Written by Catherine Whitfield, Technical Manager ITS, WSP UK
Have you ever had a conversation with a child where they ask ‘Why?’ continually? We are all born curious; fascinated by the world around us and filled with wonder about the possibilities it holds. Children’s imaginations seem infinite and their ability to question the ordinary, imagine the extraordinary, and learn new things is a joy to behold. So, as consultants, how could embracing our inner child improve our performance?
Question the unquestionable
Imagine a one-year-old trying to walk for the first time. To them, the lure of the world beyond what they’ve always known is powerful. They may fall down a hundred times, but they get up and persevere. Later in life, some of us forget about that yearning to go further and accept our own limitations. But a good consultant doesn’t. Consultancy is all about considering possibilities beyond the realms of current reality and how to make them real. Just as a child rarely accepts limitations, good consultants push boundaries, make plans and consider how the decisions our clients make today will affect their future.
Have you ever been for a walk with a five-year-old? They relentlessly fire off questions about everything they see. They examine in infinite detail, noticing things we would overlook; their desire to link, to see patterns and to understand is overwhelming. We find their curiosity so endearing, yet as we get older, we start taking things for granted, accepting what we see and not thinking beyond what’s presented. Good consultants dig deeper, use a range of techniques and skills to examine an issue in depth and keep asking questions. Getting to the heart of an issue, especially when it’s unexpected, can bring a multitude of rewards and provide a deeper and more comprehensive understanding for our clients.
Leave your ego at the door
No one likes a know-it-all. The ability to be humble – and to impart your knowledge to others without lording it over them – is an important part of the consultancy business. We need to foster collaboration in everything we do, and a key part of that is sharing our knowledge and enhancing our expertise by combining it with others’ to create something far more powerful. Children play together all the time, watching behaviours and mimicking those around them to test and develop their own approaches. A good consultant does the same, constantly seeking out what makes them better and sharing that improvement with colleagues and clients.
Look beyond the obvious
Asking the right question is often far harder than answering it. Yet so many consultants just get on with doing what a client has asked for without thinking about whether they’re asking the right question. A good consultant will channel their curiosity into understanding why they’ve been asked the question. Of course, this uses all our skills, particularly our ability to manage relationships and build trust. Questioning the driving forces behind a client’s motives is important, and can lead to a much deeper understanding of the issues they’re confronted with, but it does need to be done carefully and sensitively (while leaving your ego at the door).
So next time you’re lucky enough to be in the company of a five-year-old, take some time to see the world through their eyes. Think about how they investigate, process and analyse what they see and do. Then try harnessing some of that curiosity and applying it to your work. You might find the results surprising.
Watch this video to learn more about why we should be inspired by children to create a better tomorrow.