Why you should give away your intellectual property to educate your clients.

I’ve had an ongoing discussion with people in consulting who don’t put their best consulting thinking into proposals or definitely wouldn’t release it as marketing.

I think it’s a mistake.

I think you really have two choices when you’re working with clients, and when you’re writing proposals –

  1. You can be the consultant who is educating your client and demonstrating the best thinking.
  2. You can be the consultant that doesn’t really demonstrate expertise in the problems your client is dealing with.

When framed like that, I think it’s clear which is the better choice.

Not educating your clients relies on the idea that you’ll exist in a market where no one will try and educate them. While I don’t think that market exists, if it did, there would be a tremendous first mover advantage in being the one who decided to educate clients.

The other side of the coin is what happens to the second mover after you’ve started educating your clients. The reaction that the second mover is going to get is “yep, first mover already told us about that, do you have anything new and interesting or can we stop this now?”

When you think about it like this, every insightful bit of marketing communication and every educational brief you give your clients is actually eating your competitors lunch.

You can have them thinking one of two things when a second mover tried to provide insight:

  1. “These guys (your competitor) know their stuff!”
  2. “First mover already told us that.”

To me, it’s obvious which one of these you want to be.

I also don’t think it will make a huge difference to sales numbers.

There are always going to be clients who will suck up your IP and use it to do things themselves, for the vast majority though, the problem they have isn’t that they don’t know what to do, it’s that they lack experience in doing it (know-how as opposed to know-what), and they don’t have the people time to get it done.

To me, this means that there’s only really one thing to do – educate your clients as much as you can. Help them find certainty so that when the moment hits and they don’t know what to do, there’s only one place they’re going to go – you. I am certain that the gains outweigh the costs.

The difference between consulting and service provision.

Is that consultants are paid to think. 

Service providers are paid to do.

If you’re not sure which you are, here’s how to think about it.

If your clients say “we have this problem, we’d like you to come and work out how we should solve it” – you’re a consultant.

If your clients say “we have this thing we need to do, we need you to come and do it” – you’re a service provider.

It’s natural that engagements will have elements of both – this is a continuum with pure consulting at one end, and pure service provision at the other.

You’ll get service providers who spend time with clients to help them work through the design choices that need to be made before the can quote the service.

You’ll get consultants who do fixed term engagements and have a process to work through.

The basics though, are that you pay consultants to think, you pay service providers to do.

How trading off accuracy and efficiency in records destroys the future.

Yesterday I wrote about the de-professionalisation of records.

Ultimately, it comes down to trading off accuracy for perceived efficiency.

Efficiency is only “perceived efficiency” because what we really do is shift the cost of records from a professional team, to other teams in a way that means we can’t measure the costs easily.

That’s not great, but loss of accuracy is actually far more of a problem.

Accuracy is what you will build the entire future of your organisation on. Any process that relies on the records relies on their accuracy.

Unfortunately, when we try and measure the cost of a loss of accuracy, we fail because what we have to measure is the value of work that won’t get done becasue it isn’t feasible.

This is the work that won’t get done because our records aren’t accurate enough to produce reliable results, and the costs of making them accurate are so large that it’s not feasible.

There are going to be winners and losers in this.

Winners will have high quality records, and will be able to take advantage of machine learning, high quality decision support systems, and many, many more automation technologies that are the only way we can deal with exponential growth of records and information.

Winners will also pass audits – which is nice.

Losers will have to do one of two things – 

  1. Start a records program to produce high quality records.
  2. Wait for strong AI that can do the work anyway (in 70 years time).

What job does your product do?

The job a product does is very different from what it does, and what it delivers. Thinking about a product as though it does a job gives us a way to think about what it competes with, and other things that can do that job just as effectively.

Wine is a great example. When we think about wine and what we might choose instead, we typically think about beer or spirits. This largely depends on the job wine is doing for us.

If the job of wine on that night is to help us deal with stress, the competitors aren’t just beer and spirits, they are exercise, a massage, a walk somewhere pleasant, a trip to the beach, a good book – the list is far larger. If the job of wine is to show that we have refinement and taste, the job might also be done with nice clothing, a high end car, a day on a yacht or tickets to an opera.

Thinking about the job a product does provides us with a different lens, and helps us think more widely about who we compete with and what our opportunities are.

If you’ve got an audit problem, you’ve got a records problem.

“Regulatory audits are enjoyable experiences.”

That’s what organisations say when they have good records.

