Daniel Pink: Consultants Should Generate New Insights

Author : Consulting Cafe
Published: July 25, 2013

Daniel Pink is every consultant’s guru of management and innovation. He has authored 5 provocative, best selling books about the changing world of work, including Drive, A Whole New Mind, and To Sell is Human. His articles appear in various publications including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and Wired. The research and insights in his work provide valuable concepts for consulting.

In this interview, Daniel Pink discusses how to apply his research, ideas, and methodology to the complex world of consulting. He offers fresh ideas about essential right-brain skills for consultants, motivational techniques for stimulating clients, and tips for selling proposals (and staying afloat after rejection).

If you would like more information from Daniel Pink, visit his website at www.DanPink.com.

1. In your book A Whole New Mind, you argue that right-brain skills are becoming increasingly more important than left-brain skills. What would be your typical description of a right-brain consultant?

The argument of that book is that metaphorically left-brain aptitudes -- think of them as "spreadsheet skills" -- have become necessary but no longer sufficient because they're relatively easy to outsource and to automate. As a consequence, the metaphorically right-brain skills -- artistry, empathy, inventiveness -- have become the ones that matter most. For consultants, that means getting beyond increasingly commoditizable analytic work and moving toward other capabilities. For example, consultants should now be helping clients develop new lines of business along with enhancing current ones. They should focus on identifying hidden problems as much, if not more than, solving existing problems. They should work to put the welter of data that's now available into context -- and use that to provide new insights for their clients.

2. With the rise of importance in right-brained skills, what specific abilities should we be looking for in consulting new-hires? What skills should prospective hires try to master?

Just to be clear, analytic skills are still essential. A consultant without those is going to be in a world of hurt. But as I said before, they're not enough. Today, consultants ought to be working to master skills like these: A real and deep expertise in some functional or industry area; a "multi" sensibility -- being multilingual, multicultural, multidisciplinary or so on; selling skills; communication skills; grit; and a sense of purpose.

3. In your book Drive, you address what motivates people. When we work with client teams in consulting, we are constantly faced with the challenge of motivating them to implement projects. In the corporate world, what are the main drivers to get people highly motivated?

That depends. But it's important how we think about motivation in the first instance. We have to get past this idea that motivation is something that one person does to another -- and begin understanding that genuine motivation is something that people do for themselves. That means the ultimate goal in any circumstance is to create the conditions in which people can summon their own reasons for doing something, their own intrinsic motivations. In general, the research shows that motivation in a corporate setting -- at least for high-level work -- depends on paying people enough and then offering them some control over their work (autonomy), the opportunity to make progress and get better at something that matters (mastery), and understanding why they're doing something along with how to do it (purpose).

4. In your latest book, To Sell is Human, you mention the new ABCs of selling – attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. All three of these factors are extremely important in consulting, but the arguable biggest struggle for consultants is buoyancy. What advice do you have for consultants to remain positive after receiving proposal rejections?

Change what social psychologists call your "explanatory style." In a landmark study of insurance salespeople, the great Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania found that the best predictor of success was how these salespeople explained failure. To overcome the sting of rejection, they found ways to recontextualize rejection. Seligman advises us to focus on the three P's. Is the rejection personal? Look for ways it's also external. Is it pervasive? Look for evidence that it doesn't always happen. Is it permanent? It's usually not. The more we explain rejection -- honestly -- as external, occasional, and temporary, the better off we'll be.

5. Also in your book To Sell is Human, you mention the art of making pitches. What 3 main tips do you recommend for consultants selling proposals?

Use questions as much as statements. The research shows that when the facts are clearly on your side, questions can be the most effective way of moving others because it encourages them to think through the issue and come up with their own autonomous, intrinsically motivated reasons for agreeing with you.

Don't be a glad-hander; just be a better version of yourself. The idea that one has to be extraverted to be effective in selling is a total myth. The most effective sellers, new research shows, are "ambiverts." They're not strongly introverted or strongly extraverted. They're in the middle -- and that gives them a wider repertoire of skills. They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to talk and when to listen, when to assert and when to hold back. The best news: Most of us are ambiverts.

Be a "servant seller." About 40 years ago, a management writer named Robert Greenleaf created the notion of what he called "servant leadership." He flipped the pyramid and put leaders at the bottom. The idea was to serve first and lead next -- that serving gave you the permission to lead. The same is increasingly true with selling. Serve first, sell next.

Want to read more? Check out Daniel’s books in our resources section: Best Business Books

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

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