Growing up, I distinctly remember playing a board game called Mousetrap.  

Maybe you’ve heard of it? If you have similar memories of the games, you’re likely to remember its complexity above all else. The objective was to construct–with all ingenuity and feats of engineering–THE best mousetrap in service to an otherwise straightforward task.

The game was inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” 

But this pathway of overcomplication was my first exposure to a prominent approach to business consulting I would come to see much of throughout the 21st century: Take a simple task, address it in an indirect and overly complicated way, and use a series of unrelated tools, to achieve the stated goal – maybe. Then, celebrate the “innovation,” rinse, repeat, and charge handsomely for the privilege.

In consulting, we call this “solutioning.”  Which is not really a word.  But like THE best mousetrap, it’s now been over-engineered into one – uniquely designed with signature busyness to sound far more effective than it really is.

A different approach

It is especially important, during these complicated times, that we push ourselves into an approach to problem solving that does not involve inserting our own pre-designed complexity. 

What if the necessary mousetrap had fewer steps? What if the organization already has its own solution for catching mice–one that is critical to its own survival? What if the client doesn’t actually have any need or desire to catch mice at all? 

Our role as consultants isn’t to add more to the mousetrap, but to address the need for one at all.

At The Elmfield Institute, we strive to not come prepared with a solution at all, avoiding all emphasis on our own importance, but instead focusing on and honoring the importance of the communities and organizations we have come to serve. 

So how does that approach play out in practice?  For our clients, “the solution” starts with something shockingly simple – not a lot. 

The most effective change comes from the process of removing layers and truly knowing, understanding and empathizing with the uniqueness of the situation from which the need arose. More particularly, it starts with deep listening and a silent, still cultivation of “right attitude,” before the clanging and clamoring of “right action” commences. 

In other words, by starting with a healthy stance of unlearning, and a deep recognition that some of our most extraordinary, state-of-the-art mousetraps, actually do very little to solve our problems, we open to a different kind of wisdom and business practice – one of self-consulting, not faux “solutioning.”

None of us are too far off from our stated goals. Nor is all this great “innovation” wasted. It’s just in some instances we seem to have overshot the mark and may need to wind our way back; still the busyness and listen closely to why the “call to action” was sounded in the first place. Who demanded more mice, and where did that come from? In other words, the best solution on the market today can be found in the most obvious of places– in the problem itself.  And it’s free.

Spending quality time with a problem before jumping toward action, is what archetypal psychologist, James Hillman called  “sticking with the image.” No Six Sigma, PMP, Tiger Team, Agile Method, or SAS coding is required.  All that’s needed is a willingness to pause at imagination before the rush toward innovation begins. 

In other words, by “sticking with” the problem before careening toward actions unknown, we allow the issue at hand to work us … before we work it. 

The result, often, is a tenderizing and transformation of our most brilliant thinking into our most impactful sensing instead. Called felt leadership, this approach harnesses the innovations of all our perceiving senses to generate the solution best-sized to our potential. The mousetrap should be one uniquely coded to the specific task and innately designed to last.

This reversal is a game changer, and one designed to relegate standard approach to business consulting into the ash heap of history. 

We don’t have the solution. You do. Readily available at the corner of non-doing and not-moving, there you’ll find it – the better mousetrap, yours.

By: Elizabeth Martin