At the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) conference last October, a panelist named Patrick van der Pijl casually stated that “traditional consulting is dead.” Excited, I wrote down the phrase and underlined it twice in agreement. Indeed, the days of the external “expert” swooping into an organization, presenting a sleek solution, and swooping out again, leaving the client wondering how to implement said sleek solution are, or at least should be, over. Here’s why:
1. Business challenges are too complex and too fast-moving for an external “expert” to understand better than the people who live and breathe the business every day. The answers aren’t easy and they need to be created by and with the people doing the work.
2. Imposed solutions (or even solutions that feel as if they’re being imposed) don’t generate the engagement from people in the organization that is necessary for successful implementation. How many great ideas generated by “experts” are sitting in a folder somewhere because implementation never got off the ground? Wasted time. Wasted effort. Wasted money.
What is emerging in place of traditional consulting is a democratic, collaborative, facilitative and visual approach to creating change. The new consulting model is based on the idea that the consultant’s role is to facilitate the client in creating their own solutions by having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. Yes, the consultant can provide context, additional data, etc., but the solutions should come from inside the organization.
The model isn’t completely new. Methods of facilitating large group conversations to create change, like Future Search, the Conference Model, and Appreciative Inquiry summits, have been around for decades. What IS new is the growing consensus amongst leaders and consultants that the more democratic, collaborative approach is the only one that works to solve complex problems and get change to stick.
Also new is the growing consensus that visual thinking – finding ways to help the group SEE what they are talking about – plays a vital role in supporting change. Companies like KPMG and HP, for example, now have full-time graphic facilitators on staff to support their consulting work; books on visual thinking by Dan Roam and David Sibbet are bestsellers; and hundreds of graphic recorders are being trained around the world this year. The visual thinking tipping point has arrived.
Patrick was right. Traditional consulting is dead (or at least dying a slow death). And our organizations are better for it.
Lane Change Consulting is a consultancy based in San Francisco specializing in graphic facilitation and team effectiveness. We design and facilitate strategic, collaborative conversations that create clarity, focus and engagement in organizations. We can be reached at email@example.com.