The audit process is smooth, efficient, and low stress, because they’re permanently ready.

Mostly though, regulatory audits aren’t enjoyable experiences. They are high stress, and there’s a huge rush of last minute work to try and be ready.

The last minute rush is record assembly.

It’s trying to create complete records out of all the pieces of information collected and created by your process.

When you have a complete record, you can hand it to the auditor knowing that it’s everything you have.

And the audit is, for lack of a better word – enjoyable.

Why “it doesn’t work” is dangerous

“It doesn’t work” is a dangerous phrase.

It’s almost always untrue.

People use it as code for any number of other ideas.

A couple of types of “doesn’t work” –

  1. Results didn’t occur quickly enough (so we stopped before they appeared).
  2. We don’t really understand the task (so we didn’t get results)
  3. It’s inefficient (it works, but costs more than we get out of it)
  4. No one else has got it to work (yet)
  5. Defies physics (can’t work under any circumstances)

History is littered with people who were unsuccessful because they mis-read the “doesn’t work” they were dealing with.

Recognising which “doesn’t work” you’re dealing with gives you options – but only if you recognise which one it is.

Least capture is the new security principle you need to work to.

We are in a world where privacy regulations are giving control back to people, and imposing significant penalties on organisations that don’t adequately secure personally identifiable information.

There are only really two possible things your organisation can focus on to navigate this new landscape.

The first is to spend more on securing your data than you ever have before. This is the easy route – because greater magnitude of harm means greater risk mitigation expenditure. The maths is simple, the board will get it.

The second way is to reduce data data capture to the bare minimum, and delete or anonymise what you’ve captured as soon as you can.

This isn’t easy, it requires your whole organisation to take a disciplined approach to data capture that recognises the new risks.

It requires questions like “why do we need that data to deliver our service, and for how long” to be asked and acted on as a matter of routine. If you’re doing really well, you’ll have a business case for every bit of data you capture that will also have a time value.

Innovative solutions will be required to gain the advantage of broad and long term data capture, without incurring the liability, and without becoming target.

The hardest part will be getting people to hit the delete button, because we’re used to hoarding, not minimalism. We’re convinced that data is the new oil, when it’s actually the new Plutonium, and needs to be handled like it.

There will be two types of organisations in the future – those who overspend on security, get nothing back on their investment and still get fined, and those who capture only what they have to, and innovate. The second way is better.

How to raise the quality of your corporate information, and make search easy.

Stop making copies.

Creation of original content is difficult and time-consuming.

Creation of a copy takes seconds.

When we went digital, copies got cheap. So we make more.

When you stop making copies search gets easier, and quality goes up.

If you want to raise your information quality, and make search easy, stop making copies.

Trust theory.

Trust is the foundation of everything that we do.

When we cannot trust, we experience anxiety – and most people will make significant changes in their lives to get trust back. Simple examples include the impact on your daily life of being unable to trust the opening hours of a store, or changes you make to your route choice when you know one means of transport is not trustworthy. In economics, all specialization and trade depend on trust, and all risk management is fundamentally about how we can create trust in circumstances where we wouldn’t naturally find it.

Trust is ultimately about vulnerability. Vulnerability occurs when there is a potential for loss that is greater than the potential for gain. When we trust, we become vulnerable to whatever or whoever we have trusted. If we are not vulnerable, there is no need for trust.

The most useful definition of trust that I can find comes from the work of Aneil K Mishra who defines it as “one party’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the belief that the latter party is 1) competent, 2) open 3) concerned, and 4) reliable.”

Competence

You have to be good at what you’re doing for people to trust you. This means that you need to demonstrate expertise – and is also one reason why people from professions that require significant learning (doctors, engineers etc.) have high trust scores – people trust that the significant learning ensures they are competent. An interesting side point to this though is that you can gain the perception of competence by association, surrounding yourself with competent people can give an aura of competence in areas where you may not have it – and obviously, advice from experts is always of value.

Openness

Openness is all about people understanding how you are thinking, and why you are doing what you are doing – and knowing that it has some level of truth about it. In tough situations, people are more likely to trust people who help them understand how they are thinking about the situation, and how they are thinking about making decisions about the situation. This helps people understand a likely path and gives them some understanding of what the future will look like.

Concern

Concern is the belief that the person you are trusting wants you to be successful in your endeavor, and that they do not want to take unfair advantage of you. Concern is a balancing problem – concern will always balance between the interests of yourself and whoever you represent and require performance from.

