Understanding vs. Understood

Management consultants thrive in the fertile middle ground, a place where new understanding and being easily understood are both essential

YOU may have had the experience of talking with a technical expert like a computer programmer and, at the end of a long conversation, being left with the overwhelming impression that you have absolutely no idea what it is that they do.

The person is an expert, interacts regularly with other experts, and has a good understanding of his or her field.

And yet, they can’t make themselves understood.

Heavily regulated industries like law and tertiary education often end up being dominated by this kind of boffin. Largely protected from competition and other economic forces, they seek to further their careers by arguing among themselves over minor technical points.

With a deep understanding of their respective subjects, they are understood by nobody, and sometimes even manage to confuse themselves and each other.

On the other end of the spectrum are a certain breed of writer and public speaker. The kind who earns a living by synthesizing and clearly conveying concepts developed by others. Part educator and part motivator, they earn their money not from developing new understanding, but by being easily understood and so appealing to a mass audience.

Management consultants thrive in the fertile middle ground, a place where new understanding and being easily understood are both essential.

Trusted by clients to examine their most important problems, consultants need to produce new insights based on the facts at hand.

At the same time, consultants work with senior executives who, often non-experts in “consultant jargon” and invariably busy, require consultants to provide clear recommendations that can be easily understood.