Obvious Adams

Obvious AdamsMany of us have an aversion to consultants – they cost so much and they think they’re so darn smart. But then why do we need consultants? Because it’s human nature for us to lose the ability to see our organizations, programs, and plans objectively. We need consultants to point out the obvious to us and develop obvious solutions to our problems. The fact is, if we could develop the ability to see our organizations and plans through fresh eyes every day, and then take time to think about obvious solutions, we would never need a consultant the rest of our careers. Meet Oliver “Obvious” Adams.

Obvious Adams, first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916, is the delightful short story of a “very ordinary sort of boy” possessing “no particular initiative” who, nevertheless, rises quickly in the Oswald Advertising Agency from “periodicals filer” to president of the company. Mr. Adams’ talent? He is able to discern the “obvious” solution to any problem. Invariably, his supervisors are stunned they did not see the simple solution for themselves: “Now, why in thunder couldn’t some of us have thought of that?”

Near the end of his career, Obvious Adams was interviewed and asked, “Why don’t more businessmen do the obvious?” And he answered,

“I have given considerable thought to that very question, and I have decided that picking out the obvious thing presupposes analysis, and analysis presupposes thinking, and thinking is the hardest work many people ever have to do, and they don’t like to do any more of it than they can help. They look for a royal road through some short cut in the form of a clever scheme or stunt, which they call the obvious thing to do; but calling it doesn’t make it so. They don’t gather all the facts and then analyze them before deciding what really is the obvious thing.”

How can we think about our projects, our work, our teams like an outside consultant? Do we take enough time to step back from our work, think about what the real objective is, analyze the current situation, and identify the “obvious” solution? And then, once we’ve identified it, how can we muster the courage to implement the “obvious” solution?

7 responses to “Obvious Adams

  1. Richard Abercrombie

    Just a few years ahead of Robert Updegraff, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth wrote “Most of good management is obvious.” Obviously, Updegraff was a student of the Gilbreths.

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