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Knowing the Currents

Knowing the Currents

I’m sitting in the turret suite of the Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI in the early morning. My room, at the very top of the inn, overlooks the bay and the Atlantic with a 270° view where the Americas Cup Races were once contested. It’s seven o’clock and I’m here running the Million Dollar Consulting® College.

Immediately outside my window at 7 am are a dozen seagulls. I’m watching them, and they are watching me, as I type this. They aren’t roosting, but soaring, almost stationary, as they adjust to the wind currents, never once flapping their wings. There is nothing so graceful or efficient in any human-created flight.

I remember reading that someone (whose name I can’t recall) sitting high up in a room as I am overlooking the water, saw gulls perform this feat, and realized that the birds flapped their wings vigorously when there was little wind, but rarely flapped at all in strong winds. This led him to the seminal conclusion that lift was caused by wind flowing over a stationary wing, and the gulls’ flapping wings simply compensated for lack of wind.

In other words, if they found the wind currents, the birds worked far less and were more efficient. Not a bad conclusion for looking out the window if you consider that it catapulted forward the progress of early gliders and human flight.In my coaching work, I find that consultants don’t take the trouble (or have the expertise) to find the right currents. They run around flapping their wings but rarely gain air speed, let alone soar.For example, a great many consultants are consumed with continually perfecting their methodology; dealing with human resources people who are completely commodity-oriented; over-delivering; using their time as their billing basis; and spending time with each other rather than with buyers, recommenders, and publicity sources.

Chickens can’t fly because they are shaped poorly, have no aerodynamics to speak of, possess insufficient wings, and through generations have evolved into ground creatures. Chickens can’t change themselves.But we can. I’m astounded by consultants who are struggling to survive as independent professionals who tell me they have “no time.” If you have no time and you’re barely making a living, how do you escape that particular evolutionary line? Presumably, if you did acquire more business, you’d work yourself to death! (One sign of the desultory state of many solo practitioners is that the Institute of Management Consultants routinely sends out an electronic notice to members informing them of full time job opportunities in business and industry. Apparently, someone there feels that the best they can do is help independent consultants find full time jobs!)

The “currents” of this profession include creating Market Gravity™ that draw buyers to you; minimizing the labor intensity of your work; working solely with line, executive buyers; charging for value and not time; leveraging work through diversified offerings; using technology to extend reach globally; and understanding that discretionary time is wealth and working smart trumps working hard.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with almost a thousand independent consultants around the world who are not only serious about the profession, but also serious about their lives and legacy. They are constantly learning and reinforcing each other. They deliver value to their clients on a peer basis, not as venders to the training department. They contribute new intellectual property and aren’t swayed by the latest fad or academic’s book.They lead complete lives. They soar.It makes no sense to me to endure the risks of this profession as a “lone wolf” if you don’t take advantage of its great opportunities. Working a 50-hour week (or, for that matter, a 40-hour week) makes no sense to me, nor does entering into a client relationship where you are treated as though you were an employee and not a partner.

I think this is basically a factor of self-esteem and courage. You have to be willing to leave the earth before you can take advantage of the thermals and the currents that keep you effortlessly aloft. Madly flapping your wings doesn’t get you far and is exhausting.The gulls are still out there enjoying the currents and regarding me with curiosity.

I don’t know if sea gulls are sentient or not, but I do know that they are natural soaring creatures, and quite successful as a species. And they seem to be having one heck of a good time.

[Note: This article is also appearing in Management Consulting News.]© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 1

  • Dan Weedin

    April 2, 2008

    Thanks for your wise words. It’s good for me to be reminded of this as I continually work at these strategies. I guess my goal is to be a seagull;-]

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