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Is “good enough” good enough?

In blah, life, sports, work on June 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Muhammad Ali. Steffi Graf. Ayrton Senna. Michael Jordan. You get the idea.

Now think of something you reckon you’re pretty good at and also enjoy. While it doesn’t really matter what specifically, try and think of something that involves conscious effort, maybe even some preparation. So, near-perfect poker games and presentations you nailed count. Witty comebacks and  picking the fast lane at the supermarket don’t.

Think back to the last time and to how you felt as you completed “the task”. I like replaying in my mind, specific cricket strokes I played, for example, a bowler applauding after I stepped out to hit him over a position just after he’d moved the fielder. There is that feeling of well-being because of the way things came together just right and you know it was no fluke.

Imagine that as you completed the above mentioned task, you hear a strident voice announcing all the things you did wrong, berating you for the hand where you should’ve gone all in but didn’t, pointing out that you spent too much time on slides 4 & 11. Also imagine being told that you’ll need to run through that same task a dozen times to iron out the kinks and to do it not just well, but flawlessly. Sounds wrong doesn’t it. What if that strident voice is in your head? Still wrong?

How do you differentiate between an unhealthy obsession of a perfectionist and a genuinely fulfilling pursuit to get good at something?

The names at the top of this post invoke awe precisely because of their dedication to being better than everyone around. You’d have to be pretty ungracious to dismiss them as just lucky recipients of  a genetic lottery. No way that the talent wasn’t combined with years of hard unglamorous practice.  And after all that there exists the realistic possibility of being shown up in front of millions by an opponent in superior condition or brandishing a natural advantage. So are they all unhealthy perfectionists to be appreciated but never emulated?

Or maybe it can’t be that only the wrong kind of effort causes disappointment and hurt. Maybe wearing that cringe that says you cared is the just the other side of the warm glow from having done something really well. I mean, would we appreciate Federer as much if he didn’t break down after losing the Wimbledon final to Nadal?



Curling freekicks and soaring GPAs

In blah, consulting, life, work on June 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Stereotypes. We debunk the idea publicly but cling to them personally and maybe feel guilty about it. Logic suggests that they are at best, exaggerated and at worst, misrepresentations. Think about it, it’s just not possible that every South Indian school-going kid excels at academics and sucks at sport or that every Brazilian kid can curl stinging free kicks around corners (actually am not sure about this one). In some cases we overcompensate to demonstrate the lack of a bias, which by itself proves the existence of one.

But any viewers of American late night talk shows would be led to believe that everyone in America is either progressive and open-minded (Democrat) or ridiculously close-minded and backward-thinking (Republican). Now, I know nothing of politics in general and so I think the idea of such clear and non-overlapping ideologies is convenient. Which means it’s impossible.

One of my work assignments was for a large company with it’s headquarters in North America. Since part of the work involved meetings in India, a senior big-designation type person from above company flew down. Over the course of the next few days, 3 specific interactions stand out:

  1. Within a few minutes of introductions, he had made clear his affiliation to the Republicans, and then went on to criticize the Obama-led government. I wondered at the wisdom of starting a strongly opinionated political discussion within 30 mins of having met someone from a different country but then put it down to him (rightly) assuming that I wouldn’t care about American politics
  2. During the course of the day, he kept going back to what turned out to be his favourite topic, politics. He started innocuously enough, by criticizing policies and went on to slightly dodgy territory, Gun control. He stated his opinion about how guns were a reason rural crime was low. “Any ***** person breaking into a home in rural America knows that the owner probably has guns”. Note that the ‘bleeped’ part of the statement was a reference to a colour. Yup, you read right.
  3. Meetings done, the team (3 of us) and the client executive drove back to the hotel. As is the unfortunate case with our higher-priced temporary accommodations, there was a security check process to get through that included a beautiful German Shepherd. The exec made a remark about how that was a happy dog who probably would think of a stick of dynamite as a chew toy. Polite laughter ensued from the team billing his company by the hour. Enjoying the mirth he caused, he went on to say “That dog doesn’t care if there’s a ****** in the car”. fill in the ‘bleep’, terrorist/criminal? nope, he mentioned a religion. And guess what, one member of our team did belong to that religion. I don’t believe my dropped jaw picked itself up till I got to my room.

