Intellectual service providers – consultants, trainers, facilitators, coaches – create unique value for their customers. They design and deliver solutions to accompany transformations, bring new energy and ask the right questions to foster out-of-the-box thinking.
In the past few years, however, providing unique value as a consultant has become more challenging. Clients have learned to take better advantage of digital content and enjoy access to online information, education and interaction. The trend of replacing traditional workshops or seminars with pre-recorded or live solutions available via the internet has forced consultants to reinvent their craft swiftly – or go out of business.
Yet this trend is not new: consultants have been operating in a context of increasingly digital global competition for decades. Inevitably, even the most creative and agile among them have had to rethink their value propositions as they witnessed the gradual rise in accessible and versatile online solutions, and in widespread adoption of remote work.
Zoom fatigue notwithstanding, the digital offer nowadays is capable of educating, inspiring action and even accompanying strategic reflection. High-quality content is increasing thanks to exceptional independent content creators on YouTube, professional podcasters specialized in every imaginable topic, producers of captivating documentaries on Netflix, and other sources. Giving in to the digital wave initiated by online education providers, top universities have shared classes in the form of MOOCs, removing further barriers to access. Top speakers are available round the clock, whatever the time zone one is looking at, with no travel or accommodation costs to account for.
In this context, how can intellectual service providers still create unique value?
I find the answer to this question in the adoption of entrepreneurial posture and principles. Entrepreneurs can navigate this context thanks to something that is fully theirs: an exactly targeted, human understanding of customer needs, combined with a tailored strategic outlook on how these needs may evolve in the next three to five years.
In other words, the ability to reflect strategically, which is intrinsic to the entrepreneurial mindset, will allow the human to beat the machine, at least for now.
Let us call them consultant-entrepreneurs. Their main skill set combines sense making and creativity with a certain chameleon-like adaptability and a tendency to flourish with new partnerships and new technology:
Sense making and creativity
Consultant-entrepreneurs provide new, relevant takes on why trends or events occur. Sense making requires the ability to think horizontally across sectors and borders, pull together local events (including those within the company) and global trends, and pair them with insights from seemingly unrelated disciplines such as psychology, sports and art. For sense making to work, they need to speak from the heart and about their own experience, displaying a good dose of empathy.
Sense making is one of the most powerful methods consultant-entrepreneurs can use to break through walls of disengagement and apathy in corporations.
The age of chameleons
To thrive in the current context, consultants must acquire a form of professional agility that goes beyond mindset or skills. They need to be able to switch roles without missing a beat, alternating the parts of facilitator, consultant, mentor and networker.
In addition, many are increasingly at ease with UX design, product management and content creation.
This polyvalent posture is made possible by another role intellectual service providers take at all times: that of entrepreneur.
The ability to switch among these postures seamlessly creates a unique dynamic, visible in workshops, one-to-one sessions and even client interactions: the consultant-entrepreneur moves fluidly from design to debate, to facilitation, to strategic reflection, to questioning and innovating, while pulling the team into action.
The dawn of ‘independent’ consultants
The consultant-entrepreneur works in collaboration, learning from partners, creating opportunities, sharing those opportunities and creating their own map of connections. Design and deliver a transformation program with a blockchain developer? Check.
Ask for advice from a Lean MBB who is also an entrepreneur and a strategy consultant? Sure. Involve a consultant from the UK specialized in project management methodology for insurance? No problem.
Such partnerships add so much to the unique value for the customer that I have to ask if ‘independent consultant’ is still the right term - no one succeeds alone in the current context.
Technology is an ally in building and growing partnerships. Online sessions allow for new dynamics whenever people work together at a distance, thanks to instantaneous group creation, the ability to choose whether to be on or off camera, and a plethora of tools enabling participation, from surveys collecting needs live to WhatsApp groups for fun pre-work challenges.
Thank you for your attention, dear reader.