Roping clients in

July 30, 2006

Another great post from Kathy has sparked my thinking about creative process, “not knowing” and all that stuff that’s a challenge to certainty and control. This has been particularly relevant for me in a recent project – the overt task was the creation of a strategic plan which went well but the covert task was managing the anxiety of my client about outcomes. Each time we’d take a break of a few days from the process my client would redesign the task and focus on the outcomes and actions to the detriment of the high level thinking we needed to stay with. The images in my head were of me physically pulling her back.
Thankfully we have a great working relationship so I moved into coach mode (with her permission) and we looked at what the gaps and the attention to outcomes was about. A complex political environment, uncertainty about her own position, a distrust of how well the consultation process we had designed was going etc all conspired to make her cautious about trusting her own and my instincts and processes for getting the outcome in the end. The process we designed was based on my rules for dynamic participation and was effectively about listening to the conversations with participants and modifying our consulting approach in response – allowing the process to unfold organically if you will. Cathy talks about this and quotes a section from Getting Real which really speaks to me about the value of holding back:

It’s a Problem When It’s a Problem
“Don’t waste time on problems you don’t have yet. Do you really need to worry about scaling to 100,000 users today…?”
Just Wing It
“Bottom Line: Make decisions just in time, when you have access to the real information you need.”
“Real things lead to real reactions. And that’s how you get to the truth.”
Work in iterations
“Let the app grow and speak to you. Let it morph and evolve. Instead of banking on getting everything right upfront, the iterative process lets you continue to make informed decisions as you go along. The result is real feedback and real guidance…”

There’s often an assumption that if you’re not controlling the outcome it will slip away. I beg to differ – I hold the outcome but I don’t attempt to control it because if I do that I miss the evolving processes that make that outcome authentic and rooted in real experience. At the end of the day it’s that balance between authenticity and task that gets plans owend and acted upon
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