When I was starting my business, naming the thing was a big challenge. For a while I played around with the riffs on my maiden name “Smith.” Wordsmith, of course, was taken. Consulting-smith doesn’t make sense. And problem-smith many have left potential clients with the impression that I created problems instead of solving them--a difficult first impression to overcome.
As my thoughts bounced between practical and complete fantasy, I entertained the notion (for a few minutes) that this FILL-IN-THE-BLANK-smith company might only hire Smiths. When we expanded internationally, we could add Wang and Hernandez (the most common surnames in China and El Salvador respectively, according to Wikipedia.) This arbitrary practice would surely mean that we’d miss out on some solid talent but it’d be clean and easy. And, who knows? The gimmick might have appealed to a handful of Smith-named clients. But that’s probably the best we could have hoped for. This idea was completely ridiculous, of course, but not unlike the other arbitrary restrictions we put on ourselves, our projects, and organizations.
We all know people who actively try to bar or slow entry of new resources and their ideas. For internal-ists, only those already on the inside get through the tiny holes. After all, you don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly care as much as we do. We’re unique. You’d get it if you worked here are common excuses.
This internal-only filter is a lazy way to solve the real problem of sorting through a potentially overwhelming volume of interest and information.
An alternative is a widespread, mutual agreement to set the bar high but not impossibly high. We can demand of each other (those inside and out) that we do the research, ask questions, and then mold an idea to reflect an understanding of what's going on.
There is a formula for this. Start with the issue and add at least two hot organizational issues for solution triangulation.
It’s a mouthful but the idea is that any proposed solution accounts for two real pressures an organization is facing—ideally from different angles. A prospective client wants to move to the cloud? Great. Then add to that an Inspector General (IG) report on questionable spending AND slipping employee morale numbers. What does the solution look like now? Or they're developing a social media strategy. Throw in the announcement of a new energy program during the State of the Union AND senior leadership turnover?
The higher profile the issue (healthcare, anything VA, and—agh—anything to do with the Sony leaks), the more data points that need to be reflected. Generic solutions that offer no tie back to priorities or pressures should be set aside. And the test is easy. It’s not, “are you from here?” but “can you show that you get it?”