For the remainder of the trip, I kept waiting for him to say “Gotcha!”  to say that his portrayal of the caricature of the hick Republican was a joke he’d played on us but to no avail. In fact, he only added to it later by asking me if I was from a privileged Indian background going by how I spoke ‘his’ language.

Not quite an ‘aha’ moment but it was one of the few times that a stereotype seemed to affirm itself.

Disengage autopilot

In blah, life, work on August 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

Work. Monday to Friday. Mostly within the brackets set out in the employee manual  under “Office hours”. The odd overrun into the late evenings or even a weekend or two. Weekends. Sleeping later, restocking of home supplies, visiting of parents and assorted relatives, movies, brunches, vegetating on the couch, scurrying around malls swiping plastic cards. Not necessarily in that order. Vacation. Couple of times a year, ok once a year. planned well in advance with lots of travel website surfing. Every couple of months, a new acquisition from a retail distribution channel. Technological, decorative, often shrink-wrapped, seldom a need.

How much of our schedule is regimented by convention? In this day and age of laptops, mobile internet access cards and ‘flexi-times’ how many of us manage our own schedules according to what makes sense versus what’s ‘conventional wisdom’? If we exclude blue-collar jobs or those involving responding in real-time (Customer service reps, Emergency room doctors), most jobs have very little to do with number of hours spent and even less with a specific set of them.

Just like one of those internet memes asks “how is that everyday’s news fits neatly into the same-sized newspaper”. How does our workload fit neatly into 10-12 hour workdays, everyday?

No, this post is not about time management, atleast not in the sense of maintaining daily planners and ‘eliminating distractions’ to be more productive.

It is about how most of us willingly write off a chunk of our day as “work hours” and then set about filling that time and then some, performing a variety of tasks from meeting deadlines to responding to email. Basically, juggling a combination of value-add activities with purely administrative tasks to rush through our day. I’ve seen multiple sets of colleagues across organisations slow down in the middle of the day and plod through activities, taking an hour when 15 mins would do, taking languid coffee breaks, then getting back to a frenetic pace towards the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of goofing off, I just have a problem with doing it on my employer’s terms; constrained to the office premises with the limited menu of aimless (and regulated) internet surfing and emailing.

This straitjacketed view seems to apply to what we call our “leisure” time as well. Friday nights, or maybe Thursday if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. We’re thankful for the privilege of spending between 2 and 3 hours with friends. Time barely enough to just to share life updates before its time to bundle into your respective cars to head home. Rinse. Repeat every 3-4 weeks. Now compare these interactions with the no-time-barred conversations that happened when in college over the solitary bottle of domestic booze and often short-in-supply accompaniments where everything from ‘the purpose of life’ to bodily functions were fair game for discussion. Not quite in the same league are they?

What if we actively monitor everything that calls for our time? Most of our jobs would afford us atleast week-long views of our workloads (note, not schedules) to be able to decide to cram in some extra hours when highly productive and to complete disengage when not so much. Maybe instead of taking a couple of extra-long nicotine/caffeine breaks, we just take off when the traffic isn’t ungodly and enjoy (not squeeze in) a game of squash or a few reps at the gym. Maybe even take off at 3pm without feeling the need for a dying relative to justify it, and meet the wife for a movie and dinner, or take parents out for one, or meet friends without traffic and time constraints, or even just go home, crack open a beer and chill to some Pink Floyd.

What if we disengage the autopilot?

Anatomy of a meeting

In blah, email, work on April 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

“Why don’t you setup some time to brainstorm this”. The most productivity-destroying words uttered within office spaces. BCP-DR Plans (Business Continuity – Disaster Recovery) that focus on earthquakes, tsunamis and peaceful party protests have nothing on the biggest threat to corporations; The meeting.

Naxals and other so-called freedom-fighters rely on ripping up railway tracks to disrupt normally productive life. In the white-collar world, all it takes is a Microsoft Outlook invite.

