Beans and Noses

Jared Spool

July 8th, 2011

Over the years, I’ve received a lot of great advice. One piece of advice I keep coming back to is about managing expectations. It came from an old friend, just a few days after I’d started my consulting practice.

He was a seasoned consultant himself and I had asked him what I should know, just starting out. He told me his First Rule of Consulting:

No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose.

That was it. Beans up the nose. Really.

At the time, I thought he was nuts. Now, I’ve come to realize those are words to live by.

The idea is blindingly simple, actually. Every so often, you’ll run into someone with beans who has, for no good reason, decided to put them up their own nose. Way up there. In a place where beans should not go.

Now, there is no logical explanation for this. There is no way to say, “Yes, I can see exactly why you’d want to do that.” They came to this decision all on their own. The way they got to this decision defies logic.

Yet, here they are. Waiting for the moment when the bean goes up the nose.

And here’s the thing: As an observer of this decision’s outcome, all we can do is cringe. We can try to argue. We can explain in the utmost rational terms why this is a bad idea. We can physically grab their arm and shake the bean from it.

Yet, if they are intent on sticking the bean up the nose, up the nose it will go. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Pure and simple.

I’m sure you run into them all the time. You’re in a room and someone with power has decided to do something that just doesn’t make sense. You’ve tried logic. You’ve tried rational discourse. Yet, they are intent.

Beans and noses. We have beans. We have a nose. They must be united.

Time and time again, I come across situations where I think, “OMG! They are trying to stick beans up their nose!” It explains what’s happening and what I should do next.

The only thing I can do in a beans-and-noses situation (notice my clever use of flight-attendant grammar forms?) is wait. Wait until the bean is in its final resting place. Then, with a calmness only seen in yoga instructors, I can turn the nose owner and ask, “So, how is that working for you? Did it do everything you’d hoped?”

Of course, if they answer they enjoyed it and it was wonderful, then they are not someone I can relate to or help in any way.

However, if sticking a bean deep into their nostril doesn’t meet the very high expectations they’d had, I can now start talking alternative approaches to reaching those expectations.

Often, when I see an oncoming beans-and-noses scenario unfolding before me, I’ll ask about those expectations. How will they know if it’s successful? What will life be like once the bean is firmly implanted?

Maybe, by talking about the outcome, they might see alternative ways of achieving it that won’t result in the misery that comes from a nasal-based legume implantation experience. They might realize they have choices before they commit the act.

That only works half the time. The other half, the bean starts its wayward journey.

That’s when I move on. I decide I can’t be of further help and go take my skills, experience, and knowledge to others. Others that aren’t about to stick beans up their noses. There are plenty of those. And it’s much less frustrating for everyone involved.

41 Responses to “Beans and Noses”

  1. Dana Tan Says:

    Wow. This was a great article. I am an SEO and I just got laid off by a company intent on sticking beans up its nose (http://www.kingdom.com). You are right. Waiting is all you can do. I am waiting for the call. Hopefully they don’t go out of business before they finally think the beans weren’t such a good idea. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Ron Says:

    As you pointed, some companies just don’t learn from failing projects. Some of my customers want to stick … carrots … in their noses when doing a new attempt do solve a problem/do a project.

    After a couple of years in consulting I tend to say, that most companies that hire consultants are unable to solve problems with or without them and just too large budgets to burn before it hurts.

    That’s why usually small and medium-sized corporations are much more conservative about “quick hiring a freelancer/consultant” to fix something.

    So probably you need good nerves to see this crap repeating over and over again OR you’re fine to ignore such projects. But this means you will earn much less money.

  3. Ron Says:

    … especially if you’re *very passionate* about things you do, it’s probably not a good move to do consulting.

  4. Brent Says:

    “You can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into.”

  5. James S Says:

    I’ve seen the beans-and-noses issue over and over again. Your advise to wait is very wise. Clients usually come around to “new to them” processes or technologies after the their original decision starts costing them more money, lost in productivity or even worse threatens their core business. We’ve all seen how fast a client is willing to pay a premium to fix a problem in a time of crisis.

    If a bean-and-nose decision does turn into a crisis it’s very important to be responsive and let the client save a bit of face when things go sideways: it’s the perfect sales: they come to you, you solve the problem with a smile, relationship is strengthened, continued business, clients shares their story with people they know, referral business.

  6. Sebastian Says:

    Great article, made me chuckle…

    I am trying to translate the picture “beans and noses” to german…my best idea was “Murmeln in die Nase schieben” (“marbles up the nose”).

  7. stephen Says:

    2am on a saturday morning, i didnt expect to read that.

    I completely relate. I just need to find a way to stop myself trying to punch the bean out their noses

  8. JM Says:

    Dana Tan: you’re in SEO and you’re trashing a former client.

    How’s life working out for you?

  9. Craig Harris Says:

    Laughed until I cried. And then some more. But Jared, now I’m wondering how many beans I had up my nose, a million years ago, when you helped us at Ontos?

