By Rosa Brigman
I have a hobby in my life. Painting on canvas…
When I saw the first clip of Bob Ross, I fell in love with the show. Having a 30-40 minutes show with this remarkable man showing how to paint with “happy colors” excited me because in my native Peru there was nothing like it. Even though I found Bob Ross when I was almost 40 years old, I was addicted to watching Bob Ross shows on YouTube. I felt like a kid again.
If it is not clear by now, I love painting! I consider myself an introvert, so I use painting to communicate with the rest of the world. I paint for three reasons; I like to create, get my hands dirty, and show my work to others.
But wait, what does any of this have to do with consulting? Let’s see.
Consulting is the art of doing business with every person, in any environment, and under any circumstances. I will give you three reasons that support this statement.
First, be creative.
I cannot count how many times my thinking helped me create solutions for clients looking for a “unique solution.” To create a painting, you need to study your canvas and the possibilities, set guidelines, start with a draft, and work from there. In consulting, even to be creative, you need a process or way of thinking. This means you need to study what possibilities are the best for your clients to achieve their goals and draft a strategy to be presented to your client. Consider this your “canvas”.
This is not always an easy job. I once had a client who asked me to present to C-level executives what possibilities were the best for their company to reduce the impact of possible lawsuits by improving their privacy and legal statements. I had no prior experience in the area of privacy. I had to study possible solutions, review current documents, and meet with the company lawyers who explained what they were trying to avoid. Thinking outside of the box often produces ideas that come from places you never thought possible. My idea for this client came from math class in college about combinations. I advised the client to create a customized legal document to combine their more than 72 different products with their more than 40 types of legal documents all for their hundreds of thousands of customers. Where do creative ideas like this example come from? It comes from a creative consultant! This creativity could come from experience with other clients, from other examples in the consulting world, but sometimes it comes even from your personal life.
In consulting, you need to get your hands dirty with every task.
Second, when I am painting, I love to get my hands dirty and try different combinations of colors. Sometimes I go for standard colors, but when I am painting a beautiful landscape, I need to find the right colors. That takes time! What is more, you need to have the same determination to match the exact same color for the second, third, or fourth time. In consulting, you need to get your hands dirty with every task.
Nothing is more important for a consultant than to finish a project successfully. But how do you get there? What do you need to do? Success comes when you roll up your sleeves and get into the mess of the problem statement. Being willing to go this deep means that you must never forget to have the same determination to finish every task towards your goal no matter what the environment tells you at any given moment. I had several moments in my consulting life where my goal seemed impossible and I had to persevere. One example from my early years as a consultant comes to mind. My client was the logistics and billing department for a public institution. My role was to find gaps in the billing of the last three months from thousands of invoices, make the corrections, and reprint them for financial reporting before they declared taxes the following year. This was an urgent project for the client.
Believe it or not, since day one, they promised me a desk, computer, and a printer to manage the large amounts of data. Ultimately, they never gave me anything! The first week, I was waiting for my place to work and nothing. I was in the hallway, the reception desk. I had meetings with HR. All of them apologized but nothing came. Not one place opened up for me to sit. What should I have done at that moment? Not work? I didn’t do that. It is not in my personality to give up. Instead, I created a list of all the people that were going to be on vacation in the next three months. Every time that somebody was away their desk was my desk Because of the tight deadline, I always worked after work hours, Saturdays, and holidays. Everyone knew me; they knew I would be conquering their spot when they were on vacation! I took advantage of that. I used my networking to enter all the departments that I had access to in order to print my reports. I finished my project in two months and one week. In the last three weeks, I reviewed, made corrections, reprinted, and presented my results. The client was fascinated with my dedication and determination to finish even with everything against me. The CEO was so pleased with me that he thanked me and told me “We will make our quota for next year thanks to you!”
I love when people asked me, “How did you do that? Can you teach me how?”
The final way that painting is similar to consulting is in showing my work to others. When I paint someone may come to my home and see my artwork hanging in my house. Some paintings are related to trips that I made or landscapes that I loved. Sometimes my inspiration is my family. I love when people asked me, “How did you do that? Can you teach me how?” When someone asks me “how” they show they appreciate the piece and what I know. As a consultant, I enjoy sharing what I know with others who really want to learn. I am very open to sharing especially with young consultants who need to learn the best way to be a consultant, forgetting about competition and focusing on the journey. The work and the service that we, as consultants, should provide to our clients.
As I reflect on Bob Ross, he was always positive and uplifting. He left a lasting impression on all of his viewers for generations to come. Like Bob Ross, we need to leave a lasting impression on our clients. The same way he produced “happy trees” we need to produce happy clients. That is my personal mission on my consulting canvas.