FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Question: How does Sherlock & Zen differ from other business consultants, or advisors?
Answer: Other consultants have answers, or at least that’s what they claim. We by contrast, know the questions.

Question: Why is it important to know the questions?
Answer: Mastery of certaindisciplinesrequires knowing what questions to ask.It’s not only true for consultants, but also, for example, for lawyers, doctors, auto mechanics, scientists, historians and detectives. The right questions eventually lead to clarity, to insight, to illumination, to an “Aha! moment.”

Question: Don’t other consultants explore the questions?
Answer: Some do, but most like to come across like the experts. And much of that consists of never admitting one’s doubts and uncertainties. Consequently, it’s not unusual for a consultant to propose a brilliant solution to a problem that you don’t really have. We, on the other hand, come to you with open ears and with clarifying questions.

Question: How do you know which questions to ask?
Answer:In certain professions mastery requires attentive listening. Only then can one know which questions to ask. In the case of an auto mechanic, for example, it might mean asking a customer on which occasion he or she hears a certain sound in their engine. “Is it only when starting up your car?”“Is it primarily on cold days?”“Does the sound stop after you’ve driven for a while”? A psychologist might ask, “On what occasions do you feel anxious?” A consultant, though, might ask, for example, “Why is it that your widget sales has increased with women, over the years, but not with men?” Or the consultant might ask, “I understand that you are considering purchasing a certain company. Do you believe that its corporate culture is congruent with your company’s corporate culture?”

In order to ask the right questions one needs to be able to listen, and in this case in means for a consultant to listen to both the managers and staff of a company, and sometimes to its stockholders, stakeholders, and to everyone else concerned.

Question: Why is listening so difficult?
Answer: It’s difficult because it requires freeing one’s mind from presuppositions, or preconceived beliefs and theories. Only then can one attain a certain mental openness, which a famous Zen master called “beginner’s mind.” The problem is that most consultants harbor a truckload of presuppositions, such as various theories that they learned in their MBA program, or ideas from a business bestseller that they recently read. Consequently, they interpret everything that they hear through the lens of their intellectual assumptions and don’t really get to hear anything.

In any case, we strive to leave our presuppositions at the door, when we arrive at your offices. Instead, we listen to you carefully with open ears and a receptive mind.Then,based on what we hear, the right questions emerge and we are able to get to the root of the challenges that your company currently faces.

Question: You mentioned Zen. Is that where you get the name of your company?
Answer: Yes, both analysis and intuition is required for success as a business consultant, as is required for success in a number of professions. Sherlock Holmes — the brilliant detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his fictional stories and novels — represents analysis. And Zen involves a deep intuitive insight into the very heart of reality. We might say that Sherlock Holmes represents left-brained thinking perfected and Zen represents right-brained thinking, and together we get an integration of both. Although that would be a bit unfair to Sherlock Holmes, since he was able to enter into a criminal investigation free of assumptions, and was able to pursue a line of investigation, no matter how counter-intuitive it might initially seem. In that sense, he embraced the type of “beginner’s mind” that lies at the heart of Zen.

Question: What is the success rate for business consultants?
Answer: It’s about the same as for psychotherapists, which isn’t too impressive. There are a number of reasons for this.In the case of a psychotherapist, most people are unwilling to change. Indeed, they are too much in love with themselves to wish to change anything about themselves, even if their life is not working and they are unhappy. The same thing is true of companies. They may be losing lots of money, but unless they are on the verge of bankruptcy, they would prefer not to change a thing. On a more positive note, if you are a company’s CEO and you are absolutely determined to improve the way it runs, then your chance of success are quite good!

Question: Do you offer any type of guarantee?
Answer:Does a lawyer guarantee that he or she will win a case for you? Does a minister guarantee that if you pray you will go to heaven? Although we can’t guarantee anything, if you work very hard and have a sound business idea, and you enlist our services when necessary, you just my find, to paraphrase “The Rolling Stones,” that you get what you need.

Question: What factors bode well for the successof a consulting project?
Answer:Most companies, especially those that have been around for a long while, invariably have entrenched “political” groups and infighting. For example, a certain division might not wish to go along with a change initiative, for it would require that one of the members of their staff gets transferred to another division, which would diminish their influence and power. Consequently, a promising idea is quashed and, in the words of Hamlet, “…their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.”

On the other hand, if a company is in desperate enough straits, and its leadership are willing and has the power to do what needs to be done, and the staff and board of directors are on board, then it bodes well for success.Of course, too much unanimous enthusiasm could be a warning that disaster could be around the corner.

Question: A Warning? Disaster? How so?
Answer:Just because everyone is willing and agrees to make a certain course of action, doesn’t mean that it would be a sound decision. I spoke of listening skills. Sometimes, a little bird, so to speak, will whisper inone’s ear — sometimes in the middle of the night — and say, “I don’t think that what was proposed this afternoon is a smart idea. I foresee serious problems down the road.” Most people ignore the little bird. But a good consultant should always give the bird, i.e., his doubts, a fair hearing.

Furthermore, if I’m your consultant, I must possess the honesty, the integrity and the courage to tell you what you might not wish to hear. Like a biblical prophet, a consultant must be willing, if necessary, to be cursed, sent into exile, or worse.

Question: Can you help companies that are not-for-profits?
Answer:Yes, of course. We enjoy working with them and helping them to better realize their mission, while insuring that they remain in good financial shape.

They have their own challenges. To my surprise, I found that there is as much or more interpersonal conflict at such organizations than at for profit organizations. It surprised me because I thought that with much less money involved at a not-for-profit than a for-profit company, there would be less to fight over.

