might work well but the world changes and over time the techniques become less effective and as a consequence they become less valuable in the market.

My chosen field is marketing and I have come to realize that the techniques I first learned working for large packaged goods companies (like United Biscuits in the UK and Pepsi over here) have become outdated and often counterproductive. If I still sold these services I would not meet with much success. My confidence would nosedive. Under these circumstances I would probably not have the mindset to accept the (correct) judgment that I need to change.

It takes courage for experts to realize that their knowledge over time becomes valueless. Sometimes we have to kick apart what we think we know, and start from scratch.

Your “management consultant” is probably unwilling to start from scratch.

Anonymous said...

If she's not listening to your suggestions, chances are she wanted a bitch session and not a help session.

There's no need to save those who don't want to be saved. Perhaps you misread why she wanted to raise her business problem with you?

M T said...

Rick, I feel your frustration as well.

I agree with anonymous...

I have banged my head against the wall many times trying to offer suggestions to people in need...

I heard a sales presentation a while ago about the three stages of a prospect: Stage 1. 99% satisfied (ie., you couldn't tell them the sky was blue if they thought it was green) 2. Somewhat dissatisfied (ie., they recognize they have a problem, but aren't ready to deal with it) and 3. Need to fix it now!

Forget helping category 1. Category 2 people can only be helped if (and this is where skill becomes important) they can be shown the facts about what they are doing now, the consequences of inaction in the future, and the rewards to solving their problem now. Then they can move to category 3.

If they are in category 3, they will cut off their leg to solve their problem, unless their problem is that they don't want their leg cut off.

I found that knowledge helpful.

I think the biggest plague humanity faces is not disease, its procrastination :) Of that I am really guilty.