Archive for the 'Consultant Journal' Category

Create Your Narrative

“What’s the best way to excite my team to charge forward?”

The young entrepreneur asking the question started a new project. He wanted to help students prepare for the ISEE Test. You can check it out at He felt he needed to focus his team’s attention and create enthusiasm about the opportunity ahead. The business started to pull in cash, and he recognized he was presented with a growth opportunity. To seize the opportunity he needed the team to double the effort. His dilemma was how to build focused commitment and excite rapid action. And so he asked: How can I best mobilize the team to accelerate the development of our service?

I was born to guide these kinds of conversations. This is what I do. I help executives and entrepreneurs imagine new futures and accelerate the journey to realize these futures. We engage in a series of conversations. I ask questions that build awareness, generate options and mobilize action.

“If you are wildly successful, where will you be in 12 months? What will students say about learning with the help of ISEE Practice Test? How many students will be using your service next year? What’s the total addressable market and what growth trajectory is available for you? Now that you are expanding into SSAT Practice Test, how will you apply your learning to accelerate the launch?” were some of the questions I asked.

He quickly showed me his excel calculus. The numbers were compelling. My next question was, “What must be true for you to seize this opportunity?  And, what must you accomplish in the next three months to deliver on these goals? How must your offerings evolve in order to create the momentum of traffic and revenue growth?”

As he talked through these topics, the picture came into focus. I was getting excited with him. “You are in ‘the forest’ of all that you are doing. All that your team is able to see is the individual ‘trees,’ not the forest. The ‘trees’ are the tasks and activities you lined up for them, but they don’t see the bigger picture that you see. They don’t see the forest and they don’t perceive the journey map you are leading them through. To excite them you need to tell them a story. You need to create a narrative. You need to describe a compelling picture.”

“Give me an example,” he said.

“We are at a crossroad,” is how you begin. It will get people’s attention immediately. Then proceed to describe how you got to this crossroad and what lies ahead. “First we had an idea. We discovered an unmet need. Students who wanted to prepare for the ISEE Test had very limited options. We gathered data and researched the market to validate the idea. That was phase one: an idea with potential.

We then embarked on phase two. In phase two we developed our solution and launched the service. With a minimal budget, we bootstrapped ourselves and launched our service. We hoped to test our hypotheses. We wanted to see if the market will respond and validate our idea by purchasing our offering. And guess what, the numbers surprised us. Shortly after launch purchases started to come in. I’d wake up in the morning and discover another two students and then another three found us, and so on, which is why I believe we are now at a crossroad.

Not only has the market given us a proof of concept. The purchase patterns reflect a significant interest. This means we have an opportunity. A truly great opportunity. But we must change gears. We must realize that we’ve reached a crossroad that requires us to shift from ‘testing the product’ to ‘building a complete solution.’ That’s what the next phase is about. Phase three is about delivering a complete solution with evaluation and additional improvements. If we can climb this hill in the next 60 days, we will be ready ahead of the school year and will be setting ourselves for dramatic growth. What do you say team? Do you believe we can accelerate our work to meet this date-with-destiny? Can we conquer this next hill in 60 days?”

By framing a narrative that shows the journey plot, you convey to your team your appreciation of what they’ve made possible and what you envision going forward. When your team shares the picture of the future and the journey story everything is possible.

Creating the narrative, telling the story of the future is leadership.

© Aviv Shahar

How Do We Partner With Clients?


The Thrill of Breakthroughs

There is something quite thrilling in the can-do power a team of brilliant hard working executives can create when they coalesce. The three comments below capture that exact sense. Most teams operate at a sub-optimal level and miss the greater knowledge and wisdom available for them at a higher level of collaboration. High level of trust and breakthrough collaboration make the impossible possible and the hard to achieve easier. Last week, in our strategy summit with a global team I witnessed and experienced the power of creative collaboration and it was a thrill. Here is what they say:

Greg Shoemaker, VP General Manager – Hewlett Packard

Wolfgang Zenger, Director Hewlett Packard

Jason Pollock, Hewlett Packard

Best Practices: From Brainstorming To Mind-clustering

Mind-clustering is better than brainstorming. The brain likes to compare and contrast. The mind transcends and includes brain output and more.

