Monday, May 10, 2010

Smart or Intelligent- The Consulting Question

There is a common misconception, that being smart is the same as being intelligent. While there are many situations when the two might converge, there is still a clear difference between the two traits.

I have often come across “Smart Consultants” who have a fantastic way with words, and can paint a picture out of the most mundane things. They can handle customer situations very deftly, and can "smartly" contain many situations from getting out of hand.

However, most of the times, they don't deliver, in the most objective sense of the word. A smart consultant will find a way to evade blame or accountability without really addressing the core problem. They can, with their mumbo-jumbo, confuse the client to a point where the customer starts doubting his or her own understanding of the situation. In the “convince or confuse” debate, the smart consultant, more often than not, chooses the latter.

If consultants are paid purely for the time they spend in engaging the customer, a smart consultant is the ideal employee to have.

However, with the Management Consulting world converging with the Business Consulting world that the likes of Accenture and IBM have found their niche in, the pure-play Management Consulting industry would soon have to move away from its tried and tested Time & Material commercial model to a fixed price delivery based model, in order to keep pace with the bigger, full-services consulting players.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to breed "Intelligent Consultants". This is a breed that differs from the Smart Consultants in the fact that their objective is to solve the problem, regardless of the dependencies and challenges. An Intelligent Consultant is driven by the need to deliver in the least amount of time and effort, since he or she is paid on the end result rather than the time they put in.

As customers have started to realize their historically wasteful spend on Management Consultants, who focus more on identifying the problems rather than envisioning solutions, there is a clear role for the Intelligent Consultant to play.

Armed with traits such as empathy, ownership and accountability, an Intelligent Consultant would solely focus on the end product and, in the process, will own and drive all the intermediate activities. While he or she will identify the risks, there will not be any risks transferred to other parties. Instead, he or she would drive the risk mitigation strategy to closure.  As opposed to a Smart Consultant who would look at the problem at hand in terms of what is in his or her scope and what are the out of scope activities, for an Intelligent Consultant, the problem is the scope and the scope is the problem.

Of course, some of the traits of a Smart Consultant are still very important even within the Intelligent Consultant realm, specifically the ability to engage the customer and manage expectations. However, these traits would have to be applied in collaboration with the other traits that I have discussed in my previous paragraphs, to truly add value to a customer.

In conclusion, in the battle between the smart and intelligent, I am going to put my smart money on the intelligent ones. Aren't you convinced yet? 

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