Back to the List

From Absurd to Ingenious: How to Quickly Unearth Breakthrough Ideas for Your Consulting Firm

You’re missing important (perhaps breakthrough) ideas that could catapult your consulting firm’s success forward.

You see a guy on the street wearing a tinfoil hat. Naturally, you ask, “Dude, what’s up with the hat?”

“It staves off all disease,” he responds.

“That’s ridiculous,” you confidently counter. After all, even though you’re not a physician, you know that tinfoil hats are more likely to be a sign of sickness than a prophylactic.

“No, seriously,” he insists, “I’ve never been ill since I started wearing this hat a couple of years ago.”

A couple of years pass, and you’re out for a post-pandemic stroll when who do you see but tinfoil hat man.

“Hey, how did you fare during the pandemic?” you inquire, knowing full well that everyone caught Grasshopper Flu-25.

“Never got sick,” the man says with a smile, pointing at his hat.

What do you do next?

In a way, this scenario plays out every day for your consulting firm. You’re faced with concepts and claims that seem wrongheaded, illogical, and perhaps even absurd… yet, somehow the claimant can show results.

When you’re confronted with evidence that defies your logic and experience, you may have to do the unthinkable:

Accept that someone you disagree with may be right.

This is subtly different from challenging your own beliefs, which is also important. Challenging your own beliefs is about you. Seriously considering others’ beliefs is about them; i.e., it’s Right-Side Up.

As a consulting firm leader, you owe it to your firm and to your clients to dispassionately consider approaches and solutions that are not your own and may run counter to your typical recommendations.

In fact, if you want your consulting firm to truly excel, you’ll actively seek out and examine alternative ideas and recommendations that defy your logic yet seem to produce results.

At least twice per year, run your consulting firm through the Tinfoil Hat Exercise.

The Tinfoil Hat Exercise

  1. Task each member of your consulting team with identifying at least one tinfoil hat idea: a concept, approach, principle or process promoted by others (e.g., a competitor, a client, a “guru” or even a naïve, fresh employee) that is contrary to your firm’s advice, yet has some evidence supporting it.
  2. At a scheduled meeting, everyone shares their tinfoil hat ideas. No one is allowed to debate or question the tinfoil hat ideas. Occasional smirking is permitted, though it may prove costly or embarrassing later.
  3. As a team, identify a single tinfoil hat idea that, were it true, could have an enormous impact on your clients and/or how you conduct your consulting practice.
  4. Over the next four weeks, you and other members of your team should seek to understand when the tinfoil hat idea seems to work and why. What other factors may be at work? Which of your assumptions may be incorrect?
  5. After four weeks, reassemble the team and, after sharing the results of your studies, answer these questions:
    1. What can we learn and adopt from the tinfoil hat idea?
    2. What new approaches and practices should we adopt?
    3. What old approaches and practices should we adapt?
    4. What old approaches and practices should we abandon?

Bravely considering tinfoil hats rather than haughtily dismissing them will open you and your consulting firm up to enormous possibilities, including breakthroughs in thought leadership.

Your next steps:

Schedule at least one Tinfoil Hat Exercise for the balance of this year and one for the first half of next year.

Post one tinfoil hat idea you’ve encountered recently, even if you still think it’s crazy.

  1. Ian Tidswell
    June 5, 2024 at 6:04 am Reply

    Lots (most?) tin-foil hat ideas are indeed nuts. But it’s important to understand why respected people believe them. Sometimes there is a grain of truth lodged in there somewhere, and sometimes understanding the underlying assumptions helps with deconstructing the logic.

    The book “How Minds Change” by David McRaney was one of my favorite reads from a couple of years ago…highly recommended.

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:46 am Reply

      Excellent point, Ian, and I look forward to reading the book. I wonder, having not looked into the book yet, whether it’s framing is how to change other people’s minds (where most books are) or, as in this article, it focuses on how to be open to the possibility of learning and expanding your own mind.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion, Ian!

      • Ian Tidswell
        June 20, 2024 at 10:53 am Reply

        Indeed, the book is more about changing other’s minds. But in either case, understanding why someone thinks the way they do is necessary and exceeding valuable. And appears to be more and more in short supply.

        • David A. Fields
          June 21, 2024 at 1:41 pm

          That is discouragingly true, Ian. Across the spectrum of daily life, much too little energy is spent Right-Side Up–listening and understanding others.

  2. Shankar
    June 5, 2024 at 5:38 pm Reply

    Wow – such a compelling imagery – tin-foil hat.
    Business history is full of dismissive reactions to outlandish ideas – there is a story of ex-GM CEO reacting in a certain way they they heard of a small CA company started a competitive car business. Yes – Tesla!
    There is a story / rumour of how HP reacted to the word “mouse” when a company created a widget to manipulate graphics. Yes – Apple!
    Many more examples from the less famous companies.
    My lesson from your article: the outLANDISH could become the outSTANDING of the future!

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:51 am Reply

      Oooh, excellent examples and great use of terms, Shankar! You’ll probably see the outlandish/outstanding juxtaposition in a future article–definitely deserves some air time.

      It’s funny how many people benefiting from 20/20 hindsight will look at an example like your Tesla one and say, “Well, I wouldn’t have rejected that idea. I would have seen the genius.” Can they recognize the genius vs. the absurd idea in real time, though? That ability is darn valuable.

      Thank you for adding a lot of value to the discussion, Shankar!

Leave а Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prev Article

3 Strategies for Your Consulting Firm to Outsmart Gatekeepers

Next Article

The Secret Sauce: What Makes Some Consulting Firms Flourish While Others Flounder?


Subscribe to receive insiders’ access to information and resources that will help you grow your consulting firm.

Note: By subscribing you are confirming that you have read and agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. You are also confirming your consent to receive emails from David about his articles, programs and recommendations.

Firm Type