Question: Why is that? It sounds counter intuitive.
Answer: Yes it does sound counter intuitive. Some years ago, someone asked Henry Kissinger — who taught college for a while, after retiring from his position as Secretary of State, and prior to working for private industry — why there is so much infighting at most college departments, such as the history department, the English literature department, etc. Dr. Kissinger replied that that is because there is so little at stake!

Question: Do you make office visits?
Answer: Yes, in the course of the project we’ll usually come to your office, often every day. For our initial meeting, prior your enlisting our services, we usually meet at either our offices or at a coffee shop. Sometimes, though, we communicate on the phone or through Skype. If you own a restaurant or a retail store, we would initially visit it, without letting anyone know that you’ve engaged our services.

Question: How long does the average consulting project last?
Answer: They generally vary from three hours to over two years, depending on what needs to be done. It can even last over ten years. It lasts, in other words, as long as the consultant is providing a substantial benefit to a company.

Question: Does a person need to pay up front for your services?
Answer:Generally, a consulting company will request their clients to pay 50% up front for a relatively short project. If it’s a long-term project, then the consultants will be paid at various stages along the way.

Question: If I hired you, would you do all the work? Or do you just tell us what needs to be done and we would do it?
Answer:Neither.An effective consulting relationship is one in which a company’s senior management works with consultants in a collaborative manner.They work together on whatever project needs to be accomplished. This collaborative approach is absolutely necessary for success. After all, it’s one for a consultant to discern a solution to an ailing company’s problem and to have the management of a company wholeheartedly agree with the consultant. But it’s quite another thing, even with the support of management, to effectuate change in a company. Only by the consultant working together with management can organizational improvement begin to happen.

Question: What is the first step in a typical consulting project?
Answer: In a company that has at least ten or twenty staff or employees, we conduct informational interviews, with both staff and employees. We write down everyone’s response to our questions, so that everyone’s response is anonymous.We then explore our findings with management. The information that we obtain is invariably very informative and often eye opening.It gives management a better grasp of the challenges facing a company, as well as a direction for change initiatives.

Question: Can you help us with our website? It looks pretty, but we’d like it to actually generate leads and result in sales for us.
Answer: Yes, we can help you with the website, and with other forms of marketing as well.The actually programming we’d outsource, but we could collaborate on the design as well as on the content. More than likely, your website would have a blog. And we might recommend that you also have a newsletter, which customers would subscribe to on your website’s “landing page.” We could get you started on these projects.

Question: I see that you also offer executive coaching. If I need advice, I ask my wife. Why, then, do I need an executive coach?
Answer: A spouse invariably lacks the necessary objectivity.In any case, some of the most powerful leaders, throughout history, have had a knack for choosing the best advisors, who acted like an executive coach. Aristotle was the advisor to Alexander the Great, and some of the greatest presidents — Washington and Lincoln, for example — have had their “brain trusts.”

Infrequently Asked Questions

Question: Have you heard the quip about consultants that goes, “A consultant is a person who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is”?
Answer:Yes I have. Actually, the joke is profounder than it appears. After all, Socrates — the wisest man of ancient Athens, and one of history’s greatest teachers — had his own theory of knowledge. He believed that teaching essentially consists in helping people to remember what they once knew, but had forgotten at birth. Thus the consultant, in the joke, borrows the watch of the person who had forgotten that he had the means to know the correct time. I.E., a consultant reminds his clients what they have forgotten.

Question: What role does humor play in business?
Answer:It helps us to survive the stresses and strains of the business world. Letting go and laughing is not just healthful. It also makes it easier for us to get along with each other. Furthermore, laughter and cheerfulness, in general, makes us more receptive to creative insights and innovation.

Question: What business thinkers have influenced your consulting practice?
Answer: Peter Drucker, most of all, but also Edward Schein and Charles Handy. Then there are those who are not business thinkers, but whose thoughts, ideas and advice on the dynamics of power are very relevant to the business world. They include Balthasar Gracian and Robert Greene.

Question: Do you offer seminars to companies?
Answer: Yes, we do. Some are on a variety of interesting and useful topics. And others are on topics that are custom-tailored to a company’s specific needs. We’ve also created various seminar series, including, “Literature for Leadership,” which involves exploring business ideas through various classic short stories, plays, and novels.

Question: Do you offer retreats?
Answer:Yes we do. Here, again, they can be customized to address a company’s specific needs.

Question: Do you offer retreats?
Answer: Yes

Question: You logo doesn’t make sense to me. What does business consulting have to do with golf? And what’s the meaning of the French phrase that you have on your logo, “Cherchez le creneau”?
Answer: Yes, “Cherchez le creneau” means, “Find the hole, opening, gap, or niche.” It’s an old marketing expression, and it means that if you hope to do well in business you have to create a niche for yourself. Only by creating a niche can you avoid the thin margins that come from competition.

Question: OK, but what does it got to do with golf?
Answer: Isn’t golf about finding holes and filling them?

Question: Hmm, very interesting! I never thought of it that way. But what sense does it make to have logo that doesn’t make sense to very many people. And why, my dear Sherlock, do you insist in talking in riddles?
Answer: Elementary, my dear Watson.People ask me what the logo means, as you just did. And so the conversation about the logo becomes a doorway into a thought-provoking conversation. How many logos can do that? And so, if you engage me services, I’ll help you create a logo that will get people scratching their heads and grabbing a beer in desperation.

If you have additional questions, please email me at: mark@sherlockzen.com or call me at (502) 458-7171.

Copyright © Dr. Mark Dillof, 2015.