To be taken seriously, should advice giving innovation consultants be innovators themselves?

Gregg Fraley and I both are  of the opinion that a non-creative innovation consultant who knows the theory, but doesn’t get his hands dirty, has no business in giving game-changing advice.

Via Gregg Fraley in response to this article about creativity gurus:

Interesting that even the experts don’t really know how, exactly, to be more creative. A nicely written, humorous, and thoughtful piece.

When I saw his response, I couldn’t help myself and not respond. Here is my on-going response with Gregg (from Facebook):

Not difficult to separate the posers from the rest. Litmus test question: If you are not innovative with self, then how you can you help others become innovative?

I respect people who walk the talk. If you behave this way, it means you are not afraid to fail. How much is a non-creative creativity consultant risking by regurgitating what is being said in books and everywhere else? Nothing.

Also, innovation is about making things better, and if the person who is advising/challenging you on how to make things better doesn’t act this way, then he/she has no business giving advice on what they don’t do themselves.

I know a couple of people in my neck of the woods who “sell innovation” and know for a fact that they are running around with frameworks from other people. For me, if you are truly committed to innovation, then you have to challenge the status-quo. That means best practices. And, if you can’t identify when you are simply regurgitating best practices, then why would I expect you to challenge and stretch my thinking?

YES! I’ve never had a great idea come out of using frameworks and tools. Nor have I heard of any game-changing business be born in a strategic planning session where frameworks were used. I understand their value in helping people think, but, true advantage is cognitive.

Tools don’t make a great mind, but a fluid and adaptable mind makes frameworks irrelevant.

Of course, this is a daunting challenge for anyone and even more daunting for an organization.

Do you think creativity/innovation consultants should be held to a higher standard?

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  • greggfraley

    Thanks for posting on this Jorge. Mostly, I think this is so — if you haven’t done any actual innovating — on something, (anything!) how can someone credibly claim to understand the process? I suppose if one gets a job early in their career with McKinsey or a big consultancy doing high level innovation projects that might be great experience. You would walk away from that with a lot of great perspective, which could be helpful to others. Still, there’s nothing quite like the blank page of creating a start-up, or inventing a new product. If you haven’t done that, you “don’t have it all” in my view. Even a failure of invention or in a start-up is a great experience for learning. I am a fan of frameworks and tools, but putting a chain saw in the hands of a child is dangerous, so, as you indicate, adapting (or even rejecting entirely) these tools to the context is where the art of innovation lies.

    • Hi Gregg,

      I’m with you. What I dislike, specifically, is when people give advice that they haven’t or wouldn’t follow themselves. It is easy to sound smart and daring, but to act consistently is completely different.

      Their advice could very well be well intentioned, but, as you say, it isn’t the same. You got to have “war scars” on you.

      Frameworks are good for collaboration and teaching, and to get consensus between stakeholders. It makes it easier to get people on board since it leads, or creates the illusion, to a process/methodology.

      It is very easy to fall prey ideas of success that resulted because of a methodology. It is also why companies like Disney, Pixar, Apple, Cirque Du Soleil stand out. There are principles that are followed, but not a methodology.

      I’m more of the intuitive kind where I immerse myself in the challenge. I want to get a feel for it, to notice the colors and textures, as opposed to just breaking it down objectively.

      The challenge is getting people to trust themselves as opposed to trusting a system that everyone else follows.

      Thanks for the comment,


  • Great provocative post as usual Jorge! I do believe creativity / innovation consultants need to be held to a higher standard (ie it is too easy to trot out the latest best practice…). I also believe a ‘skilled’ consultant can utilise frameworks & tools to provide stimulus for teams to avoid ‘group’ think (ie to coin a Debono phrase “take you out of your current river of thinking”). Brilliant minds can of course leap this ‘river’ without tools & change the world; however these minds are rare finds in most corporates. Creativity consultants who can ‘walk the talk’ clearly can then use ‘storytelling’ to build the confidence of the ‘norm’ and whether it is tools, frameworks or pure inspiration, momentum can build and corporates can achieve sustainable success, Keep pushing us Jorge!

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes. As I said to Gregg, there are many well intentioned people posing as consultants. It is very easy to give the advice, but execution is where the rubber meets the road.

      I’m more inclined to listen to the ones who come up with their own methods as opposed to the ones who follow someone else. It tells me that you are challenging, or at least think that there is a better way. Plus, you got to have put it to the test.

      People don’t follow titles, they follow courage. And, inside corporations courage is what is desperately needed. Not tools and frameworks.

      Thanks for the comment Mark,


      • You raise 3 fabulous points Jorge!

        1. Often consultants are well intentioned yet ineffective
        2. It is execution where rubber meets the road. In my experience corporates hire consultants to come up with the ‘big idea’. The experience is fun yet after ‘investing’ $150 -200k the idea is only at the ‘start point’ of a corporate stage & gate process. It takes internal heroes to ‘bully’ the project through the many subsequent stages. Often as the ‘big idea’ is perceived to have come from external help, no one internally wants to take it on (the analogy I refer here is an ‘arranged marriage’)
        3. Corporates require courage. This is where consultants may have a place. That is to start a program that is focused on building the creative confidence of every employee and as a result ‘make innovation everyone’s job’.

        Whirlpool is an example of a corporate that has instilled this confidence (with the initial help of consultants) and its pipeline is overflowing (from $10M in 1999 to $750M in 2005 and now over $4B.

        Love the topic!

        • Oh yes! Don’t get me started with these. I love the “arranged marriage” terminology haha.

          On the third point, I’m working on a concept to address it: Courage Camp.

          It aims directly at Corporate training, which I think sucks.

          We have to talk more about this 🙂

  • Great post and interaction, Jorge and Gregg. As innovation consultants we should offer clients something they could not do themselves. Yes, facilitating a process with tools and frameworks will help, but real value comes from experience and insight. As the saying goes, experience is something you get right after you needed it. My grey hair and wrinkles prove only a part of my experience……..

    • Hi Kevin,

      You hit the nail: We have to offer them something that they could not do themselves.

      It is funny because when people ask me “what do you do for a living?”, my response is: what you can’t do.

      This surprises people, but it sets me up perfectly. That is really my pitch.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting. Your insight and experience is more than welcome here 🙂


  • Debbie Ruston

    This holds true in any area of life….those that walk the walk have credibility…those that don’t, are just speaking from theory….

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