Each time we travel to our various clients around the world, I am struck by the number of people we meet who are independently consulting to one firm or another across the globe. These are people who generally work for themselves or part of a small grouping of similar minded individuals. Some are retired and use the consulting environment to stay in touch with business, by giving back advice and experience gained throughout their working lives.

During the last encounter, it dawned upon me how similar the functions of independent consultants and marriage counsellors are. Often the external consultants are called in to mend something that the business cannot fix by itself. Something inside the corporate relationship is not working and causing tension and it needs someone who is not part of the corporate fabric to provide expertise  and an impartial perspective.

Invariably these immersions are met with resistance by one of the parties on the inside (usually the husband!). Stories about consultants using your watch to tell you the time abound. But this is mostly not true. If the consultants did not provide valuable insights into the relationship, they would not be hired over and over around the world.

In my experience you find two types of consultants: the ones that do the work and leave, and the ones that use the initial introduction to get a foot in the door, cross sell their services, and never leave. The latter type is akin to the counsellor whose work is never done, or the permanent therapist whose services are never finished.

The quest for corporate innovation is a case in point. Most businesses are designed to be efficient, predictable and measurable. By doing so they are presumed to be profitable, yet the persistence of bad corporate practices like cost-plus budgeting and lack of accountability, to mention a few, ensure they remain wasteful. Consequently the innovators amongst us describe business as ‘broken by design”, and this provides a fertile environment for innovation counselling support.

Just as a couple may try, yet fail, at solving their own problems, businesses in general seldom innovate successfully by themselves. Their people are usually skilled in other areas. They are used to accounting for progress on a monthly basis to justify their performance, and lack the ability to find creative solutions inside of a corporate culture to which they have become accustomed.

It is normally once a couple is at the end of their tether, that they might seek out the services of a marriage counsellor, as opposed to being proactive and doing so in the early phase of a dispute. So too, companies should reach out early for innovation and creative support when embarking on the treacherous innovation journey. Not only does this de-risk the project, but also provides a fast track corporate learning of the latest thinking and lessons learned by others along the way.