Obi-Wan isn’t just a great Jedi who can teach us about the mysteries of the Force. Turns out - his wisdom applies to consulting as well. Let’s take a look at a few situations and quotes where he demonstrates his mastery.
Go with the unexpected
OBI-WAN: That's…. why I'm here.
In Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan visits the planet of Kamino, and finds out that they are producing a Clone Army for the Republic - allegedly at the behest of the Jedi. Despite having this information sprung on him, he rolls with the punches and assures them that he is here for that exact reason.
Obi-Wan demonstrates the ability to quickly gain context while keeping an open dialogue with his clients. He “yes, and-”s, allowing the Kaminoan Cloners to drive the conversation, giving him an info-dump that he wouldn’t have gotten if he had stopped them to ask clarifying questions at the onset.
Whether it is in a user interview, a stakeholder meeting, or while grabbing a coffee with a client - it’s vital to let folks talk. You don’t know the answer to questions you don’t know to ask. If they start telling you unexpected things - that’s why you’re there!
Share successes and flee from office politics
ANAKIN: (to Obi-Wan) Are you coming, Master?
OBI-WAN: Oh no. I'm not brave enough for politics. [...]
ANAKIN: Hold on, this whole operation was your idea. You planned it. You led the rescue operation. You have to be the one to take the bows this time.
After rescuing Chancellor Palpatine from the Invisible Hand, in Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan leaves Anakin with the politicians, despite Anakin reminding him that he was responsible for that team’s win. Obi-Wan removes himself as quickly as he can, delegating it to the person who was interested in dealing with those particular stakeholders.
There are two main lessons here (isn’t Obi-Wan so wise?). First, get away from office politics. As a consultant, we often are given a unique insight in the political aspects of an organization. We can approach the situation with fresh eyes. Learning how to stay out of political quagmires is a skill that takes a long time to master. Sometimes it’s unavoidable - but when it isn’t: avoid it!
Secondly, it’s important to make sure that the team shares in getting credit for wins. It’s not so much that there ‘isn’t an I in team’ - it’s that a high-functioning agile team should look like a unified front from the outside. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate an individual's contributions, but in general: the team wins and loses together.
Perspective and empathy matter
OBI-WAN: [...] So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.
LUKE SKYWALKER: [incredulously] A certain point of view?
OBI-WAN KENOBI: Luke, you will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
While probably one of the most notorious of Obi-Wan’s quotes, it is one of the most insightful. After Yoda becomes one with the force in Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, Luke meets the Force-ghost of Obi-Wan and demands to know why he wasn’t upfront with the knowledge that Darth Vader was once (Spoiler alert!) Anakin Skywalker - Luke’s father.
When entering a new consulting opportunity, it’s hard not to jump to easy conclusions based on preconceived notions. It is far too easy to judge based on partial information - as Luke did.
A good consultant in Luke’s shoes would take in the information he has been given, but be ready and open to learning more, and adjust expectations and actions accordingly. Challenging assumptions is a key component of a successful consultant / client relationship.
According to the retrospective Prime Directive, folk’s decisions are based on “what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand” - in summation, their point of view. Acknowledging and understanding that things depend on this is a crucial part of building empathy.
Don’t get me wrong - in this particular case, Obi-Wan clearly withheld important context from Luke. But while this example might not be the best implementation of his point, the overall point still stands!
Always be pairing
OBI-WAN: We'll take him together.
Anakin Skywalker is a lot of things - but a great pair wouldn’t be one. When facing down Count Dooku in Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan knows that this situation calls for collaboration. Anakin, however, decides to recklessly charge in, and ends up losing an arm for his impudence. However, when Obi-Wan and Anakin confront the Count, for the final time in Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Anakin replies to Obi-Wan’s plea to “do it together” by saying “I was about to say that”. The student is becoming the master.
Despite his reluctant partner, Obi-Wan insists on pairing. Pairing has a great many advantages, such as tight feedback loops, close collaboration, and mentoring just to name a few. When working with a pair it’s important for the best idea to surface, so that the best aspects of both people rise to the top. A good pair is more than just the sum of their parts!
Admit when you've messed up
OBI-WAN: “I've failed you Anakin”
The relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan has a few rough patches. One of the roughest would probably be when Obi-Wan cuts is forced to duel Anakin in Episode III. Looking down as his defeated ex-apprentice, Obi-Wan admits that he failed him. That despite everything, his best wasn’t good enough. That he made mistakes, and they cost him so, so much. This would have been the last time they saw each other until Episode IV - A New Hope, but the Kenobi show promises another confrontation! I know I’m excited!
Being wrong stinks. And admitting it can be painful - but it is important to own your mistakes, to learn, and to grow from them. “The greatest teacher, failure is”, says Yoda in Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. And incorrect, he is not. The first step to learning - is the admittance of what you did wrong, especially to those whom you’ve failed.
Obi-Wan’s life certainly has its share of ups and downs, and throughout his journey he gleaned knowledge and wisdom - both of the Force and perhaps a bit of consulting. His advice to go with the unexpected, share successes with the team, flee from office politics, remember that perspective and empathy matter, always be pairing, and to admit when you've messed up are certainly all pieces of advice that I could do with being reminded of more often than not.
I hope these five consulting tips help you out - whatever your job may be. May the Fourth be with you!