  10. foghorn Says:

    Can’t push a rope….I learned that decades ago!

  11. Igor Says:

    Hi Jared, great article. I do think that what gets people to stick beans up their nose is what gets us to experiment, to discover something new and extraordinary, or to earn a Darwin award… – it’s human nature. And that’s what great about it – you can always count on it : -)

  12. Philip Yurchuk Says:

    Very funny, but you also bring up a great way to approach alternative bean placement by focusing on results and defining success.

    All too often, the motivation is FUD, and to continue the analogy, they spend all their money on what they hope are magic beans. When no beanstalks grow from their nostrils, they discover too late that they’ve no money left for bean removal surgery – or anything else. So moving on, for the consultant, is not so much a choice as a necessity.

  13. Andy Cavallini Says:

    I am doing consulting, and my best Customers are those with a ton of beans up in their noses.

    It’s when a nasal-based legume implantation experience develops, that a good consultant is called…
    …I beg your pardon, a “bean-operator” is called !

    Thank you Jared, for making my day.

    Andy C. – Italy
    (Sr.) Bean-operator

  14. Roni Says:

    Brilliant! And very funny, especially when scenarios pop into your mind imvoluntarily while you are reading.

    What is really painful is when someone has the bean but also has the power to insist YOU carry out the nasal insertion on their behalf….

  15. Michelle Sedas Says:

    Wonderful article. When I was two, I stuck raisins up my nose. That story has been passed along in my family for years and now I’m adding the “Clients who want to stick beans up their nose” story to my bag-o-metaphors. Thanks! :-)

  16. The First Rule of Consulting | Rachel Baker Says:

    [...] like you are new here. Subscribe to my RSS feed and you won't miss a post. Thank you for visiting! Jared Spool wrote about the best piece of advice he has received on managing client expectations. This is something he calls the First Rule of Consulting: No matter how much you try, you can’t [...]

  17. Batman Says:

    @JM: I don’t think Dana Tan is her real name.

    ;-)

  18. Tony Miller Says:

    I think I’ll start soliciting donations within my organization to help stamp out SCLS (Simple Chronic Leguminous Sinusitis). The primary sufferers should be eager to jump on board.

  19. Robin Says:

    @Batman: looks legit: http://www.linkedin.com/in/danatan

  20. Beans and Noses - Programming Blog Says:

    [...] Beans and Noses: [...]

  21. Thuy Vuong Says:

    Great advice. It doesn’t apply to customers and clients. Life is too short.

  22. Zack Mazinger Says:

    Yes!!!! The perfect article. We can all chime in and declare “The client didn’t listen to me and that is beacause they are foolish bean-in-nose putters. Stupid Clients.” Ahhh, yes. They’ll see. Does everyone feel better now? How about you, Jared? Better?

  23. Moving On | Isolated Designs Says:

    [...] Jared M. Spool who is the founder of User Interface Engineering, the largest usability research organization like it, offers some useful advice in how deal with people that “stick beans up their nose” for what appears to be no good reason at all. By managing the expectations before and after people use beans in improper ways, a consultant can better serve or walk away from these irrational consulting situations. The only thing I can do in a beans-and-noses situation (notice my clever use of flight-attendant grammar forms?) is wait. Wait until the bean is in its final resting place. Then, with a calmness only seen in yoga instructors, I can turn the nose owner and ask, “So, how is that working for you? Did it do everything you’d hoped?” [...]

  24. Darren Says:

    The more you argue with someone that their idea is bad the harder it is for them (and their ego) to accept they are wrong and go along with you. So by trying to hard to change their mind you’re actually doing them a disservice.

  25. lucy lowe Says:

    My friend has another phrase for it ‘they’ve got a pickle up their a*rse’. It’s the same thing. You deal with clients, you get it everyday. Agree with Moving On, just wait, then let them decide that actually you were right. The worse thing to say is ‘I said that earlier’ at this point. But that’s a hard thing to resist. I normally agree, and say something like ‘Yes, you’re right. It’s exactly as I said initially and I’m so glad you agree blah blah blah’. Let’s face it, you’re not just there to take their money, you’re also there to create something good with their cash AND massage their bean-shaped ego while gently helping them extract it from their nose…

  26. Tim Says:

    @Batman I think that http://www.danatanseo.com my suggest otherwise.

    This does bring up a good point though: When your client has several beans shoved way up in there and is still insisting that it’s working out great, the best next step after removing yourself from the situation is probably not to go around disparaging “omg, can you believe that my former client has beans up their nose?” That is, if you are hoping that your former will come back to you when they realize they need help getting the beans out.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself than Dana on her own site’s “code of ethics” page:

    “I will never post derogatory, disparaging, demeaning, subjugating, diminutive, offensive or insulting material in any of my online communications.”

