Oscar Wilde may have been right to describe consistency as “the hallmark of the unimaginative”, as may Aldous Huxley when he argued – somewhat more forcefully – that it is “contrary to nature and contrary to life”. But neither, to the best of our knowledge, spent their spare time advising consulting firms about the effectiveness of their thought leadership. Had they done so we suspect they’d have softened their stance a bit because consistency, or more specifically the lack of it, is one of the biggest issues with the output of many firms.
If you’re a typical firm with a typical range of thought leadership then you’ll have a handful of pieces that are really rather good and of which you can be justifiably proud. The rest of your output will be made up of 20% which will appeal to some of your readers, 50% that you’ve got your doubts about, and 25% that you really wish had never seen the light of day. If a potential client reads a range of your material, their impression of your firm is likely to be similarly mixed and they may be left wondering which firm they’d get if they hired you. But how many commit themselves to reading a range of your material? More likely you (and they) either get lucky and pick something good, or they pick something bad, waste precious time on a report that fails to deliver fresh insight and is a tedious read, and come to the conclusion that they might give future reports from your firm a swerve. After all, there are plenty of alternatives.
This week we completed our quality analysis of the thought leadership produced by leading consulting firms in the second half of 2013 (White Space subscribers will receive the report next week) and honed in, for the first time, on the variance of scores within the material produced by each firm. Doing so revealed three clear groups: a very small number of firms who consistently produce high quality material, a significant number of firms who consistently produce low quality material, and a very large group in the middle whose scores are all over the place. What’s interesting is that some of the firms in this last group can pull exceptionally good pieces of thought leadership out of the bag that are much better than anything being produced by the ‘consistently good’ (but rarely exceptional) firms. The trouble is that they may fall on the now-deafened ears of people who read the bad stuff first.
The ideal approach combines the consistency of the high-quality group with the ability to experiment from time to time to push the boundaries of what is possible. It’s the approach that would keep Oscar Wilde and Aldous Huxley happy whilst giving you a better than average chance of actually seeing a return on your investment (something Wilde and Huxley show a shocking disregard for, in our opinion). Right now, nobody’s managing to do that.