A Metaphor for What We Do
I like the metaphor of a sherpa for what I do. A sherpa is commonly known as a mountain guide, especially on Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Some may think of a sherpa as just someone who carries the gear but they are so much more. To be an effective sherpa you must know the mountain and that comes with experience. Not only must you know that mountain, you must know the destination, the best route to get there and what is required, the tools, techniques and the skills to make it. You must know the strengths and limitations of your client, the dynamics of the team you are leading and the conditions and context around the expedition. As a sherpa, you must know when to push your clients, when to pull back and when to give them space to push themselves. This requires great trust between the sherpa and their client – one that is earned on the mountain. When the mountain is tackled and the peak summited, the glory goes to the client as it should and not the sherpa, but without the sherpa most expeditions would never make it.
The same is true for the world of insights and ideas that I occupy. Most clients that come to me come with a urgent sense that they need to do something new and different to breakthrough the clouds of the marketplace. At the same time they are not quite sure where they need to go and usually have no idea how to get there. My job is get to clarity around what they are trying to accomplish and the context they are working under. Once that is identified, it is on me to plan the route, assemble the team, identify the tools, resources and techniques required to get the team above the clouds and to the top. I must have a deft touch to push the team when needed to advance and when to give them the space to do it on their own. Put another way, I must create a safe environment in which insights can be explored and ideas birthed without fear of judgement and ridicule. To go where others won’t requires trust and I must earn that quickly. You are not in service to the client, you are in service to the destination but it is on me to put my client in a position to succeed. And when it is all complete and success is had, the glory goes to the client as it should because that is what I do. I am an Idea Sherpa.