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Why You Should Take Your Consulting Firm Back to School

For the better part of two decades you entered a new course of formal education every year. That annual ritual probably ceased after you received your degree(s). Would reviving it elevate the success of your consulting firm?  Absolutely.

Outside your consulting firm’s doors, tens of millions of students are eagerly or fearfully entering a new term of classes. Ah, back-to-school. Time for computer discounts, suburban streets choked by school buses, and parents alternately weeping, cheering, then weeping again as their children depart for kindergarten, high school, then university.

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Many professions—particularly licensed positions—require continuing education. However, ongoing education is completely voluntary in consulting, and there’s a darn good likelihood that you’ve not enrolled in many structured learning programs over the past few years.

A dose of education, which involves a meaningful investment of money, time and effort to learn something new, confers many benefits that will boost your consulting success.

The Benefits of Ongoing Education

Keeps Your Brain Malleable

Education can literally improve the plasticity and physical health of your brain.

Your sharper, more flexible brain develops superior solutions for your clients and imagines more creative, effective ideas for promoting your firm.

Stretches You

Researchers have found that education will enhance your health and happiness if it pushes you past your current comfort zone.

Stretching and strengthening your thinking—whether on topics directly related to your area of expertise or wholly unrelated—augments your ability to understand your clients’ situations and envision paths to deliver higher-value.

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Challenges Your Thinking

The best education reveals information you didn’t know and disputes many ideas you’ve been accepting as truths.

These bold affronts to your worldview force you to adopt new ideas and formulate new connections between concepts.

They are the intellectual fertilizer in which you conceive breakthroughs and establish thought leadership—the very thought leadership that will attract clients, overshadow competition and justify premium fees.

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Makes You More Interesting

Education is interesting. Okay, maybe 7th grade Social Studies wasn’t interesting, but education is stimulating when it challenges you and ties to your vision of your better future. It fans your sparks of excitement, curiosity and engagement.

Potential clients notice. They sense you’re an intrigued, inquisitive, and fascinating person. All of which makes you a more Likeable and Trustable consultant—the type of consultant they want to hire.

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Do you believe education grants additional benefits? Are you willing to commit to learning something this year in a structured program or course? Let me know in the comment box, below.



 

22 Comments
  1. Susan
    August 30, 2017 at 6:38 am Reply

    I’ve found that I tend to stand out among my colleagues because I attend 1 – 2 major conferences a year, participate in many smaller seminars and Webinars annually, and read 10 – 12 hours per week in my space, surrounding spaces, and about leadership. One of the questions that I ask those I’m interviewing to work with me is how they maintain their expertise and continuing education. I find that it is critical in creative problem solving and providing optimal value to clients..

    • David A. Fields
      August 30, 2017 at 7:35 am Reply

      Your dedication to learning is admirable, Susan, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that you are perceived as a superior resource. As you point out, learning is about more than the content; it also improves your thinking. Thank you for providing the terrific example.

  2. Susan
    August 30, 2017 at 6:42 am Reply

    Just an additional comment is about using time while traveling, whether driving locally or flying nationally or internationally. There are great books on Kindle (if you want to purchase them) or audiobooks through libraries (much cheaper, yea free). You can download them and listen after you’ve thoroughly prepped yourself for meetings, and it adds so much value to your thinking and uses time wisely. AND it can keep you alert and your mind active to prevent sleepiness for longer drives. Highly recommended!

    • David A. Fields
      August 30, 2017 at 7:38 am Reply

      You’re right, Susan. Audiobooks are an outstanding resource. My first exposure to Predictably Irrational was in audio format, and it made a lasting impression on my consulting practice. Great tip.

      • Suzanne
        August 31, 2017 at 9:51 am Reply

        I’d like to put in a plug for The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide on audio book!

        • David A. Fields
          August 31, 2017 at 10:02 am

          Me too! The publisher makes that decision. I’ll bet if you and each of your, say, 5,000 closest friends each buy 10 copies of the paperback version, the publisher could be convinced to do an audiobook!

          (Also, if you know how to communicate illustrations in audio format, please share the secret.)

