Being a successful consultant – Part 4. Knowledge

I have covered Autonomy, Influence and Complexity and now in the penultimate topic I am going to address Knowledge. I was trying to think of a way to define what knowledge is to a consultant, and simply put your knowledge is your tool set. As a consultant your knowledge will increase and change based on the changes within your chosen area of expertise. I have heard many examples and comparisons used to communicate this, and the one that struck the chord with me was using that of a mechanic and his tools. I guess that is because my Dad was a mechanic or more accurately an Automotive Engineer, he specialised in automatic transmissions, not just for cars but pretty much any vehicle that didn’t have a clutch, how often have I gone to press the clutch in an automatic car and ended up slamming the brakes on. Needless to say although I spent many school holidays going to work with my Dad, I mainly just ended up getting grease all over me, so unsurprisingly it wasn’t a career path I decided to take.

I remember the big red Snap-on van that used to come at least every other week, it would be jam packed with all sorts of tools, some that were obvious and others that looked more like they belonged onboard the latest incarnation of the Starship Enterprise. However I remember my Dad would usually get something to add to his ever growing tool sets stored in the equally red set of stacked Snap-on toolboxes. I would help him out when he had the car up on the ramp where I could, he would shout at me to get this and get that and I would scurry off and get it. Usually there would be some back and forth as I picked up several different things and shouted back, is this it? Frustratingly for my Dad I think that resembled a tennis match on several occasions.

Let’s focus on a specific tool though so I can try to explain something, a screw driver, it’s purpose is to tighten or loosen a screw, simple. However when I opened the draw to my Dads toolbox there wasn’t just one screw driver, there were dozens. Each screw driver slightly different to the others, there were ones that were very long, there were short stubby ones, electrical and also ones that had lights on. So that got me thinking, although they all achieve the same thing, they are designed slightly differently to cater for certain scenarios. Like my Dad having multiple screwdrivers, as a consultant you must ensure that just because you have one screwdriver (the ability to carry out a task), you can carry out that task in a multitude of different scenarios by having multiple screwdrivers. So let’s relate that to a consultants activities, just because you can configure a component in one piece of technology that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gain the ability (or the screwdriver) to configure it in another. In reality your aim should be like my Dad, get as many screw drivers as you can to work on as many different transmissions as you can. I won’t bore you with the spanners and sockets analogy though as I think there was possibly even more of those.

My point here though is that you shouldn’t settle because you have one of that type of tool, you need to be expanding your toolset to ensure you can cover multiple scenarios across multiple different situations. You widen your ability to carry out certain tasks, you make it easier to keep yourself relevant because you don’t restrict your options. And in today’s fast paced world, whether that be IT or any other chosen field that is a must, if you do not constantly expand your toolset, you will get left behind, that is a simple fact.

So we have identified that you need to keep expanding your toolset, but as a consultant how do you go about that, well simply put, you must invest, whenever my Dad needed a different tool, he would pay for it, and I dread to think how much over the years that investment was, but I know just from what I saw this would have been a significant investment. As a consultant you can’t really buy your toolset like my Dad did, for a consultant this is about gaining understanding, gaining experience and investing something else, time. When I say time this is your time, you must invest your time to develop your knowledge you cannot defer that to your employer, this is your toolset, you are responsible for gaining it developing it and also maintaining it. My Dad had to pay for his own tools, no one paid for them, he knew that his investment would ensure he was prepared and able to carry out any task or tasks that were presented to him. As consultants that’s exactly the same mindset you need to have, you need to have the knowledge to carry out any task or tasks that you are likely to be presented with, if you don’t have that, then ensure you have a plan to get that knowledge.

As a consultant your tool set provides you with a significant advantage, and the bigger or broader that toolset is, the bigger your advantage is. When you start on your pathway to being a successful consultant it’s ok to borrow a screwdriver here and there, but your ultimate goal is to have your own screwdriver, and then get more of them. Get as many as you can, the more screwdrivers you have, the more successful you will allow yourself to be.

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