A former consultant at BCG spills the beans on how consulting really works. Also, how he was offered money not to tell this story. Not that we didn’t know it already!
What I could not get my head around was having to force-fit analysis to a conclusion. In one case, the question I was tasked with solving had a clear and unambiguous answer: By my estimate, the client’s plan of action had a net present discounted value of negative one billion dollars. Even after accounting for some degree of error in my reckoning, I could still be sure that theirs was a losing proposition. But the client did not want analysis that contradicted their own, and my manager told me plainly that it was not our place to question what the client wanted.
In theory, it was their money to lose. If they wanted a consulting report that parroted back their pre-determined conclusion, who was I to complain? I did not have any right to dictate that their money be spent differently. And yet, to not speak out was wrong. To destroy a billion dollars is to destroy an almost unimaginable amount of human well-being. Spent carefully on anti-malarial bed nets and medicine, one billion dollars could save a million lives. This was a crime, and failing to try and stop it would be as bad as committing it myself. And if I could not prevent it, then what reason was I being paid such a high salary? How could I justify my income if not by prevailing in situations such as these?
via The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell – The Tech.
Joel Spolsky makes a metaphorical comparison of McDonald’s and gourmet food to discuss why some of the biggest IT consulting companies in the world do the worst work. The big idea is that scaling a company that is innovative when small is not the easiest thing to do.
The common way of dealing with the scalability problem is to hire cheap chefs who don’t know anything, and give them such precise rules about how to create every dish that they “can’t” screw it up. Just follow these here rules, and you’ll make great gourmet food!
Problem: it doesn’t work exactly right. There are a million things that a good chef does that have to do with improvisation. A good chef sees some awesome mangos in the farmer’s market and improvises a mango-cilantro salsa for the fish of the day. A good chef deals with a temporary shortage of potatoes by creating some taro chip thing. An automaton chef who is merely following instructions might be able to produce a given dish when everything is working perfectly, but without real talent and skill, will not be able to improvise, which is why you never see jicama at McDonald’s.
To keep innovating companies set up processes and defines methodologies to ensure consistency with lower skilled employees and ends up killing the innovation process. To innovate within a big company mired in processes is to isolate a small group and give them the independence to innovate. Look at what IBM did when they needed to create the PC at short notice.
New products at IBM typically required about four years for development. The company recognized that to compete with other personal computers it needed to develop its offering much more quickly. Rather than going through the usual IBM design process, a special team was assembled with authorization to bypass normal company restrictions and get something to market rapidly. This project was given the code name Project Chess at the IBM Entry Systems Division in Boca Raton, Florida.
History is a great teacher. Only if we cared to learn from it a bit more.
Guy Kawasaki wrote a blog post on what he learned from Steve Jobs during his days at Apple. He lists a dozen learning about experts, customers, design and products. But the one on experts is the true gem. (Yes, there is a smirk on my face!)
Experts are clueless
Experts—journalists, analysts, consultants, bankers, and gurus can’t “do” so they “advise.” They can tell you what is wrong with your product, but they cannot make a great one. They can tell you how to sell something, but they cannot sell it themselves. They can tell you how to create great teams, but they only manage a secretary. For example, the experts told us that the two biggest shortcomings of Macintosh in the mid 1980s was the lack of a daisy-wheel printer driver and Lotus 1-2-3; another advice gem from the experts was to buy Compaq. Hear what experts say, but don’t always listen to them.
(Yes, there is a smirk on my face!)
Yesterday I wrote a post on how culture can influence the brand of an organization. One brand that does this well is Zappos.
HBR has an excerpt from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’ recently released book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. The gist of Zappos’ relationship with its vendors clearly shows how well defined values and a commitment to those values are essential to build a brand from the ground up.
A campaign here and a campaign there is not going to make the shift. The DNA of the organization needs to reflect its view of the external world and how it wants the external world to view it.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” never had any more importance in corporate culture.