A major corporation developed a serious problem with its IT system. Each of the IT managers had tried repeatedly to figure out why the system was operating poorly but could not find the solution. After a critical deadline was missed, the executives made the decision to call upon an IT consultant to assess their situation. The consultant walked into the main data center where the servers were located, paused for a moment, and then placed a large “X” on one of the machines. “This is your problem,” he stated and then left as quickly as he had come.

A week later, the company received an invoice for $10,000. Outraged, the CFO sent a letter to the consultant demanding an itemized account of the invoice. A few days later came an itemized invoice that contained only two items: “Placing an X cost $1. Knowing where to place the X cost $9,999.”

While many versions of this story exist, its value still highlights the importance of having both specific and general knowledge. The IT managers of the corporation certainly had expertise in their IT system but likely lacked enough knowledge to step back and see the problem. Others in the organization, such as the executive staff, probably lacked enough specific expertise to understand the essence of the problem from the start. The consultant, however, had both the ability to understand specifics about IT troubleshooting and a wide scope of experience about IT systems in general that allowed him to efficiently diagnose the problem.

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5 Comments
  1. Lucky consultant, I wish I was able to get away with solely diagnosing a problem without having to fix it!

    The problem with working in a static environment day in and day out is that you start making assumptions about how things are working. You disregard certain components as unimportant, and sooner or later, your view of the network begins to skew. When you bring in a third party, or “another set of eyes” so to speak, you can get some very useful shifts in perspective that allow you to identify a problem that was right under your nose. Happens all the time in my company – run in to a wall for a while and just have a colleague take a look.

    • Yes, wouldn’t we all like to identify problems without proposing solutions? That’s sort of the life of a professional critic, isn’t it? Ha-ha. You make an important point about bringing in another set of eyes for an alternate viewpoint. There are at least two sides to every story and oftentimes you will appreciate the third side of the story because it is prevented from a different and unique vantage point.

  2. I get angry when my IT people can’t solve any problems. If I am employing people in IT then I shouldn’t have to ever hire IT consultants. Granted, I do not own the business but I am a manager there and I am always leaning on IT for help. Rarely is there a problem that the IT department can’t fix though we have hired consultants during a few jams in the past. So, yes, they do have significant value.

  3. This is a good ‘fable’ for more than just IT. It shows how people within a situation can be too blinded by their nearness to the problem to really see what it is. The story tells us the value of an outside or third-party view. (Albeit, an expensive one!)

    IT consultants (indeed, any type of consultant) are valuable for this distance from the problem. Let’s hope the company in the story asked for an explanation of the issue next 😉

  4. Dialogue does wonders for a number of jobs. I like how the IT consultant does his jobs quickly and relatively more effectively in that way. That’s the kind of interaction that we don’t get to make every day with the team.

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