Thinking For Yourself

Does it really matter in consulting?

You might have seen the following quote before:

If your opinions line up neatly with those of your friends and colleagues, they’re not your opinions.

Came across this yesterday, and it got me thinking about how important thinking for ourselves really is in consulting. Here's an idea for you to explore.

There are some kinds of work where it's not enough to possess specific knowledge and have a strong work ethic. You need to think differently from your peers.

If you're in academia or do scientific research, for example, it's not enough to follow a clear methodology and remove as many biases from your publications as you can. Your conclusion needs to be both correct and add something new to the world. Those who only publish papers confirming findings other people already made will never stand out.

The same applies to active financial investment. It's not enough to learn how to read balance sheets and estimate a company's market value. If other analysts make the same prediction, the stock price will already reflect it. To outperform the market, you need to think differently from the crowd.

Also, artists. If your painting is a copy of someone else's work, it will be treated as a commodity. If you're writing a book and want it to stand out among the hundreds of new daily titles, it needs to have new ideas in it.

But this is not true for most kinds of work. If you're a dentist, for example, all you need is your specific knowledge and experience, and the willingness to work. It's not essential - and in this case, it's actually worrying - to think differently from other dentists.

Here are some questions for you:

  • What about consultants? In which category do we fit? Do you need to think for yourself to succeed in consulting, or is it simply a "bonus" that helps you earn visibility in the marketplace?
  • Does it depend on your positioning (degree of specialization)? Your offerings (advisory, bespoke, productized services)? Your expertise (content, process, hybrid)?
  • Does it depend on the kind of problem you're solving? If you use existing frameworks, processes, and best practices to solve your clients' problems... is it possible that thinking differently from your peers actually leads to worse results for your clients?

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