You can either be the unwitting inviter or the invitee. If you’re the inviter (or ‘Meeting Organizer’), you have the enviable task of finding simultaneously blank space across all calendars in question. A task that google has developed algorithms to do in their calendar application! (so much for jokes about it being rocket science to set up meetings) The first attempt at a suggested date/time is knocked back with disdain with reasons like “Will be on a flight” or “Will be 3am in the timezone I’ll be in”. Few iterations later they’ll be whittled down to one troublemaker who says “I’ll be in between flights and can do 25 mins provided the improbable happens and flights are delayed”. A date/time is setup.

Come the appointed time and all shuffle into a suitably darkened conference room with the first optimistic slide projected on screen. The participants settle in as the organizer runs through the introductory/background material. Every now and then a low buzz is heard, followed by the owner reaching for his bberry to read critical emails about “scheduled downtime of the company’s email server in Bratislava” or enlargement of certain organs. Every now and then one of the bberry owners picks up their buzzing phone to dive out while mumbling their apologies and whispering into the device that they would be interested to know more about the latest unobtainium credit card that Standard Chartered had to offer.

Meanwhile the meeting meanders. Until coming to rest and asking, “any suggestions?”. Pause. Longer pause. Someone mumbles about wanting to deep-dive into the background material to which the organizer mentions that it’s the same document that was sent to all attendees 3 weeks ago. The smarter ones have already been overtly (not covertly) glancing at their watch as they cite other meetings beginning milliseconds after this one ends. There are closing comments directed at the organizer about “great work”, “we should build on this”. “Why don’t you schedule time next week” as the participants dissipate.

Total man hours spent: 16 hours. (Time spent organizing: 4 hours. Man hours attending: 12 hours)
No. of inputs: Eh?
Dilbert strip forward email about meetings received by the group in the middle of the meeting leading to chuckles: priceless.

IT “Help!”….Desk!

In blah, email, rant, work on April 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

The early part of the week downloaded an interesting email into my official inbox. It was first thing in the morning and I had opened the digital version of the plastic tray with the large “IN” taped on it with scotch tape. The usual 60-odd new emails message appeared as they started downloading. Every professional today probably has their own sophisticated system of email management. There are folders, colours, message alerts, all that serve as your personal secretary, filing information by priority and urgency (not necessarily related). Being a follower of the Pareto school of thought, the foundation of my system is to identify the emails addressed only to me and to not bother about the rest since they can usually be ignored until someone checks. Outlook therefore has express instructions to show the ones sent only to me in blue in the inbox. The rest usually group themselves into three categories.

Independence: Working at a firm that’s makes most of its money from being official pains-in-the-client-ass, namely audit means there are stringent requirements to ensure no vested interests are spawned, even unknowingly. Hence, Independence emails that serve to inform you that so-and-so Ltd. was now a client and that we had 3 days to sever all dealings with them. There have known to be instances where employees have hurtled out of moving automobiles on learning that the carmaker was the latest big win. Die-hard company loyalists are not averse to refusing to compromise their ‘Independence’ by refusing the last and only batch of a life-saving drug made by a company they audit.

Support Functions: The paradoxically named departments (namely Finance, HR and IT). This discussion only considers Finance and IT since HR does exemplary work. The fact that appraisals and wage hike decisions are around the corner has nothing to do with it. For functions that are quietly expected to ‘support’ the rest of the organization go about their business, these guys have a lot to share. And a lot of what they say has the word ‘policy’ in it. The usual clutch of emails from Finance about the deadline for submitting expenses that have not yet incurred or reminders of how they only accepted sworn statements from landlords signed in blood (not necessarily theirs) as proof of tenancy. I’ll come back to IT.

Hail Marys: In large organizations, there are many people. Astute observation. And so these many people are organized into departments, teams, subteams and so on. This means when someone needs something done, they have the enviable task of identifying the right team for it. Since, given the movement of people in and out and the reorganizations and the promptness at which Org charts and contacts are updated, most senior folk resort to the American Football tactic of lobbing their work requests high and far and send it to as many people as they can muster with the idea that the right person would be among the recipients and would promptly proceed to deliver exemplary service. Who am I throttle their optimism.