Here are some best practices to help turn your brainstorming into mind-clustering. Whether what you seek is a future vision or strategic or innovation breakthrough apply and adapt these tips to optimize your session.

You are trying to:

  1. Download ideas.
  2. Generate insight.
  3. See the future.
  4. See yourselves in the future.
  5. Create the future. (To create the future we must first see it…)

Tips to help your process:

  1. Allow for iterative comments. You are not in the validating phase. Envisioning and creating the future is like sculpting. That’s why it’s iterative.
  2. Defer judgment / withhold criticism (of your own and of others’ ideas). This is not a proof of concept conversation.
  3. Avoid explanation of “why it will” or “why it won’t” work. Do not be defensive.
  4. Create a safe environment for half baked ideas.
  5. Welcome unusual/ wild ideas. Push boundaries.
  6. Enable different thinking styles by enabling different speeds:
    – Some prefer a few moments of quiet reflection.
    – Others think while speaking out loud.
    – Some create mind-maps
    – Others like metaphors
    – Some approach with reason
    – Others are intuitive and instinctive…
    – And some will draw pictures and more…
  7. Allow repetitions that build, develop and further ideas, combinations and connections.
  8. Include holistic and granular. Encourage thinking for the whole and include the specific, the granular function, role and viewpoint.
  9. Depersonalize. What you say is not kept against you or is attached to you. You are a conduit to ideas and thoughts. You have no need to defend or to own ideas that come through you.
  10. Allow for divergent ideas / views. Do not converge too early or seek harmony and agreement.

Here are helpful protocols for your brainstorming or better still mind-clustering:

  1. Encourage personal reflection time before the session.
  2. First brainstorm or mind-cluster the question. If you come to a few good questions prioritize and get focused on one question at a time. A clear question is the key to an impactful session.
  3. Capture other questions that show up in your session.
  4. Some sessions need an open ended question: “What is our future vision?” Others will get better impact with completing the statement: “Our end-state vision for 2015 is…”
  5. Allow for pauses of silent reflection to engage other parts of the brain and mind…  and encourage with: “And what else…”
  6. Participants contribute one element, idea per round. (And without lobbying explanation).
  7. Avoid using “I” to help depersonalize and disassociate ideas from the people expressing them
  8. One conversation at a time. One speaker at a time.
  9. Use brevity.
  10. Listen Actively. Be curious and open. Allow yourself to be surprised. Allow your mind to surprise you with new insights and ideas. Enjoy.

© Aviv Shahar

High Performing Teams & Open Ended Questions

Last week I worked with a brilliant team on a strategy for the 2012-13 horizons. They are the best in the world at what they do – the undisputed world champions.  You know you are dealing with champions because of what is present at the point of engagement and also because of what is not present. Here are some of the characteristics I observed and experienced with this team. They are…

  1. Focused on goals and on realizing the intended future state.
  2. Open in communication. Ready to challenge each other’s premise and ideas.
  3. High on value. Low on ego.
  4. Present in the moment. Fully engaged.
  5. Ready to speak their mind and to try new ways.
  6. Not defensive. Not political.
  7. Agile and ready to change and adapt.
  8. Fast to reframe problems as opportunities.
  9. Capable of active listening and intense ideation and collaboration.
  10. Committed to turn setbacks to learning and growth experiences.

Developing strategy is about delineating a series of plausible future states, creating options and aligning a course of action. Our “Hot Seats Exploration” process helps us accelerate the conversation, create high engagement and rapid prototyping of ideas.  In this exercise we guide the conversation through divergence and then convergence phases as the object we explore comes into focus.  We shift from expanding the range of ideas and options (divergence) to aligning on a preferred course of action (convergence).