  3. Robin Goldsmith
    August 30, 2017 at 8:18 am Reply

    Kudos and ditto to Susan’s two great points. I consciously attend as many conferences and relevant local events as I can, and I try to attend as many sessions as possible. Since I’m on my own dime (used to be a nickel), along with free webinars, generally I speak or volunteer at conferences when I can to get in free and hopefully also cover travel expenses for non-local events.

    David, I’m sure you too have found you learn a lot more when you write, speak, and teach. I will question the practicality and suitability of college/university courses for consultants’ ongoing development. Academic schedules don’t fit working for a living very well, and too few academics have real-world experience, especially for consulting.

    I’m continually amazed at how few of the especially-supposedly-big-name speakers attend sessions other than their own and their friends’ whom they’ve already heard many times. I also recall being amazed at how many fellow consultants at a major firm found all kinds of excuses to avoid attending training, almost treating it like punishment. On the hand, the Partner-in-Charge considered cutting training because so many folks gave their notices right after returning from classes.

    • David A. Fields
      August 30, 2017 at 8:37 am Reply

      Attending conferences can be a great way to learn, as well as network. I agree, Robin, that university courses are impractical for most, busy consultants and sometimes the value is low. On the other hand, there are phenomenal versions of many university courses in digital format that are very reasonably priced.

      There are also many programs offered by associations and by folks like me that can be a great shot in the arm (…er, brain?), enhance your skill set and boost your business.

      Thanks for explaining what you do on your dime (soon to be quarter), Robin.

  4. Tom
    August 30, 2017 at 8:41 am Reply

    Continuing education is a must of you want growth in your career (or income). I see ‘consultant’ after ‘consultant’ who think or believe that working one project after the next is good enough. Sometimes that is true, but not that often, especially when you hit the more senior ranges – 10 years exp +. You should also not ever assume that your firm will handle it for you. You have to take it into your own hands. Reading an HBR article is nice, or David’s blog, but you are better off immersing in his book, a course, or something else that pulls you in. Also, there is so much information and ‘education’ available in so many forms today – access is outstanding. There are also a lot of people writing books and creating and delivering professional courses on subjects and skills they know very little about or have experience with. Make sure you are getting your education from people who have done something successfully before (and more importantly the thing you are trying to get educated on).

    • David A. Fields
      August 30, 2017 at 9:23 am Reply

      Well said, Tom. On-the-job learning is essential; however, even in a role where “every day is different” our learning on consulting projects can become one-dimensional.

      Maybe in a future article we can explore the different mediums available for learning and their effectiveness. Reading a book can be helpful. Reading a book and taking notes is better. Reading a book with a group, one chapter/section at a time and reflecting together on the lessons and how to apply them is an order of magnitude more powerful.

      Nice job underscoring the importance of continuing education and pointing out the importance of choosing a good source of knowledge, Tom.

  5. Dr. Frank Underdown
    August 30, 2017 at 11:30 am Reply

    Hi David:

    I always work through courses offered on YouTube. The following are some courses I have taken: computational electromagnetics; tensor analysis; biophysics; image processing and information theory.

    I also taken courses offered on Amazon.com, using the series: The Great Courses.

    I have always love teaching and learning. As a young adult, I always took home study courses to learn something new. As a professor, I always took courses on YouTube and encouraged my students to do the same to become a life long learner. Lately, I am focusing on coding; robotics and nutrition.

    Cheers!

    • David A. Fields
      August 30, 2017 at 11:48 am Reply

      Terrific examples of continuing education, Frank. It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube, isn’t it? (In addition to how to fold a t-shirt in 1 second.) Love the Great Courses too. We have about half a dozen of them in the house, and I’ve found the key is to be diligent in your attention. Of course, that’s the secret over all, isn’t it? You have to be disciplined and diligent in your learning–it’s not easy and approaching it lazily yields lazy results.

      Coding, robotics and nutrition… the question you must answer all the time is, “What is nutrition for robots?” Seriously, thank you for contributing your approach–it’s very inspiring.

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