Coming back to IT. The email, inspite of not being emblazoned with the blue that some others did, including those from clients with subject lines like “WTF?!”, caught my attention. With a gleam in my eye, I opened the email with subject “IT Helpdesk Support Feedback”. Satisfied that it wasn’t a Nigerian scam email, I clicked on the link to open the survey page and went to town. Maybe it was the fact that the name “IT Helpdesk” in their case only makes sense as the name of a B-grade thriller based on a killer desk that goes on the rampage and makes it victims cry “Help”. It certainly not because it takes a median 7 calls to get them to send their swat team to your rescue. Or the fact that their resolution to problems ranging from “how do i find this file I saved?” to “my 5 year old threw it from our 15th storey apartment balcony” is to “format the hard drive”. Or it could even be that when a virus had disabled my anti-virus program, they were unable to uninstall it since they (the IT team) didn’t have the admin password required to uninstall. Or maybe I was just being plain mean.

Tally Ho and all that jazz

In blah, life, travel, work on March 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I’m not a well-travelled person. In a little over three decades I’d only been on three countries other than the one that issued me my passport. With a niggardly number like that I was tempted to think like the bankers who stamped AAA on the tranches of home loans given to the impeccably credential’ed jobless population. Add the countries I spent time on travellators between terminals on stopovers, and voila, we double the number! I knew I should’ve been a banker!

The United Kingdom. My knowledge of this country was built from a combination of Enid Blyton, Frederick Forsyth, Arthur Conan Doyle novels and James Bond movies. So, in essence, I figured everyone to be dressed in Savile Row suits stepping into Aston Martins (or Jaguars), roaring around the cobblestoned streets named after circuses and squares, while keeping a few yards ahead of pursuing german-made sedans in which large men in suits alternate between taking potshots at the car ahead and exclaiming in dubious eastern-european accents. If the chase lasted a while (and if it started to rain which as I found out is inevitable), they’d politely stop off at a farm where they’d be served scones with golden pats of butter and other assorted baked goods with tea. How wonderfully quaint.

Two weeks and five cities later I might not be in a position to corroborate a lot of my impressions, though I am the authority on conference room furniture and office coffee machines. Week 1, London. Leicester Square, cabs and the tube. Once I recovered from the dizziness due to the roundabouts (wouldn’t ‘Stop’ signs have worked equally well?), turns out the city’s quite nice. Lot of activity, a centrally located hotel facilitated walks to most of the places Yashraj cameras rove; Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Eye. Nice bunch of pubs, dinners of fish and chips and an assortment of bitters and ales courtesy some of the local colleagues. Getting around the city means the tube or cabs. Convenient and all that but what with all sorts of monetary discouragements for people to bring their cars into ‘Zone 1’ – yes, very imaginative, I was thankful for an expense account, specifically when learning that train tickets to other cities cost nearly as much as flight tickets to do back here, yes, including the 37 different taxes and surcharges. Week 2. Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Newcastle. It’s like the colonists forgot about their other cities when putting all of the shiny stuff in their capital. Spent not more than a night in each of the others and seems one would scratch one’s head about looking for things to do after the customary stop off at one of the local pubs.

All in all a nice l’il whistlestop tour of the country and would’ve been better if I hadn’t had to cancel on meeting friends.

This message will self-destruct in…

In blah, life, work on January 20, 2009 at 4:55 am

If most books and articles written in this century on time-management are to be believed, email is to productive and meaningful lives, what GM and Ford are to shareholder wealth. Ok, so that was a schmuck-like analogy, but it gets the point across. The panacea to the digital evil, these experts say, is to check email only twice a day, at set times and to banish your email client to the nether regions of your computer’s RAM. Of course, they make this point while glancing at their blackberry to exclaim at the latest guaranteed method that will add several inches to their you-know-what.

Its not that I have anything against people who make their money from introducing people to the arcane concepts of calendars and wrist-watches but how has no-one asked the obvious question that if email is to be used only twice a day, what of the spikes in crime-rates by rampaging white-collar workers?

That if it’s not for the promisingly bulging envelope recognizable to MS Outlook users or similarly tantalizing taskbar icons for Lotus Notes and Thunderbird users, why would I and all of my ilk, hang around our laptops? Sure there are meetings to be consummated, numbers to be ‘crunched’ and spiffy ‘decks’ to be made but does anyone honestly think marginally sane individuals can or will do that for the duration of their working days? Who will deny the sweet twinge of anticipation that accompanies the momentary change in cursor to herald the arrival of an email?

