Tool # 2: The Golden Key
Golden Key represents my ability to open new areas for learning and practicing,
and also to close them when they don't fit for me at this time. Without my Key,
my consulting would become narrowly focused, or focused on areas in which I was
no longer interested. There are many ways to activate your Golden Key. One way
is Polanski's Pointer.
Activating The Golden Key
had learned something about programming computers, people started asking me to
find errors in their programs. At first, I didn't have much wisdom about debugging,
as this activity is sometimes called, and I wasted a lot of time following false
Finally, one rainy December morning in the District of Columbia,
my eyes were opened. My team was working to a hard deadlinea scheduled rocket
launchand one of the programs just wouldn't run properly. Wally, one of
the programmers, called on me for help, saying that he and some other programmers
had worked all night without locating the problem. I asked him what they had already
"One thing I'm absolutely sure of," Wally said,
"is that the bug can't be in the Red program. I've checked that one six times.
And Sarah checked it, too."
So, taking him at his word, I plunged
right into the Blue, Green, and Yellow programs and never came out. That is, I
didn't come out for lunch, and I didn't come out for dinnerboth significant
events in my working day. Finally, at around 9:30 that night, my stomach told
me that Polanski's Deli, next door, was going to close in half an hour. So, I
took a break.
When I got there, Polanski's crew had already cleaned up
for closing, so I asked Julie, the counter waitress, for a take-out of corned
"All our corned beef is extra lean," Julie
insisted while assembling the sandwich. She turned and called out, "Hey,
Polanski, bring me one of those take-out bags."
have put 'em away," Polanski shouted from the back. "Do you know where
he put them?"
"No, but I'm sure they're not in the cookie cabinet.
I already looked in there."
"Thanks," Polanski shouted back,
and in a moment, he emerged from the kitchen, proudly displaying a brown paper
"Where'd you find it?" Julie asked. "I can never find
stuff that Harold puts away." "They were in the cookie cabinet."
I was dumbfounded. "But why did you look there?" I asked. "Julie
just told you she was sure they weren't there."
said Polanski. "When Julie's that sure it's not there, it means that
she believes it's not there, so she probably never looked there. So, it's
"Oh," I muttered. I grabbed my sandwich,
paid the check, and rushed back to the office.
When I arrived, Wally was
still studying the errant code. "Give me the Red listing," I insisted.
"Why?" Wally questioned, but handed me the listing anyway. "We
know it's not there."
"Precisely," I said, and proceeded
to find the bug in about two minutes.
And that's how I learned another
way to use my Golden Key, a technique I call Polanski's Pointer:
they're absolutely sure it's not there, it's probably there.
Pointer tells me what doors to open, and a corollary tells me which ones to leave
Don't bother looking where everyone is pointing.
all, if people knew the right place to look, they wouldn't ask a consultant to
help them find it.
And there's another version of Polanski's Pointer, one
that I apply when I find myself pointing away from some subject.
you believe that a subject has nothing for you, it probably has something for
Why? Well, if it's a subject, somebody must be interested
in it, so there's definitely something about it capable of arousing human interest.
Therefore, if I don't see anything interesting about it, I must not even know
enough about it to know how it can be interesting. It's a sure sign that I'll
learn something when I open that closed door.
The Golden Lock
have a trick for applying this personal version of Polanski's Pointer. I search
for someone who is genuinely interested in the subject, and then I ask for the
one reference that person would recommend to someone who knows nothing about the
subject. This always worksunless I find someone who doesn't really love
the subject but is just making a living at it. There's a difference.
reason there's a difference is that most people don't make full use of their Golden
Key, and thus they easily get stuck in a field that bores them. I call this phenomenon
The Golden Lock:
I'd like to learn something new, but what I already
know pays too well.
The Golden Lock is a close cousin to The Golden
Handcuffs, which corporations use to shackle their most valuable employees. But
unlike the Handcuffs, the Lock is self-imposed, self-designed. Being self-designed,
it's a far better trap than any Handcuffs could ever be, and only The Golden Key
can unlock it.
The pay for wearing The Golden Lock need not be financial,
though that's surely common among consultants. Quite frequently, the pay is prestige,
or the envy of one's colleagues, or the gratitude of one's clients. Whatever the
pay, it's not easily dispensed with and thus the Lock.
That's why The Golden
Key has two aspectsone that opens doors, and one that locks them again.
I think my Golden Key is very good at locking doors, but compared to my wife and
business partner, Dani, I'm a novice. Dani is particularly good at locking doors
and moving on, having mastered and practiced in several different areas of human
knowledge: teaching piano, teaching and applying anthropology, consulting to large
organizations, and training professional dog trainers.
Over the years,
I believe I've learned Dani's secret rule, which I call Dani's Decider:
you stop learning new things, it's time to move on.
is one of the most powerful secrets of consulting. Why? Consultants are hired
for knowing what others don't know, so a consultant who stops learning soon decays
in value. On the other hand, the less you know, the less likely you are to threaten
your clients with change, and this could endear you to those who benefit from
the status quo. However, Dani's Decider would still apply, and ultimately, your
value as a consultant would be diminished.