July 21, 2006
Blowing Hot AirWe are enjoying (or should that be "enduring") a bit of a heatwave here in the UK. We're not really accustomed to the mediterranean temperatures we've been sweltering in this week, and our infrastructure - our houses, our offices, our schools, and especially our transport systems - just isn't built for it.
I was reading a raft of complaints that had been sent into the free paper they distribute to commuters here in London - Metro - about the stifling conditions on London buses during the hot weather. According to one angry customer, the air vents on her bus were actually blowing hot air onto the sweaty and increasingly vexed passengers.
And that got me thinking: as a consultant, what can I learn from this?
It's a thermodynamics problem, really. (Now how did you know I was going to say that?) The purpose of the air vents is to help keep the passengers cool. In order to do that the air it's blowing in must be cooler than the air already inside the bus. In other words, the air vents must be out of equilibrium with the inside of the bus. When the air coming through the vents reaches the same temperature as the air in the bus - when the incoming air reaches equilibrium with the air inside - then the vents have stopped doing their job.
When you are an agent of change, you must work to stay out of equilibrium with your surroundings. Being a team player, one of the boys and part of the furniture is all very well, just as long as your goal isn't to effect any significant change in your environment. This makes for uncomfortable work, though. Many consultants - especially those who practice mortgage-driven development like to get their feet under the table. And, frankly, it's what most clients want, too. They want you to fit in and become one of the team. Certainly, the ability to perform as part of a team is essential. But the moment you become "one of the boys" is the moment at which you reach a state of equilibrium with your client, and become part of the problem.
The time for a consultant to move on is when he or she realises that they're blowing hot air.
Posted 2 weeks, 6 days ago on July 21, 2006