In the divergence phase we practice framing open-ended questions. I was asked this week: “What is the difference between HOW and WHAT questions?” Here is a simple way to think about it:

  1. HOW promotes prescriptive answers. WHAT promotes explorative responses.
  2. When you are in (A) and seeking to arrive to a KNOWN end-state (B) – use HOW questions: How do we get from A to B?
  3. When you are in (A) and are seeking to discover a new UNKNOWN end-state (B) – use WHAT questions: What opportunities are available to us in a new end state B?
  4. Language is important. Your words, your narrative invoke images. Images create feelings that impact the brain chemistry and state of mind of the people you engage. When you ask: “How can we extract value?” you invoke the image of a dentist (extract). When you reframe the question to “What value capture opportunities are available for us?” you evoke the image of a fisherman (capture). Dentists and Fishermen bring up a very different set of associations in our unconscious mind where creativity and innovation comes into the picture.

High performing teams are adaptive. They are capable of holding open-ended conversations, ready to coalesce and agree on a course of action and are committed to follow through and execute. Thank you.

© Aviv Shahar

Grappling With Success And Growth

Consulting and coaching allows you to live in between worlds. You work with diverse people, organizations, cultures and regions. You arc across crevices of space and time and sometimes you touch the beyond, explore the archetypal and get a peek at the universal.

I am back from two events, where I was asked to help organizations that are grappling with growth and change. In each situation the work focused on turning the ‘good problems’ of success into greater opportunities. The first was a strategy summit for a global team managing a multi-billion dollar operation. The second was a leadership retreat for a spiritually based community in northern CA.  Working back to back with these two very different groups led me inside a parallel universes frame of mind. As always, part of the benefit of working with such diverse groups is being able to decipher the patterns of what works, to capture the wisdom teased out of grappling with success, growth and change. Here are some of the themes and ideas I found this week:

1. Engage in organizational transformation and change. Keep re-architecting your organizational vision. These are dynamic times. Yesterday’s formula may be good but is not sufficient. To transform the organization we all need to transform.

2. Resolve to side-step obstacles. Do not react to old hindrances. They tend to suck you down rabbits holes that are dead-enders. Stop the bleeding. Make a swift movement forward.

3. Attend to what is present here and now. Recognize and name the ‘emergent needs’. Sculpt the possibilities. The challenge you face holds the key to the inner work you must do. The next breakthrough is always nearby, and when it gets tough, the breakthrough is even closer.

4. Step into the leadership space. Most team meetings are wasted time, filled with reports and presentations of data, problems, and machinations and repetition of decisions that were made previously. The leadership space is emergent. You move out of reporting, out of managing into surrendering control to the guidance of the creative and collaborative process.   This is where our services are a game-changer. We help you cultivate the leadership space.

5. Take courage. Listen to intuition and guidance. The circle/the group is supremely intelligent. Ask and you shall be given. Knock on the door and it shall open. Engage others in the inquiry so the escalator of discovery accelerates you and the whole.

6. Create the moment. Life itself is the poetry. Joy and pain, struggle and triumph are a syncopation we all discover. Vision is not out there. It is here and now, in what you enable for you, for your team and for the whole as it grows into what it is becoming.

7. Ask yourself and your team. Are we working on the right things? Are we engaged with the essential questions? Organizational greatness is found first in supporting each part to be the best it can be. And second, in the synergy of all parts creating a greater whole.

8. Take action. There are times to wait. There are times to patiently and busily ready yourself, in business, in organizational life and in the universe at large. And then there are times to take action. This is a universe that blesses initiative, ingenuity, creativity and movement.

9. Develop new capacities. The story you are in is unfinished. You are creating it now. It is undetermined. You can choose right now to move into a new possibility, to then sculpt it step by step. Every day, every challenge gives you a new choice.  Your job as a leader is to enable what was impossible yesterday. You are here to help others see new options, to help them create anew their story and safely realize the options they choose.

10. Embark on the next step. There is always a new leg on this journey. There is always a new opportunity. You journey from (A) to (B) because (B) allows you to do what could not be done in (A). Structures and process methodologies are bridge makers. They are important because they get you to (B) and then to (C) and much more. You are a leader because you are a bridge-maker.

