Any of you that have worked with RedMonk know that Stephen and I are not afraid to disagree… even during a client engagement. Sure we may have back channel communications going, but not to establish a single “story” or “version of the truth”.
That may sound stupid – “You guys can’t even agree what to tell the client???!! That is against consulting 101.”
But in the course of a conversation it makes sense. You see; we’re not about holding one position and sticking to it, trying to move the rest of the world to our way of thinking, regardless of fact and public opinion. We’re about understanding that complex problems are best understood by examination through multiple perspectives. We want to simulate the wisdom of the crowds, looking through the eyes of the folks milling around the bazaar, and through those sitting in the cathedral too.
When we work with a client that is looking for formal recommendations of course we come to a synthesis. We are more than happy to prepare a briefing paper for a client that articulates a “RedMonk” view. But we also like to help that client navigate the thicket of possible alternatives.
Dialect, intellectual conflict, and resolution are very much part of the RedMonk style and so our business model.
At times its something like roleplay.
An example may help to illustrate what I am getting at here.
Early in our working relationship we were working on the rich/thin/thick client question.
Stephen had recently left a job as a systems integration consultant, working on portal, content management and CRM implementations. He loved the manageability experience of portals, the easy of update and ongoing maintenance, the lower overheads in terms of touchpoints.
I was frustrated though by the fact that so many web interfaces were, and remain, counter-intuitive and clunky. As an analyst I tried to understand what the alternatives were, or whether Windows really was the default for client-side functionality (especially if you needed an offline client).
We argued through the pros and cons of both approaches, giving some here, taking there, diving into various different approaches, technologies and vendors that might infuence and improve the computing experience for administrators, developers and end-users. All three of those constituencies have different goals in mind, and we wanted to understand what trade-offs would be expected and accepted.
We took positions but kept thinking on our feet. We hammered on each others ideas.
It was that dialogie that led us to become the first public exponents of an Eclipse Rich Client platform, before such a project was on the cards. We were the first analysts to give it a name because we had thought through the problems thoroughly and talked to enough people to see the way the world was likely to go.
RedMonk wants to help our clients and contacts to learn stuff. That should be a key role for an analyst. Helping folks to think through problems, and get to the state of the art in how these problems are being solved by others, and work out where differentiation might lie, is what we do.
So when I read this piece, The Smackdown Learning Model, by Kathy Sierra I had to smile. I had a golden cornflake moment (blogs with breakfast… ummm). It’s always great when someone articulates something you had implicitly understood about your working practices but hadn’t put into words. I call this “giving it a name“.
Kathy makes a strong argument that we learn through conflict.
How does it work?
By presenting different perspectives or views of the topic, the learner’s brain is forced into making a decision about which one they most agree with. And as long as the learner is paying attention, you won’t even have to ask. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a formal exercise where the learner must physically make a choice between multiple things; simply by giving their brain the conflicting message, their brain has no choice. Brains cannot simply leave the conflicts out there without at least trying to make an evaluation.
Of course Kathy being Kathy she also calls it in terms of passion:
Why is this better than a single consistent message?
More brain flexing = more learning. (Yes, there’s a big assumption here that the learner already understands the fundamentals behind the different viewpoints.)
When the learner is given a single message, and led through the topic step-by-step with no apparent alternatives, the learner’s brain doesn’t have to think as much. And since a single message is often less interesting, the material is less engaging and the learner isn’t paying as much attention.
And the more intense the smackdown (i.e. the heat/fight of the opposing views) the more likely it is that the learner will feel something. And remember, we learn and remember that which we feel, not that which we merely hear or read.
One great thing about blogging is that it suits this way of working. Multiple perspectives are quickly captured and can be synthesised. I often comment to disagree with tecosystems on something. In public. Like this, for example.
Its no bad thing. You shouldn’t expect a single view of the world from RedMonk, you should however expect to be challenged, and hopefully learn something along the way when you work with us. Hopefully this approach helps garner passion in our customers.
Am I worried our approach might lead clients and prospects to question our capabilities? Not really. Those who are looking for easy answers will probably go elsewhere anyway; there are plenty of analyst firms that will do as they are told and tell you what you want to hear.
It’s not a binary world, you have to work with the shades of grey. That way we all learn from each other.