Typically the way I might work with you would progress through a straightforward but always overlapping, series of orientations. These are based on hard won lessons and serve more as reminders to me than as a hard and fast way of working. As we begin working together and thinking about what we can do we might talk about:
- Beginning. I’ll talk to you about what what you anticipate from us working together, how critical particular results or outcomes are, who else needs to be involved and consulted, what kinds of challenges people involved might be up for and what the risks are. As we talk I will alert you to the likelihood that unpredictable things will happen. I will also test various ideas about how to proceed, to see which ones you like and which ones you don’t think will work in the circumstances.
- Inquiring. I’ve learned that in most circumstances taking time to simply let people talk about what’s happening and what they think about it, really helps. I’ll talk to you about a range of ways we could do this. By getting people to describe what’s happening and what they think about it before we get too much into analysing seems to help make sure we don’t get blind-sided by assuming we know what’s going on too early in the piece.
- Catalysing. I’ve also learned that it is important not to read a situation through the lens of a single view, be it a framework, a theory or a particular vision or strategy. After we’ve got some data about what appears to be going on I’ll talk to you about ways in which ideas about what this might mean can be put ‘side-by-side’ so that key players can engage with them and collectively work out what they think about the situation. This often highlights differences and relationships that need to be explored and understood more fully. It is one way of avoiding (at least to a degree) simply ‘downloading’ more of what’s already known. It helps generate a different kind of curiosity and often throws up new possibilities.
- Designing. As much as we would like to be able to predict the future often all we the best we can do is sketch out possibilities and anticipations. Nonetheless there is a need to take action in order to move forward. I’ll talk to you about the possibility (and the feasibility) of using a design and prototype approach. Often this seems to allow people to engage more fully and more creatively.
- Developing. As designs are implemented they will inevitably produce impacts and results that are different from what was anticipated. This provides the opportunity for ongoing learning, refinement, adaptation and adjustment in response to what happens. I’ll talk to you therefore about how to build feedback, learning and ongoing refinement into the systems and practices you design.
For want of a better title I call this approach Open-Ended Consulting. If you are interested in learning more about where my thinking is up to with this please read my draft Manifesto for Open-Ended Consulting.