I’m a consultant, a ‘con’sultant. One of the group of tens of thousands of people in tens of organizations who claim to be masters in their trade, who claim to know about running companies better than the people who run companies, though many consultants have never run a real company- let alone build one. Well, that’s the charm of it all- you get to tell people how to mind their business!
Come on, you can’t deny it’s fun! Ever taught a little kid how to hold a cricket bat? Imagine now that little kid is a Sachin in the making. And imagine the teacher being someone like me whose knowledge of cricket ends with ‘an over has 6 balls, and they use just 1 ball really to bowl all 6 times’. Yeah, that ironic!
Now that we got that out of the way, here’s what we do in a simple sentence: “we ‘guide’, ‘mentor’, ‘lead’ the legacy of yesterdays’ great firms to the bright dawn of the tomorrows”
(Please don’t tell my boss I put it in 1 sentence, he’d treat anything shorter than a full presentation ‘deck’ a blasphemy!)
That’s what we say we do. Now, what consultants do depends largely on where in the ladder they are:
Fig. MacLeod’s Company Hierarchy
- The ones at the very top build relationships with clients- over golf or dinners or lunches or board rooms- nothing inexpensive- and sell them along either of the many lines parallel to 1. selling a life jacket to a person in a swimming pool (who knows how to swim, btw) or 2. selling a Sherpa in the Himalayas a boat, showing him how global warming would flood his little mountain hut- yes, I mean the movie 2012! Yes, it’s 2016 already!
- The ones at the very bottom- mind you, our consulting firms are ‘flat’ organizations- are more of a versatile and flexible coterie, jacks-of-all-trades, so to say: their work involves these broad dimensions-
i. Doing anything and everything from being concierges to the aforementioned ‘networking’ initiatives of the big guys to building solutions- all those things in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that Microsoft makes money from to writing works of fiction they call ‘collateral’. The first time I heard the word, I thought someone had been collateral damage and I wondered if that was me
ii. Being quick and psychic: when the boss needs something, he needs it ‘yesterday’
iii. The ability to structure a complicated and dynamic stream of thought- like this page of nonsense that I made a story out of
iv. Making fiction appear truer than truth itself- every number and claim needs to be either proven by calculation or be sourced from a trusted external reference
Brownie points if you have a good memory of names and can match them with at least 98% accuracy to flavors of coffee/tea or can mix a killer drink.
We consultants love extrapolations and calculations based on trivial assumptions here and there. Like 90% of here, and 95% of there. But we need ‘References’ to validate those assumptions, because when those poor buggers that have built a reputation for finding good numbers say something, they must be right. We often hear seasoned consultants say 90% of these reports are wrong 95% of the time- well, there you go!
Did you know Consulting is one of the most respected and well-paying careers one can build over a lifetime? And it doesn’t come easy- 12-13 hour workdays, 14-15 hours a day work-weekends, non-existent vacations and perpetual fire-fighting, most importantly putting out the fire on one’s own ass- are the norm.
Look at the bright side: few other careers give such perks as this- travel, world-view, exposure, learning! But the best of it all is we get to play dress-up; ‘thou must dress up one step higher than everyone else in the room’ is the first canon of consulting- near impossible when you are travelling with just a tiny cabin case and wearing the only suit you carry during the red-eye flight to the client’s office on a Monday morning.
But hey, it’s not all work and no play-we have families too. And they love us. When they see us. Some of them. I guess.
We consultants have a work-life balance too, just that it is never quite balanced. Firstly we need to ‘create’ time to see our families, and secondly when we do, we end up talking so much consultant-speak that our parents just think we are overworked and our wives/girlfriends look at us with awe and adoration. For the first few months.
A few weeks ago, I was telling my dad that retirement is just the cusp of transition between maturity and decline stages of a product life cycle. Just last week I was trying to explain a dear female friend of mine that the marginal utility of yet another pair of shoes reduces exponentially after the third pair. Both of them just told me to take the jargon and… well, enshroud it in the posterior of the human anatomy. Something in me must have evoked a homogeneous response from two diverse personas that are geo-spatially and temporally separated, I wonder what that must be...