I was describing my consulting services to a man on the phone. "We just had a very prestigious firm do an evaluation of our business and with a few minor exceptions, they validated our processes," he said. I thought validation meant finding the right guy to stamp your parking ticket. Paying a consultant to come in and pat you on the back and tell you you're doing well? Never.

I said, "That's great, it's always a good idea for a company to have an outsider come in and take a fresh look at things." After a short conversation, I learned that his boss used to work for the current consulting firm and had no interest in another firm.

When everyone at the table went to the same school and has a common life experience, you are not going to get a lot of new ideas, solutions and improvements. This kind of corporate inbreeding limits the intellectual gene pool, resulting in more of the same thinking. Outsiders may ask "dumb questions" because they don't know how things are done. Hiring a consultant who knows how you do things limits the potential payback.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." Gandhi was once accused of disagreeing with this. His response was something along the lines of "I will not waste my time apologizing for what I have said in the past. I can only seek to be faithful to the truth as it reveals itself to me." In other words, we don't know what we don't know.

Humans, like dogs, are creatures of habit; and habits can be tough to change. We once owned a beautiful dog named Prince. Prince could leap tall fences and run like the wind, but he used his talents for evil. Prince was a chicken killer; killing for sport became an obsession, and he could not be broken of it. There really are only a couple of options for a rogue dog:

1. You put it down before your neighbors do it for you.

2. You find it a home...far away from chickens.

I sure missed Prince after he was gone.

Not all habits are bad, but they can lead us to think that whatever we did yesterday must work because we survived. If we do the same thing today, we should survive to tomorrow, and so on.

Fear of mistakes and the power of habit limit our ability to think of new ways of doing things. We are so busy doing the same stuff over and over, we don't have time to think.

Input from someone different than us likely will create opportunity for growth. There may be pain in growth but there is a payback. Pascal wrote, "The more intelligent a person, the greater the differences they see in others. Ordinary people see all men the same."

Join a professional or trade association, if you're not already a member. Go to meetings and support training programs. Research your industry and your way of doing things so that you can continue to think and improve. A business manager not focused on improvement becomes an administrator at best and a bureaucrat at worst.

Hire consultants that will challenge how things are done. It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with them, what matters is you are being made to think. Ask your customers what they like or don't like about doing business with you, and do so with an open mind and no fear in your heart.

A consultant should be the guy who helps you make a jail break...not the chaplain who validates you and how you do things.