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An Elderly Couple, A Bucket of Sweat and a Consulting Hypothesis

By Michael Zipursky
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It was Sunday morning. I woke up feeling less than rested.

Rewind 6 hours earlier…

A couple of neighbours came over to the house.

I organized a Scotch night where we tasted four lovely bottles with an assortment of snacks over a few hours of conversation.

Now, it was 6 am on Sunday morning.

Rei, my daughter let my wife and I know that she had awoken with the typical “Momma! Dadda!”

That’s a cue that the day had begun : )

Before making breakfast for the family, I laced up my sneakers to go for a run.

Partly to get my daily exercise in AND partly to push the remaining Scotch out of my pores.

A couple of blocks near my house, there’s a beautiful park.

When I’m not in the gym, and if the weather obliges, I run four laps around the park before heading home covered in sweat.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t about my athletic ability or health condition, I promise. There’s a very important consulting lesson coming for you…)

A few minutes into my run, I see an elderly Asian couple walking briskly my way.

But something seemed off.

The husband was walking 10 feet in front of his wife.

Not exactly a great way to have a conversation or ‘exercise together,’ I thought.

I continued my run, and as I finished another lap around the park, I see the same couple.

This time, the husband is 15 feet in front of his wife.

They aren’t talking. No smiles either.

“Maybe they had a fight and are upset with each other,” I thought to myself.

“Their dinner time conversation must (not) be exciting!”

I spent the next couple of minutes thinking what might be wrong…why they looked so unhappy and weren’t working together.

Now I saw them coming around as I ran my next lap.

“You’re fast!” I said, surprised at how quickly they were walking.

“You too!” said the husband, as he and his wife both laughed.

This was not a small side of the mouth laugh…this was a mouth wide open, belly laugh.

Then it struck me.

There was nothing wrong with this couple at all.

The stories I was telling myself were simply stories — stories without any facts or evidence.

Consultants are often guilty of prescription without diagnosis.

You see a client dealing with an issue and rush to tell them what’s going on based on your opinion or past experience.

And while sometimes you’re right, you’re often missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.

While you might be treating the surface level issue, you haven’t uncovered the true core of the problem.

To identify what’s REALLY going on, you must dig deeper.

You have to go beyond your opinion or first inclinations, and instead, dig deep down.

To do this, you must ask a series of questions that allow you to confirm whether your initial hypothesis is accurate or not.

Through this process of questioning, you get to uncover the true source of the pain, and learn to STOP the bleeding rather than just putting a band-aid on the problem.

The next time you’re speaking with a prospective client or working in a client engagement and think you know what the answer is, STOP.

Pause and ask a series of questions to validate your thinking and initial beliefs.

The outcome and value you provide to your clients will increase significantly.

Your clients will appreciate your deep and thoughtful questions, and they’ll thank you even more for the superior results that will result from asking said questions.

How about you?

Have you ever rushed to prescribe a solution to clients before really diagnosing the problem?

Do you have a specific experience where doing a deep diagnosis created a better result and a happier client?

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