I hate spiders. There are many creatures on Earth that are far more dangerous but far less creepy; I would rather hug a tiger than come near a spider. However, as much as I despise these vile arachnids, they provide an important lesson: the necessity of creating webs.
In a fast-paced business world, it is easy to attempt to solve problems in a heads-down fashion. Research is essential, and with the powerful software available today, data analysis has become the surefire way to provide quality insights into market trends. Organizations tend to set goals based on the bottom line. As such, in the non-profit sphere, boosted fundraising and awareness-building take priority. The first steps to address these problems are often benchmarking and adopting the revenue building methods that other organizations use. These steps do provide a certain degree of success, but there is a segment that is easily overlooked: connections. In solving business problems, it is essential to understand your client’s unique situation and build some webs. These webs are not designed to build strong, enduring relationships that provide better ways to problem-solve.
The best way to exemplify this phenomenon is with an example from a previous client with which I worked. My project team and I had the opportunity to consult for a local non-profit that sought to improve underprivileged individuals’ career prospects by providing computer training and job preparation. Our client primarily wanted to be able to develop accurate evaluation metrics and determine the technology skills demanded in the labor market. This ask, therefore, required a great deal of hard data. Our team delved into academic research on Adobe, Google Drive, and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert training. We crunched numbers on the impact of current computer training programs and forecasted the success of implementing new methodologies. In short, we became experts in the IT labor market.
We were coming up with lucrative solutions, but were doing so at a distance from the client itself. It was not until a fellow consultant and I trekked to one of their teaching centers and sat in on a class that we truly realized we were not just working with a technology non-profit; we were working with people. For the first time, we interacted with the instructors in the program rather than an executive board. We saw first-hand a group of students who had never before used computers presenting business research on PowerPoint. In this moment, we realized how much more targeted to the client’s mission we could become. As such, our final evaluation metrics included sections for students to provide feedback and discuss how their new tech skills changed their lives. Our course recommendations took into consideration the engagement of students and the limited resources available. Our deliverables provided the hard data required, but it was the connections that we built that took our solutions to the next level.
In their piece in the Harvard Business Review, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon claim that “the most effective way to maximize customer value is to…connect with customers at an emotional level.” A client’s business problems cannot be solved using numbers alone; by shaking their hands and listening, you can form a web of connections that address the unique problems they face.
The ancient Greek comedian Aristophanes said that “the wise learn many things from their enemies.” From my arch nemesis, the spider, it is clear that in order for a web to be strong, there need to be many interconnections. The silk of a web is only a few microns in diameter, yet each strand is imperative to the strength of the others, and together, they can stretch and bounce back to accommodate pressures. The spider teaches us that the connections we form every day provide greater solutions than we could ever imagine. Alone, individuals or groups may have modest successes, but together, a connected network of people can address any challenge.