Myths about knowledge and innovation

Myth #7

Consultants know what you need

“Why get advice from an academic researcher and not from a consulting company?”

Let’s take the fundamental question, “How do I know what I need to know?” If you go to a consulting company, you might get their latest “fix”, a package or a template that will be profitable for them to implement and evaluate in your company. The consultant might not be able to articulate why the assumptions underpinning the approach should be aligned with your needs. “You need this, it has worked with others,” is not an emergent solution that fits your particular needs.

If, on the other hand, the consultant agrees to work with you to find out what you need to know in order to address the complexities of your issue only, without grasping for a fix that worked with another, this might not in fact be achievable for him or her. This approach takes particular personal qualities and skills that the consultant might not have. In order to work with someone to find out what they need to know to reach their goal, an advisor needs to believe that this is possible, which means that they need to be confident in their abilities as a researcher, reader, and synthesizer of information. They need to be able to persist until they find what they are looking for. They need to be open to a variety of perspectives. They need to be able to differentiate self-interest from academic argument. They need to be able to recognize a valid argument through an appreciation of its logical development and consistency and the quality of its sources of information. They need to be able to synthesize various perspectives in order to identify a valid understanding or approach. They need to be aware of their main influences and whether there is a cost involved in either following or contradicting these influences. They need to be able to socially-validate their perspectives through dialogue with other experts in the field: in this way, to extend their thinking beyond what they ever thought was possible. They need to be able to apply this learning in a practical, profitable, and even transformative way, that leads to present and future benefits for your organization and its people.

Consultancies provide currently fashionable advice that articulates with their own profit strategy; Academics provide expert advice that emerges from your specific context and is completely aligned with your strategic needs.

About the author

Bill has a PhD in Education in Autonomy/Empowerment and is on the casual teaching staff at Macquarie University in Sydney. He has been a partner in businesses focused on developing innovation in organizations since 2003.