Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I learned as a Techni-HO (10 lessons of independent consulting)

Lesson 1: If I have a blog and want to get traffic you need to make lists and publish them
Lesson 2: The Win-Win is a lie, but go ahead and make the most of it
Lesson 3: there is value in being a HO
Lesson 4: there is value in having a techni-pimp
Lesson 5: Guarantee your work (with smart provisos)
Lesson 6: Selling time for money is tiring, better if you can sell someone else's time (pimping)
Lesson 7: A failure is sometimes the answer that the customer is looking for
Lesson 8: In the valley of the blind the one-eyed man is king
Lesson 9: The power of "WE"
Lesson 10: Coming up with 10 items for an advise blog is harder than it seems

I will admit that I did not really think this list out too well at the onset. But with the knowledge I gleaned from perusing the top sites at I saw that the most forwarded and shared blogs tried to simmer down the complex into list. So, that is what i will attempt. It is truly as sad intro for what I really wanted to blog about which was lesson 2: the win-win lie.

The Win-Win lie
Is that controversial (hope so, that also drives eyeballs to the site)? It seems that people, myself included have at one time or another espoused some situation as a Win-Win scenario. However, the terms of the Win-Win are very rarely completely level. I think it is more a Win-settle-for-what-we-let-you-have scenario at best. Additionally, I have learned that you can't trust the people who offer Win-Win too often.

My friend Gregg Wilson-whose wisdom and guidance I miss tremendously-put it the best.
You get three offers to play poker with some acquaintances. The first player says "let's play some cards. Sure we'll play for money, but it's just for fun. I'll win some money, maybe lose some. So may you and everybody else. It'll be fun for all". The second player says "Let's play some poker. You and I can take these other guys money. If you and I stick together we could make a killing." The third player says "we'll play some cards, I want to win and so do you. I'm gonna do what it takes to win, and so will you. If you can clean me out, if I can I will clean you out too." Who do you trust?
 Player 3. He is the only player whose intentions are clear and honest. The other two "Win-Win" offers are not to be trusted, as the underlying theme of poker and of life in the business world is "me first". Anything else is dressed up "me first". 

 That being the case, I am not saying that Win-Wins are bad entirely. On the contrary they are a wonderful tool, but we need to know that going in and we need to be the ones who can define the terms underlying the "win-win" lie. You see the last player in that example of Gregg's did in fact have a "win-win" in his description. After all if he did in fact clean you out, you may learn something of value that allows you more wins later. If you clean him out, he too will probably not let that happen again and he does benefit. The key to the win-win is the asymmetrical value proposition. You offer something of value for the other parties, that you in return get what you value.

Successful win-wins will offer the most value for each participant without depreciating the other. As a consultant you most likely have skills and knowledge that may not be fully adding value to you. After all being an independent supply chain, or lean enterprise, or (insert specialty here) guru is really not that rewarding or profitable. However, your knowledge and expertise when sold as a techni-ho to willing participants gives you a chance to make a living, and gives them what they need--most likely for the short term with all the perks of working with consulting whores like you. That is a win-win. Chances are the value of your applied knowledge will net them large savings or improvements, at a scale that far eclipses your meager project rate. In the meantime that knowledge offered you know potential for gain until you sold it. You both win just different things.

Where the win-win gets really messy is when forming allegiances, alliances, or partnerships. There the win-win is not properly asymmetrical, as most of the time this potential partner is willing to "share" some of the win with you in return for your assistance. Beware this win-win. As it can turn parasitic in the long run; it is very similar to playing cards with either Player 1 or 2 for while they may be willing to share some winnings with you they will eventually need/want to have all the chips. The skills and talent offering would have to be completely independent and complimentary for this to work. And most of the time somebody does get burned.

As a moral of the story, I hope this is the takeaway. Win-wins are useful little lies, if we are the ones who define the terms. Otherwise, you will be getting the short end of the stick.

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