The Simplification Dilemma

Everything is an oversimplification.

The more experienced a consultant is, the more often he will reply "it depends" to a direct question.

This might sound counter-intuitive when you consider that specialized consultants are generally solving the same kind of problems for the same kind of companies. There must be a pattern to it all, right?

It turns out solving real problems in the real world is rarely a straightforward process. As you cultivate expertise and get exposed to nuances and specifics from different client engagements, the more you recognize there is never a golden recipe on how to do things. Reality is messy and complex.

While your client's problems might look the same, the context is not:

  • The visible problem is often a symptom or side-effect of more complex issues, which almost always have people at their center. The founders or leadership team have their unique goals and desires, and that's what they are trying to fulfill. And solving people's problems is hard.
  • A different problem may sound the same if the language is ambiguous. The only sensible reply to "We want to double pipeline in the next 12 months" is "It depends. How are you defining pipeline?"
  • A problem is not solved until the solution is implemented. Your clients have different timeframes, capabilities, budgets. An effective strategy fits your client's specific situation.

But your clients need simplicity. When you keep things simple, they can be easily understood, executed, and managed. Clients are looking for clear answers and concrete results, not ponderations on how complex things are.

George Box famously said, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." I love how this quote illustrates the balancing challenge. What you and every consultant should be looking for is not only simplification, but useful simplification.

The best way to do this is by committing time to write and document your IP and methodology. Make this part of your routine, and gradually include the learnings of each project and engagement into it.

When you understand the limits of your ideas and adopt a pragmatic approach, you will solve your client's problems better than anybody else - despite how complex reality is.

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