In the coffee shop two people sit opposite each other nursing Americanos.
You: Why search?
Me: Because done properly it gives answers – perhaps not always the answer that you expected. It all depends on the Question.
You: What do you mean it depends on the Question?
Me: Well, the Question is the Specification for the role and you have to be very careful how you define the Question. After all, Douglas Adams made a career out of talking about defining the Question.
You: Uh huh. Surely your clients know what they want?
Me: In general terms, yes. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle – you can see generally where the spaces are and the rules of completing the puzzle are really easy to understand.
The challenge is trying to make the completed puzzle match the picture on the box lid – the overall strategy if you will. Some puzzles are pretty simple – not many parts and obvious spaces with clear designs. Others are much more abstract and you suspect that there are bits missing.
You: This is an unexpected path – you’re saying that companies are like jigsaw puzzles. Are you getting enough sleep these days?
Me: No – I’m quite serious although I am simplifying things a little. Most of the time there’s an additional complication in business that you don’t get with real jigsaw puzzles in that you have more than one person trying to complete the puzzle – HR, members of the board, external investors etc.
Challenge Number One is that there will likely be disagreements within the team as to the best way to complete the puzzle. The Question to ask.
For instance, in a jigsaw a blue bit could mean sky or sea…
You: Or someone’s underpants?
Me: (Drawing back a little) Uh, possibly.
And then there’s what do if there’s clearly a bit missing…
You: Like the dog ate a piece?
Me: Kinda. Anyway it could be a lost piece or, more likely these days, the piece wasn’t there in the first place. So, that’s where I should come in.
You: You have a bag of spare bits?
Me: No, what I have is the means to find the missing piece provided that I understand what the space looks like in detail. Basically, what that piece has to look like to complete the picture on the box lid – that’s the Question.
You: Except that you call it the Specification?
Me: Yes, you’re catching on. Like I said, the challenge is that all the people in the Puzzle Completion Team may agree that there’s a bit missing but they’ll have different opinions on the exact size, shape and pattern of the space to be filled. Sometimes even if only one person is doing the puzzle they’re still not entirely clear on the detail of what they need.
No matter the decision making process, if the Specification of the missing piece is wrong then it won’t fit. So as an external observer (a consultant if you will) you have to spend time with the people involved to make sure that you’ve got it right.
You: So how do you find the missing piece?
Me: Well, to stretch this metaphor to breaking point, I look at lots of other puzzles and then search for the parts that don’t really fit where they are and that I think are a better fit for the other people’s puzzle.
You: Couldn’t you make your own parts?
Me: No, that would be insane. Like I said before it’s normal to come up with solutions that are a partial but not perfect fit, it’s up to the people who own the puzzle to do the final fettling over time.
You: Well thanks for that – I’ve really enjoyed being your imaginary friend. Same time next week?
Me: As long as you’re paying…