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Inventor vs. Installer – The Clear Choice for Your Consulting Firm

Your consulting firm delivers creative solutions and excellent execution; thinking and implementation; fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Which of those should take priority (i.e., your time and resources) in order to win more clients?

Let’s say that you, my dear chickadee, want to move from the southwest corner of Main and Broad to the northeast corner. This is an important initiative, so you seek a poultry relocation consultant.

Two candidates emerge:

Cocky Doodledoo Consulting (CDC) claims to have developed four-toed, battery-powered chicken boots to facilitate your trek. Your passage across the tarmac will be fast and comfortably air conditioned. Cost is 200 corn kernels. Admittedly, not many brave bantams have tried the boots and CDC has only moved a couple of adventurous clients.

Rooster Group has developed a well proven and safe path across the road. They’ve perfected it over thousands of crossings with clients ranging from Andalusians to Wyandottes. Cost is 200 corn kernels. Admittedly, the trip is unimaginative and would be somewhat uncomfortable.

Neither consultant inquires why you want to cross the road.

Which consultant would you choose? (I was going to set this up as a poll, but I figured you’d choose battery powered boots just because they sound fun. Let me know in the comments which firm you would have chosen.)

Well, your clients would choose Rooster Group.

Let’s peck at that a bit.

Consultants are smart, curious, creative, analytical (often), and know they need to appear knowledgeable. The perfect mix of traits for inventors.

And invent we do. We dream up new models and formulate methods; we devise distinctions and coin terms. In fact, I have a name for that. (Just kidding.)

However, you’d be wise to temper your consulting firm’s propensity to invent.

Invention is important. Crucial, in fact. However, clients buy from installers, not inventors.

A breakthrough idea, unexecuted, is just a dream.

A mundane idea, fully completed, is progress.

Invest at least as much time and resource practicing and improving the implementation of your consulting firm’s ideas as you do on their incubation and development.

When prospective clients discuss a project with your firm, emphasize your successful application and execution of your ideas and, of course, the resulting benefits received by previous clients.

You love your consulting firm’s Intellectual Property and the unique point of view you’ve developed. That’s fair.

Just keep in mind clients don’t care about that as much as you do. Novelty ruffles their feathers.

Clients want evidence that you can reliably execute a low-risk project that will achieve their Desired Outcome.

Remember, new ideas can be a little scary. And clients are chicken.

Which poultry relocation consulting firm would you have chosen (and why)?


16 Comments
  1. Neil
    August 24, 2022 at 9:44 am Reply

    Your article reminded me of a book that I recommend. It is from Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks, now a professor at HBS. His thesis is that as we age, our strengths change. When we are young, we excel at inventing (Einstein was in his 20s when he developed most of his breakthroughs. Same for Darwin et al). And then as we age we get less inventive/creative and much better at explaining, mentoring and coaching. The happiest people are the ones who can make this transition. Sounds a lot like the path that many executives who become successful consultants follow.

    • David A. Fields
      August 24, 2022 at 10:08 am Reply

      Great book suggestion, Neil! That’s a fascinating thesis. I’m not sure everyone becomes less inventive as they age; however, we certainly gain the experience and chops to mentor more as we age.

      Thanks for contributing that thoughtful response, Neil!

  2. Richard
    August 24, 2022 at 12:05 pm Reply

    This is a painful yet weighty truth. VERY helpful to suggest we reflect on it again today. As you allude in the article, many of us who are drawn to consulting of some kind are naturally enamored of the wonderful complexity of problems in the world, and enjoy devising neat ways of addressing those situations. In fact, that’s likely a metric of measuring self for many of us. Most decision makers, of course, just need the problem solved, and are far less interested in appreciating those challenges than they are in making progress within their operations.

    And if we ever need a reframing ourselves, when there’s a leak in your house, you really just want a plumber to show up quickly and fix the problem competently and affordably so that we can get back to our day… we’re not so interested in paying for a discourse on innovative repair techniques.

    Mahalo!

    • David A. Fields
      August 24, 2022 at 12:53 pm Reply

      Well said, Richard. The plumbing analogy is right on the nose. And as much as we’d like to think our work isn’t plumbing, consultants are hired to solve a problem and/or help a client achieve an aspiration. They want the outcome. Plain and simple.

      I’m glad you chimed in, Richard.

  3. Jerry Fletcher
    August 24, 2022 at 12:37 pm Reply

    David, My first thought was au contraire what about creative fields like advertising and marketing? Then I took a look at 25 years of consulting in that arena and the fact that every organization I had seen put their money on a new singular approach lost in the long run. Results, not novelty, pay off. And so it goes.

    • David A. Fields
      August 24, 2022 at 12:50 pm Reply

      That’s such a fabulous reaction, Jerry. Your instinctive pushback is what all of us feel. “Hold on a second, surely the value is in our creative, brilliant ideas?!” And then the market tells us, “Yeah, kiddo, keep working on those ideas. In the meantime, we’re going to hire this old school, tried-and-true practitioner.”

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience, Jerry.

  4. Gabrielle
    August 24, 2022 at 12:48 pm Reply

    Love all the puns, David! LOL!

    Your point is spot on too. In my industry, since I work completely online and was early to do so, I still hit prospective clients who have trouble wrapping their heads around some of the more “modern” ways of doing things. Case in point: right now I have the biggest potential client I’ve yet to engage, but they seem to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around me quoting a flat fee vs. hourly fees. (!?) I find it a bit amusing since in their own field (they are consultants too!) this is a method for me to reduce risk FOR THEM, yet their response is as though it is a revolutionary idea and don’t yet “get it.”

    To your question though, I bet that there would be a small minority of clients that would choose the more comfortable battery-powered boots (since the price point is the same), but as you point out, likely the biggest determining factor would be their WHY for doing the project in the first place. Love it! Thanks for your always helpful posts!

    • David A. Fields
      August 24, 2022 at 4:11 pm Reply

      In the same vein, Gabrielle, many folks have noted the irony that innovation consultants are slow to innovate their own processes. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that your target market struggles to apply to themselves the logic they apply to their clients.

      You’re right. There is a small minority of clients that are interested in the ideas more than the execution. For most small consulting firms, it’s dangerous to bet the business on that tiny slice of the client (chicken pot) pie.

      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation, Gabrielle!

  5. Praveen Puri
    August 25, 2022 at 8:37 pm Reply

    David,
    I just want to make sure I’m not confused here. By “inventor vs. installer”, I’m guessing you don’t mean that we necessarily become a contractor/”pair of hands” vs. consultant/”brains”?

    In other words, you’re not saying that we have to do the implementation?

    To use the chicken crossing the road example, Rooster Group doesn’t need to innovate because they have the tried and true method but, they can “install” it by teaching it to the chicken. They don’t have to necessarily escort/carry the chicken.

    • David A. Fields
      August 25, 2022 at 9:31 pm Reply

      Good question, Praveen. It’s a false dichotomy to make a point. You are not forced to be either a pair of hands or brains. Every consulting firm is a combination of the two. Unfortunately, many consulting firms give in to their impulse to invent for the sake of invention. That may be stimulating and feed their creative souls, but it won’t attract clients.

      Rooster Group doesn’t need to carry the chicken; however, the closer its offering is to that ultimate, executional step, the greater demand will be. That can be frustrating to high-fliers that view Rooster Group’s ilk as bird brains, but it’s a marketplace reality.

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