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As a consultant, there can be a scary moment at the start of a project.

There you are with your programme and techniques, your experience and expertise, your understanding of people and brands, your belief about how it all fits together.

But you feel like you’re drowning.

It’s the information download.

“Here’s a wheelbarrow-full of data on behaviour in the category.”

“Shall I send you all the research we’ve done since the brand was launched?”

“I’ve just found a number of other research projects from all around the world.”

“You really need to do these three stakeholder interviews as well.”

“We did some ethnography once. Here are the films.”

“What about all the feedback on the website? Can you do anything with all that?”

“If we go for it, I think we could visit all six stores in the town before your train home.”

“Let’s throw the net wider. What about adjacent categories, parallel worlds, macro trends?”

“Do you think semiotics would help us understand our assets?”

“Here’s our brand model. And the one before that.”

The day comes when you’re sitting there, desktop awash with files and folders, and you realise how little you know.

Which is perfect, because now you can start to add some value.

You’re probably the first person to look at most of this stuff in years. Most won’t even know it exists.

You’re starting from fresh too, hopefully without too many preconceptions and biases.

If you’re lucky, some random connections starting pinging in your brain. A project you worked on in the last century. Another world with a similar kind of need (where is that Need Map?). A line from a song.

Be careful about trying to sound clever in meetings. Don’t use acronyms until you know what they stand for. Or pretend you understand how a product’s made until you’ve been to the factory. Remember that quote from Robin Wight: “Interrogate a product until it confesses its strengths”.

In fact, that pretty much works for the whole process. Ask questions, lots of them, especially the simple ones. They’re generally the best.

As you read document after document, listen back to interviews, wander off down Google wormholes, a word cloud starts to form in your head. You hear or read the same things over and over again. They must matter.

The same thing works in download sessions. Arm everyone with a Post-it and pen and get them to capture what they think are the key learnings from a spread of sources. One thought per Post-it, the fewer words the better. Then group the Post-it’s and see what the big themes are.

The funny thing is clients generally know the answer. They just need help in seeing it.

So it isn’t your job to be the genius or the guru, attractive, though, playing those roles can be.

And don’t be like those marketing bloggers who sound absolutely certain about absolutely everything.

Be the one who knows nothing, apart from what really matters.

Be like Winnie The Pooh.

“When you wake in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

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