Reliability

Reliability, while last in the order, is contributed to by each of the previous factors and it is simply that people do what they say they are going to do. That’s not a difficult concept for anyone to master – but it does run deeper. Reliability doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind – the perception of reliability is built up over time and can have many levels. The idea that you were unreliable on something that you said does not necessarily mean that you were unreliable on having real concern for someone, and acting in it – quite the opposite in some situations.

Conceptually, trust is simple. Why is it useful to understand Trust under this framework? Most truly disruptive organizational breakdowns, failures of brands and failures of people to find needed support are failures of trust. The research though is in this case, quite clear – demonstrate that you are competent, open, concerned for the outcome, and reliable – and people will trust you, your brand and your product.

* Aneil K Mishra’s paper “Organizational responses to Crisis: the role of mutual trust and top management teams” can be found here –  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/35508350_Organizational_responses_to_crisis_The_role_of_mutual_trust_and_top_management_teams

*Sam Crosby’s book “The Trust Deficit” is also a good read and covers much of this subject material in a political context – https://www.amazon.com.au/Trust-Deficit-Sam-Crosby-ebook/dp/B01DYDFNRO

The Checklist Manifesto – it’s worth your time.

I’ve had the checklist manifesto in my “to-read” list for about 5 years now. It’s a book I’ve had reccomended to me many times and, unsurprisingly, it’s a manifesto for the use of checklists. Atul Gawande who wrote it is a surgeon who has a history of process improvement projects. The checklist manifesto is his attempt to convince people that checklists, simple as they are, can massively improve the output quality and consistency of tasks that we repeat frequently. What is more surprising though, is that his research uncovers that even in areas where there are complex problems for which we can’t checklist – checklists can help significantly in resolving complex and unforeseen problems.

The thesis is simple. Checklists raise output quality and consistency. The reason they do this is simple – we dramatically overestimate our ability to routinely perform series of tasks. In scenarios where there is stress or complication, the rate at which we overestimate our ability (and screw things up) rises dramatically. Gawande examines three key scenarios – flight checklists, large scale construction projects and his own home – the operating theater to provide anecdotes and then evidence for how effective checklists are..

IN each scenario, he tackles simple, routine problems and also complicated and complex problems. What emerges is a surprisingly strong case for checklists as a tool to ensure consistency, and to change behavior, and also as a tool to aid resolution in complex and unforeseen circumstances.

The bottom line is that we are inadequate repeaters of routine tasks, people routinely skip steps for one of two reasons – either they just forget through distraction or inattention, or they don’t know about, or don’t believe in the efficacy of a step – so they skip it. In each of these cases, checklists function as a kind of spot audit – telling people that they didn’t perform a step, and ensuring that they do. In many cases, check steps were important and (just like in the toyota production system) authority was granted for usually unauthorised people to stop a process if it wasn’t performed as written. What followed in each case was a dramatic improvement in performance – in one case, more than a thousand fewer deaths a year.

Routine tasks aside, complex tasks were also found to benefit. In routine simple and complicated tasks, the series of steps required to be carried out were documented in order so that they could be directly followed. In complex tasks however, this wasn’t possible because what was required to be done was typically an emergent phenomenon like an accident or disaster and needed to be analysed and dealt with on the fly. While task based checklists were not capable of operating in this environment, what was shown to produce results were checklists mandating communication among team members – simple things, like formal introductions prior to surgery so that people knew each other’s names, and discussions about what they were about to do. A side point was also made that delegation of responsibility away from the centre is of extreme importance in effective crisis response.

The book contains excellent tips on how to make checklists work. It boils down to

• Keep the checklist short, precise, and practical.

• Don’t over-describe – provide reminders of only the most critical steps.

• The point of invocation of the checklist needs to be clear for it to be useful.

• Keep the checklist between 5 and 9 items.

• Formatting and readability matter.

• Checklists come in two distinct types – do-confirm and read-do. One is about an audit of what you carried out, the other provides steps to follow – which you do in order and tick off.

Checklists are the simplest way to protect yourself and others, from you and the systematic mistakes you make by believing that you’re systematic when you’re not. They’re also the simplest way to get an advantage without being smarter or first, you can be more thorough – EVERY time. The anecdotes that end the book state that despite the gigantic and obvious advantage, they are not regularly taken up, people are looking for the sophisticated – because it almost couldn’t be that simple. Unfortunately for them, as the weight of evidence in the book proves, it is – so who’s going to take them up?