“Your middle management is broken” – it seems (on a lighter note) is familiar conclusion of many management consulting reports. The troubled organizations pay fat sums to the consultants to tell them that poor middle management is the culprit in strategy execution that was defined by the same management consultant few years ago. So every time the CEO of the organization hires a management consultant to fix their problem – one team that fears the most is middle management – they end up being the laboratory rats.
Of course this is not a generalized view of the great work many of the consultants do in solving problems that organizations face. There are categories of known problems where traditional consulting works best. But when it comes to solving problems in the space of innovation, the consultants do not have the best approach.
- Wearing your expert cap vs dropping your hat
Consultants do wear hats (figuratively or at times literally) that make them look different and sometimes superior. The air is overwhelming for the so called subjects (e.g. middle management who always despise these consultants) – they would always pose superior to those whom they work for – it goes well with the profession. One would be fortunate to meet a humble consultant that empathizes first with the end-user.On the contrary, the design thinking approach professes submitting oneself to the immersive experiential learning from cross functional team and most importantly from the users. The empathy for the users is more humbling than the expert view that claims to know the pattern of problem and the solutions. A consultant questions the users as the subject of their study while design thinking emphasizes on user empathy. A consultant solves “for” the user while a design thinker solves “with” the user.
- Solving future problem with past knowledge Vs learner’s approach
I always wonder why the management consulting companies never feature in the list of innovative companies though they hire the best brains and possibly have best resources. They are up to speed on all new trends and happenings but they fall short of defining those trends. At the best they track the trends and provide useful commentary on what others are innovating. They are their best when one has to solve a known problem with past experience and knowledge. When it comes to problems of the future, there is not much precedence to fall back to and rely on. The problem solving becomes an exploratory process in that case and the past knowledge, a baggage to be dropped. Design thinking approach works best when one has to solve problems for the future.
- Problem identification Vs problem solving
Design thinking is not only solving the problem but implementing it along the process. The solution gets refined and changed during the prototyping and validation phase. A problem and solution approach defined in a ppt has little significance until it sees the light of the day. So the meaning of problem solving is somewhat different in consulting and design thinking parlance. A problem is solved only when the end user has adopted the solution in practice and not only accepted in thoughts.
- Proprietary knowledge Vs public knowledge
Proprietary knowledge has been the greatest tool for the consultants. The organization relies on the famed case studies to solve problems of the similar nature. There are precedence to problems and templates to the solutions. Thanks to the rapid growth of the internet, public data and generic information that the outside world is getting bigger and lot even. With information asymmetry solved the key to problem solving will be creativity and innovative thinking.
Consulting is a long surviving discipline that has evolved through the years. It works best for the known problems of today that has potentially similar solutions applied earlier. When it comes to identifying problems of the future and solving it – a collaborative, prototype based, user centered and iterative approach of design thinking is more appropriate. I believe consulting itself will embrace design thinking for specific types of problems.