Lessons From The Lamplighter

On adopting an outcome-driven mindset.

This post is part of a series on developing a healthy founder's mindset.

Yesterday I wrote about the abstraction trap many consultancy founders fall into: Getting distracted with solving complex problems while neglecting the basic and sometimes boring activities that you need to perform to lead and grow a practice.

This is a toxic mindset that needs to be eliminated. Of course, innovating and finding creative ideas require some level of abstraction. The problem is not working at complex problems, but wasting time on complex problems that make no meaningful impact on your work. Things that don't move the needle.

What's the mindset we should reinforce then? A great way to identify it is to follow the via negativa - instead of concentrating on what you do, you focus on what to avoid. When we remove unrelated and abstract problems, what are we left with?

The answer is outcome-generating activities.

The work of a consultancy partner consists of a series of tasks and activities. We are quick to add them all to our to-do list, but what consultants often forget is to ask themselves what these things are for.

This tendency reminds me of the lamplighter, a character in the classic book "The Little Prince":

“The fifth planet was very strange. It was the smallest of all. There was just enough room on it for a street lamp and a lamp-lighter. The little prince was not able to reach any explanation of the use of a street lamp and a lamplighter, somewhere in the heavens, on a planet which had no people, and not one house."

The lamplighter's job was to light a street lamp every night and put it out in the morning. But because his planet is so tiny, it has 1,440 sunsets every 24 hours. Such a restless job, of course, is the source of the character's unhappy and miserable state.

Some founders look like lamplighters to me. They work 50, 60 hours a week to get things done. But many of those activities are not worthy their time.

If you are leading your consulting practice, you need to reject such a mindset. You are not an employee who needs to tick off all tasks assigned to you. It's up to you to protect your time, and continually ask what is worth doing and what's not.

To avoid becoming a lamplighter, the most powerful question you should ask yourself is: “How will we know if this is working/getting us closer to our goals?” Do this for every new task presented to you, before you start working on it.

If the answer is "we will never know", it's not worth doing during your work hours. You are free to pursue those as hobbies or distractions in your discretionary time. But adding those to your workload will likely reduce the financial performance, client satisfaction, and work flexibility of your consulting practice.

Subscribe to Boutique Consulting Club

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.