© Aviv Shahar

ASTD Published The Consultant 3.0 Manifesto

The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) published in its Consulting Newsletter the Consultant 3.0 Manifesto by Aviv Shahar.

Listen to The Consultant 3.0: How to Thrive in Consulting in a Scary, Brave New World podcast:

“Who cares about having too many toys in your sandbox? Develop your core services and continue to expand to new fields. Let the market teach you what it wants and needs from you. Use every opportunity to create your material.”

From the Press Release:
“In Consultant 3.0: How to Thrive in Consulting in a Scary, Brave New World, Aviv, who created and delivered leadership and talent programs to Fortune 500 companies and coach CEOs, demonstrates how he turned a casual conversation with an astronaut at 32,000 feet into workshop firepower and leadership development IP. In this podcast Aviv explores the five dimensions of whole practice growth, or in NASA speak, the five engines of a thriving practice”

“The strategic imperative shifted,” explains Aviv. “When the unthinkable is the norm and the unpredictable is happening daily, the strategy imperative is not in discovering ’how to respond‘ and ’what to do‘. It is in articulating what capabilities are to be developed to meet the requirements of these alternative and uncertain futures.”

© Aviv Shahar


Strange. 50 in a few days. Graduating from high school was only yesterday. Suddenly 50. Back then, 50 looked like the other side of the mountain. Unthinkable. Whoops – it’s here. Feels strange to think I’ve now lived half of my life.

It’s been a great ride. Learning. Wisdom. Understanding. Great teachers. Amazing people I’ve learned from and worked with. Deep gratitude. Living is so much more than any concept I could have imagined. Still, it feels like I’ve just started. This has only been a warm up so far. A beginning. Many more things to do. To learn about. To find and explore. Conversations to open up. Problems to solve. Contributions to make. Stories to tell and live.

Five years ago I wrote down one hundred goals for myself. One of them was to touch and impact a million people in a positive, transformative way. Perhaps you can help. I don’t know how to count this. I have been transformed by strangers who did not know me, who did not know they were changing my life. I think of the teacher I met who walks into his class each time thinking he might inspire a student to be a president one day or to develop a new cure for cancer. The teacher may not live to actually see the realization of his prayers or his efforts.

I think I am ready to release the goal of impacting a million people. To let the intention live on its own. The lives of a million people will be touched positively free of my need to know. Like you, I do need a little validation. Not too much, just enough to keep going. To know I am headed in the right direction. To be part of a part of a greater realization is to know I have lived on purpose. We each need a witness in this life. It helps us bear witness to ourselves. 50 in a few days. What a journey. I am just beginning.

© Aviv Shahar

The Value Of A Strategy Summit

What Executives say about the experience and value of a Strategy Summit…

Roger Bhalla

Tom Mitchell

Carol Hess-Nickels

David Conrad

Jonathan Kaye

Melissa Bargainer

Matt Wagner

© Aviv Shahar

Model Implementation – Four Phases

If your passion is to help leaders realize their brilliance, consulting is a great profession. What’s the difference between a subject matter expert and a process expert? The first needs to impress the client with what they know. The second needs to help the client impress themselves with their own latent knowledge by helping the client access and realize it. The fun part of getting to do and be in the second role is that you get to work with brilliant people – the Olympic champions of their field. Imagine getting to sit in on Lance Armstrong’s bike or run in Usain Bolt’s shoes? I get to experience that kind of exhilaration.

We are currently collaborating with Matt Wagner, Director of Strategy and Planning for Hewlett-Packard and his team to evaluate plausible futures as the executive team determines optimal strategic investments options. The strategy team developed a new model to guide this process. Here is an insight provoked by the process:

The implementation of a new model – for evaluation of risk, for decision making or for anything else – needs to go through four stages.

First, it needs to make sense – we need to understand it.
Second, it needs to become credible – we need to believe it.
Third, it needs to be tried and played with – we need to engage in it.
Fourth, it needs to be applied – we need to put it to practice, to use it in real time and to have it guide our decisions and the way we do business

Through the process, the model is tested, refined, improved and optimized.

© Aviv Shahar

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