Belling the Cat

There are a lot of jokes about consultants, and in the last 20 years I think I’ve probably heard them all. The crux of most of these jokes is that consultants have their heads in the clouds. They are impractical, good at thinking but not so good at doing. A good strategy is, after all, only half the battle. The rest is execution.

This reminds me of the story about the mice who held a meeting to figure out what they should do about the cat. Have you heard it? The mice get together and after much discussion, they decide that the solution to their cat problem is to put a bell on the cat. That way all the mice will be able to hear when the cat is nearby, and the cat will no longer be able to sneak up on them. All the mice agree that this is a perfect solution, and they are about to adjourn the meeting when an old mouse speaks up:

“But who,” he asks, “will put the bell on the cat?”

Silence falls over the room.

To be fair, there are all kinds of consultants. Many are seasoned business executives who specialize in solving specific kinds of problems in specific industries. Some are trainers, who can help your team members develop a specific skill.

But many consultants are business-school-trained MBAs with little to no practical business experience. This kind of consulting leads to “you should just bell the cat” kinds of advice, which, while it might be theoretically sound, has no real practical value.

The problem most companies face is not a lack of good ideas, but a failure to execute them quickly and well.

This is where design can help. There has been a lot of talk about design thinking in business circles in the past few years, and I think most people associate design thinking with innovation and creativity: thinking up new and innovative products and services, for example. However this way of thinking of design misses one of design’s most important aspects.

Design, at its heart, is a process and approach that is deeply intertwined with execution. Design is not only thinking, it is making and doing. The nature of a design approach involves not only imagining a new product, but working with people and materials to test the ideas and get the thing made.

I come from a design background. I was trained as a designer, and when I started my consulting firm in 1993, I felt it was critically important to help companies not just think, but to execute. Over the past 20-plus years we have focused on developing techniques and practices to make business plans and strategies more clear, concrete, tangible and do-able. We don’t abandon projects after the planning phase. We roll up our sleeves and work alongside our clients until the job is done, the mission completed. Our methods are transparent and we readily share them not only with our clients but with the entire world.There are consultants who you go to when you are lost. When you don’t know what you want. And there are consultants that you go to when you do have a strategy and you need help making it happen. XPLANE is the latter.

Dave Gray is the founder of XPLANE.

XPLANE's xBlog has been up and running since 1999. 

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