When Being "Directionally-Correct" Wins

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Four key things I recently “un-learned” from over 20 years of consulting experience.

As a career consultant, I’ve always believed that being comprehensive and precise, leveraging as much information, facts, and experience as possible, is how our teams can offer the best advice. 

Well it turns out that’s not exactly right. I learned that there is sometimes a better way to solve a problem.

A few weeks ago, Market Gravity + Deloitte embarked on an open innovation initiative called D5. Its aim was to spend five weeks to uncover the biggest challenges faced by Canada's small businesses and create five ways that Canada's banks can solve for them. 

The journey amazed me and left me with four key insights.

Now this is by no way a “mutually-exclusive, collectively exhaustive” (i.e., yes, I’m talking about being MECE for the traditional consultants out there) list, but a summary of what I took away from this five-week initiative (for me, it was an experiment).

1.      Get out there, really listen, and observe your customers. 

Typical consulting projects start with a meeting with clients (in this case, financial institutions) so we can ‘understand their challenge’ and ‘assess the scope of work’. The problem with this approach is that we frame the problem entirely from the client’s point of view. 

Did the client actually engage their customers to understand what they actually wanted or needed before diving into solution mode? The honest answer was all too often ‘no’.

Whether you subscribe to design thinking or wax poetic about ethnographic research or just call it ‘deep hanging around’, the key point is to get out there, really listen to customers (note: try to leave your biases behind), but also observe what they do vs. just what they say. You will gain a refreshing perspective on what they really need vs. what they say they need. If done well, you will also identify potential unmet needs that you can help solve.

2.      You don’t always need to sweat the details. 

This was the big ah-ha moment for me. 

I’m not exactly sure where the credit goes, but I think it was Warren Buffet who wisely said “it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”. That investment philosophy applies here.

Rather than depending on comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research to support a strategic market study, we just got on the road and talked with small business owners. 

It doesn’t matter if every fact can’t be backed up by secondary research. It doesn’t matter if we didn’t talk to every small business owner in Canada (is a sample size of 50 statistically relevant?). It doesn’t matter if banks didn’t think this way about their small business customers. 

What does matter is that being directionally correct was more than enough. Based on what we learned from speaking with business owners, we are confident it makes sense to invest in building out five key solutions to solve the problems they shared with us. 

We are fortunate that these business owners were willing to invite us in, allow us to hang around, and take the time to talk about what matters to them.

3.      Capture ideas in a way that can be easily shared.

Forget PowerPoint (or Keynote!). The outcome we were looking for was ‘showcaseability’ (now before the grammar pundits out there comment that showcaseability is not a real word, I do already know that). 

What we wanted was an easy and effective way to tell the story of what matters to these business owners in a manner that was honest and repeatable. We wanted to ensure the message was not watered down or distorted as it is passed from one person to another. We landed on a series of videos (we sent a video crew with our researchers) as well as visuals to illustrate the concepts.

Given we often need to ‘take the show on the road’, the additional challenge was that the entire showcase needs to fit in a carry-on sized luggage, so posters needed to be collapsible and any supporting materials needed to be portable.

The end result is a “showcase” we can bring to a client or event to have a discussion, which leads to the final ‘un-learning’…

4.      Sharing ideas will only make them better.

Consulting firms have traditionally been preoccupied with protecting their intellectual property to ensure that they have the sharpest point of view in the room.

On ‘Day One’ of the project, Iain Montgomery suggested we blog about it and share what we were doing. He had the audacious idea of putting our ideas out on the Internet before we validated everything, even before the ideas were fully formed.

Crazy, right? Maybe not.

By opening up the discussion, actually engaging with the small business community, and bringing financial institutions into the mix early allowed us to come up with better insights, and develop really cool propositions that have already been field tested.

So what’s next? 

Well if you're a bank, credit union, financial institution or even in government, we'd love to make these ideas real. Follow www.thed5project.com for more updates as we share interviews with our featured entrepreneurs and release more of our concepts in the coming weeks.  

For me, I’m going to continue to keep my eyes open to new approaches to solving problems. Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Orry FidlerComment