What can I do for you and other myths

It’s something I ask a lot in my life. I ask it of my clients and customers. I ask it of people I consult with or coach. I ask it of my parishioners. I often ask it of friends and family.

“What can I do for you?”

It seems like a simple question, and at times it is. If a customer, for instance, needs a particular camera or server. It’s short and sweet conversation.

But when the conversation is about something more complex, the answer is rarely as easy as it might seem. When a client wants to accomplish something, whether it is technical or personal, finding our way to an answer is rarely a quick and easy thing. It takes time because there are often several layers of issues to deal with.

Take a studio. Often a customer will come and say they are building a studio. What’s it going to cost? I can give them a range but the range is huge. It’s useless, until we sit down and talk through options, workflows, what else they have that they want to reuse it, what they are doing with the studio, what kind of skills and backgrounds do the people running it have….. the list goes on and on. Armed with that information, I can generally develop something that makes sense for THEM, and not just some generic number that may or may not be of any use.

The truth is, that if they want to do it right, we’ll have several conversations, because what happens is that after that first set of questions and discussions, we all go back and a hundred things pop into our minds. Often important things, and we need to discuss those things to narrow down an idea of what works for them, not just some generic “It’ll cost…..”.

The same is true of consulting and coaching. I find that often what a client really wants is far different than what they initially tell me they want. It’s only after two or three or more conversations that they and I both really have an understanding of what they need me to do. It takes time. Because it’s not as simple as we think it is when we start.

Why don’t we know what we want?

I’m not sure. but I have some theories.

First, few people ask that question honestly wanting to know, and meaning it. I’ve had tons of companies ask me what I want, and as I began to explain it, I watched them subtly try to manipulate what I want to what they want to sell me, or what they do. It’s about getting the business, not truly serving the customer. And so, when a person asks what I want, I’m not really expecting to get what I want. I’m expecting to get kinda what I want. It’s the same way in other kinds of relationships. We think people are being nice when they ask. We don’t want to bother them though with what we really want. We are afraid of imposing. Or disappointment. Or afraid someone will think it’s too much. But we’re not really expecting that people mean it.

Second, a lot of times, we think we want X, but what we really want is Y.  X is only the first path we see to what we really want.  X could be a new broadcast facility, or a more balanced life. And as we explore, we find that what they are seeking is something different. They want a new broadcast facility, yes, but as we probe, we find it’s more about simplifying how work gets done, or a need for reliability, not just a room full of gear and wires. When we poke around at the person who needs balance, what we find is that they need something else – healthier relationships or reconnecting with part of their life they lost. But their first answer is just that, a first glance. It takes time to sort out what we really want.

And that’s the third thing – time. We live in a hurry up, sound byte, twittery, say it fast and short and sweet world. Only to get what we really want takes time. It takes time to explore, to sort out, to really dig in and do it. And we rarely give it that time up front. Instead we plunge in with our short and sweet answers, and we sort of get what we want, and sort of don’t.

I’ve been building broadcast and AV systems for thirty years. I can now look back at a body of work that includes literally thousands of facilities. And I’ve noticed this – in every case where we took the time in the beginning to study and define what we wanted to do, those clients, years later, were still happy with the results. And in every case, EVERY case, where we just plunged in, there were mixed emotions afterwards. I’ve found the same thing in marketing, in consulting and in coaching, Spend that time in the beginning, and the results end up being good. Long term good. Sustainably good.

Don’t make that investment, go with your first thoughts, and you get flash in the pan results, at best. At worst, you get something you’ve invested in, but doesn’t really give you what you really wanted.

It’s counter intuitive in a world that values instant-ness. Because that time at the start doesn’t feel productive and we are all about productiveness and results in our world, be it work or our personal lives. But life and work has taught me that if we take the time to know, really know, what we want, and why, everything we do ends up better, and we end up happier.

For the long run.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

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