  27. Melanie Says:

    I soon learned to stop asking “Why did you do that?” when working at a childcare facility. The answer is always “I don’t know” followed by desperate pleas to remove the bean. For some reason at that place it was usually ears that got beaned. Personally, I stuck a ping-pong ball into my mouth when I was two. The reason I did it was because my father had explicitly told me not to, and I wanted to know why. Well, I found out… and needed Daddy’s help removing the thing.

  28. Fabiana Says:

    Clients stick beans in their noses based on their belief system which can be deeply buried in one’s subconscious mind. People don’t really know why it seemed such a good idea, because belief systems are built from birth. Maybe deep psychoanalysts can unravel the puzzle .The more energy one invests in creating a belief system it’s less likely that he/she will drop it without trying at least once, and exercising free will. Nobody can stop the process without taking responsibility for the outcome. If you are a SEO you shouldn’t take it personally for it’s not about you. Some egos tend to be bruised by this. But remember it’s their money, their time, their life.You decide if you stay and help with the bean removal or walk away towards other causes. But I must agree that no matter how witty and clever this article may be, it’s a controverted marketing strategy to post it, hence potential clients can be reading it right now. Some may like it, but I guess many will walk away whether they have beans in their noses or not.
    Oh and by the way, I’m not a SEO, I’m an MD that removed real beans and other things from kids noses and ears.

  29. links for 2011-07-14 – Kevin Burke Says:

    [...] Beans and Noses » UIE Brain Sparks Time and time again, I come across situations where I think, “OMG! They are trying to stick beans up their nose!” It explains what’s happening and what I should do next. [...]

  30. Backup Brain » Blog Archive » Beans and Noses Says:

    [...] He told me his First Rule of Consulting: No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose. – Jared Spool [...]

  31. Favorite tech writing dogmas « Kai's Tech Writing Blog Says:

    [...] “No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose.” (This metaphor can apply to customers who use your documentation or to non-documentation managers who make decisions about documentation.) – from Jared Spool’s highly entertaining and insightful post [...]

  32. Bob Simms Says:

    And often the scenario has been envisaged as the most economic solution by the bean counters

  33. Week in Review – 2011-30 Says:

    [...] friend pointed out this article to me which says in summary: “No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from [...]

  34. Most interesting links of July « The Holy Java Says:

    [...] Beans and noses – J. Spool reveals the First Rule of Consultancy: “No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose.” In other words, sometimes your clients decide to do some very unwise thing and no amount of reasoning can discourage them from that (quite understandably, as already the way they got to this decision defies logic).  “The only thing I can do in a beans-and-noses situation is wait. Wait until the bean is in its final resting place.” Then you ask the person how it is working for him and “… if sticking a bean deep into their nostril doesn’t meet the very high expectations they’d had, I can now start talking alternative approaches to reaching those expectations.” Already before you can actually ask them about their expectations, in some cases (50:50) this discussion can lead them to realize they could achieve them with an alternative, less painful approach. Now, if you have read up to this point, you clearly have enough time, so go an read the article because it’s really orth it! [...]

  35. gretchen Says:

    See this for a different way of looking at this “Can’t reason out…” situation:

    http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2011/05/you-cant-reason-person-out-of-position.html

  36. Обзор свежих материалов, июль 2011 « Юрий Ветров. Проектирование интерфейсов и управление проектами Says:

    [...] Beans and Noses Отличная статья Jared Spool, в которой он красочно описывает часто встречающуюся проектную ситуацию — клиента невозможно убедить в том, что предлагаемое им решение абсурдно. Один из самых оптимальных выходов в такой ситуации — дождаться, пока появившаяся проблема не станет очевидной для клиента. [...]

  37. Shane Says:

    My brother and I were once playing Spill the Beans. We decided to start sticking beans up one nostril, close the other nostril, and then shoot the beans at each other. It was fun. Until I stuck one too far up my nose. Then my mom was mad because she had to get it out with tweezers.

  38. The First Rule of Consulting | Rachel Baker Says:

    [...] Jared Spool wrote about the best piece of advice he has received on managing client expectations. This is something he calls the First Rule of Consulting: No matter how much you try, you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose. [...]

  39. Beans and Noses...and Healthcare Marketing | Turn Up Your Volume Says:

    [...] keep people from sticking beans up their nose,” says engineering consultant Jared Spool in a post about trying to get people to listen to wise [...]

  40. Diane Emory Says:

    I wish I had known this years ago! I only recently “gave up” and let people go running right into the wall. For me it’s, “Don’t try to teach a pig to dance. It will only frustrate you and irritate the pig.” People simply don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t want to listen. They want to do it the way they’ve always done it, rather than move into the 21st century and do it a better way.

  41. Content Strategy Resources for IA Summer Institute course at UW iSchool | Meaning and Measure Says:

    [...] firing clients Beans in the nose by Jared Spool (mentioned by Andy [...]

Add a Comment