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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on June 06, 2008

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee last Friday night. (Feel free to mock me - I'm an unapologetic nerd.) The thing I most took away from watching elementary school students battle it out for orthographic supremacy was that they could all be pretty great consultants.

Let me explain.

Consultants are problem solvers. Yes they do primary and secondary research, yes they’re storytellers when it comes time to put together reports and presentations for their clients. But at the heart of it all is problem solving. Every time an Associate finds a new, effective way to secure interviews required for a project, she’s problem solving. Every time a Project Manager tweaks an existing tool or research method to suit a specific client’s needs, he’s problem solving. And every time a Client Lead performs an initial consultation with a client, she does one of the most important parts of the process – she helps identify the problem and frame it in a way that allows for action.

So how does that relate to spelling bee champions?

It’s essentially impossible to memorize the correct spelling of all of the words in the English language. The good folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary suggest that there are probably somewhere around a quarter of a million words in existence[1], so competitors prepare by doing something infinitely more interesting than rote memorization – they build problem solving tools!

Etymologies, combining forms, parts of speech, alternate pronunciations – spellers use these pieces of information to figure out how a word should be spelled without ever having seen it before. They’re frequently playing Sherlock on a nationally televised stage, and keeping a sense of humour and poise while they do it. They sound like pretty good consulting candidates to me.


[1] http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutenglish/numberwords

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