The very cranky client: Better consulting with selflessness and empathy

Published on
22 February 2023
Michael Quast
Michael Quast
Senior Consultant
For those playing at home

You may have seen an article recently about finding Courage and Creativity in children’s books. Or not. It doesn’t matter. But in that article, I promised to tell another story about a children’s book on Selflessness and Empathy.

So here we go. This story is one of my go-to books for kids. It’s also a story about working in consulting. It’ll all come together, I promise.

Before we begin, I’ll apologise to consultants in general. I’m about to compare you to several animals in a children’s book. If it helps, I’m included in this group (I happen to be the Lion). But the good news is that you could be the Sheep. And trust me, you want to be the Sheep.

I should also apologise to clients. You’re about to be compared to a Bear. And a cranky one at that.

Many parents out there would have guessed by now that the subject of our lil’ book club session today is The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland. It’s a 2008 classic that spawned numerous sequels (the Bear gets Hungry, Itchy, Brave, Noisy, Sleepy and Super). But it’s the Cranky version we’re interested in today.

In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day, four little consultants found a perfect place to play…

The setup for the story is simple enough. Four friends are looking for shelter from the rain to play their usual card game. Problem is, their cave of choice is inhabited by a large and (you guessed it) cranky Bear, who chases them back into the rain. Cue the consulting session.

Zebra is first to identify the problem;

“Maybe if we cheered him up, he’d let us come back in.”

She’s on the money, but unfortunately like many consultants, she figures that’s enough time on problem definition and jumps to a solution. And she pivots to her happy place. In the book it’s her fantastic stripes that always cheer her up, but I’ve amended her lines slightly to give it a consulting feel:

“’If I did not have Lean Process Improvement,’ said Zebra, ‘I’d be cranky too. We should give that bear some Lean, that’s what we should do!’”

Then it’s over to Moose, who has his own preference:
‘’Lean is silly,’ Moose complained, ‘especially on a bear. My Agile always cheers me up, let’s Scrum it up with bear!”

And then, of course, Lion chimes in:

’No, no, no, no, no,’ said Lion, ‘Agile is a bore! Some Human-Centered Design,’ he said, ‘would cheer him up for sure.’”

Boy, have I got a solution for you!

So, they grab their workshopping tools to re-make Bear in their own images. And leave Sheep standing in the cold. See, it’s established at the start of the book that Sheep is plain. She doesn’t have any fancy tools like the other animals. So, she stands outside, fearing for her friends.

She doesn’t have to wait long. The three friends are chased back out by an even crankier Bear, who is looking more than a little ridiculous after their efforts.

As Bear returns to his cave, he lets out his frustration at Sheep, who happens to be closest:

“’All I really want,’ he said, ‘is a quiet place to SLEEP!’”

But Bear gives Sheep an important gift here. Feedback. And Sheep does something important. She listens. She taps into her Empathy to imagine what it feels like for Bear to crave sleep. And in doing so, she undertakes much better problem definition than her friends cared to attempt.

Then she acts. In a stunning display of Selflessness, she offers something to Bear that costs her significantly, but wins his gratitude. And secures a playing space for her friends.

The importance of being Sheep

Now, to practitioners of Lean, Agile or HCD who are still reading… I’m glad you made it this far as I poked fun at your (and my) professions. (I could have aimed at BABOK or Prosci, but there’s plenty of time to make more enemies). But my point is not that any of these disciplines are bad. It’s just that they only take you so far if you don’t have Selflessness and Empathy.

Empathy says to a client “I’ve faced a similar situation before, and I know how much it sucks.”

Selflessness says “I will put your interests before mine, to try to help you.”

Here at Escient, we believe Empathy and Selflessness (plus Courage and Creativity) help us become better consultants. We also find it makes for a great place to work.

So, if you’re a ‘Bear’ interested in how we help, check out our website and/or reach out to Melissa Jezioranski (SA), Michael Croker (VIC), Daryl Wearne (QLD) or Paul Garabedian (NSW) – or any other of your friendly local Escienters on LinkedIn.

If you’re a ‘Sheep’ interested in working with us, go straight to Nicole Galashchuk, who is still waiting in front of LinkedIn for more interested and interesting people to contact her. (She does other stuff too, it’s just that right now she’s waiting for your message).

Now. Enough with the children’s books. Next time I promise I’ll write about something different.


About the author

Michael Quast is a Senior Consultant at Escient who, after studying law and a decade in Federal public service, launched a new career in consulting with Escient in 2019.  He believes:

Creativity and design are more than just making things look nice. Good design requires empathy. Good design leads to a return on investment. Good design comes with innovation.

Innovation can be intentionally prodded. Innovation doesn’t always go exactly where you think it will. Innovation leaves ego at the door. Innovation means I am always learning.

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