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National and Global, United States

Sunday, October 18, 2009

If You Want to Be A Great Consultant, Go Look at Your Dog

Go look at your dog. Go on, look—perhaps he is sitting by your side right now, lying on his doggie bed, with his feet in the air, or sprawled on his side on the cement floor, or sleeping under the bed, paws flitting through his dog dreams.

If we want to understand the life of any client, we need to know what things are meaningful to that organization, beginning with what it perceives—what it can see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense. Second, we need to consider how the client organization acts on their world.

Consider too that consultants need to be more like their dogs. Dogs don't analyze by handling objects or by eyeballing them. Instead, they bravely stride right up to a new unknown object, stretch their snouts close to it, and take a nice deep sniff. That dog nose is anything but subtle. What its prominence suggests, is that the dog is a creature of the nose. Consultants should be too. The sniff is the great medium for getting smelly objects to the dog, and as a consultant you need to understand also, what those 'smelly objects' are when you walk through the door. Imagine smelling every minute visual detail within a client organization? You do? Great!

Spending an afternoon at home at the height of a dog can generate many surprises. But the objects you would see when crawling around on all fours are not, in some sense, the same objects a dog sees. A dog looking around a room does not think he is surrounded by human things; he sees—and smells—dog things. As consultants, we need also to see and smell, 'consultant things'.

What we may think an object is for, or what it makes us think of, may or may not match the dog’s idea of the object’s function or meaning, nor the client's.

What about A dog’s power of visual and mental perception? Look a dog in the eyes and you get the definite feeling that he is looking back. Dogs return our gaze. They are looking at us in the same way that we look at them. Naturally we wonder, is the dog thinking about us the way we are thinking about the dog? Or the client?

In fact, dogs know us better then we know them. They are the consummate eavesdroppers and Peeping Toms: Let into the privacy of our rooms, they quietly spy on our every move. They know about our comings and goings. They know whom we sleep with, what we eat. Dogs watch us from across the room, from the window, and out of the corners of their eyes. Their sight is used to see what we attend to. In some ways, this is similar to us, but in other ways it surpasses human capacity. Successful consultants need to do this too.

Dogs, as well as successful consultants are students of behavior. And what makes them especially good is that they never tire of attending to minute changes in our expressions, our moods, our outlooks. Unlike us, they don’t become inured to people. Sounds familiar.

So...take a lesson from your dog. Sit back and take a long, slow sniff. You might learn something.

Excerpts From Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz.

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