It even applies to those emails meant for specialized mailing-lists that usually have two sub-lists in them along the lines of: 1. Accountants against IFRS 2. Everyone else. Sure, they’re not quite in the same league as the surge of adrenalin and other hormones that accompanied subject lines in the days of yore, that went “Pictures of Anna Kournikova” but “hilarious one-liners…”, “Mandatory use of access cards”, “UDF for domestic passengers” all have their place in a day’s work. Not content with all the targeted communication on company email servers, some even like to register on websites to receive minute-by-minute updates of peanut prices in Eritria or better-yet, alumni email groups.

Now, those of us afflicted with elevated levels of cynicism would be feeling just that, cynical, about the role of such emails in instilling work-life balance. But take a look at this exchange not more than a few hours ago with a client.

From I to recipient: Are we on for the meeting tomorrow? (Size 2KB)

Response: Yes, confirmed for 2pm. (Size 63KB)

Interest piqued at the 30-fold increase to email size with less than double the words communicated, I scrolled. Turns out, to the innocuous question I posed, the email system had added:

XYZ allows reasonable personal use of the e-mail system. Views and opinions expressed in these communications do not necessarily represent those of XYZ.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this e-mail is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this e-mail by anyone else is unauthorized. If you have received this communication in error, please address with the subject heading “Received in error,” send to, then delete the e-mail and destroy any copies of it. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. Any opinions or advice contained in this e-mail are subject to the terms and conditions expressed in the governing XYZ client engagement letter. Opinions, conclusions and other information in this e-mail and any attachments that do not relate to the official business of the firm are neither given nor endorsed by it. XYZ cannot guarantee that e-mail communications are secure or error-free, as information could be intercepted, corrupted, amended, lost, destroyed, arrive late or incomplete, or contain viruses.

WTF?! So, let’s recap. They’re saying – we don’t know if you’re the one to have received this email. We don’t know if it’s what it’s supposed to be and if you’re not the one who was supposed to get this, our lawyers will wring all signs of life out of you. Also, let us know which idiot sent you this and we’ll lynch the sender. Not to be outdone, the recipient’s email system responded in kind with warble of its own kind.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see a few exchanges to mutate into something like:

NEW (and improved) DISCLAIMER: You were not supposed to read this email. If you however have, please delete the email, destroy the computer on which it was accessed (the viruses on the email will probably render your machine as a big-ass paperweight anyway), set fire to the email-server that routed it and jump out of the nearest window. If not, you will be hunted down by crazed network administrators who will then ping you repeatedly while invalidating all your passwords and then dynamically reduce your mailbox limit to one byte less than every incoming email you receive while only letting disclaimers through. Thank you.

Maximizing productivity

In blah, work on February 7, 2008 at 5:19 pm

What is it about cafeterias that invokes the worst in every human discipline? Assuming of course that the only human disciplines are planning and designing. Flimsy albeit that assumption may be, its worthwhile to consider the aspects of that area meant to satisfy one of the basic needs of humanity. The purpose of this post is not to petition for work areas to allow for satisfaction of other, more primal needs.

A look at the plan for any office building would clearly show that the design of an office cafeteria has to be a separate subject in itself, called something like ‘Working Drone Nutrition Area Design’, a hybrid science combining the science of architecture with psychology. This must involve complex algorithms to ensure that the area is at 125% utilization irrespective of your attempt to delay your lunch hour till the point your bodily functions start to recede into something resembling a comatose cabbage. It turns out that the excess 25% are usually people who have entered a zombie-like state while waiting for tables to become available. No one has seen what happens to them but it wouldn’t be impossible to believe that the cafeteria staff moonlight as suppliers of crash test dummies.

It’d be too easy if all it took to get a table was for the planets to line up to spell ‘BURP’. It would take more like a political party that does not rely on divisive groupism to make itself heard. Heck, nothing’s that impossible. Having sufficiently exulted over the capture of your very own slab of formica-topped plywood, one surveys the options.

Nowhere is the disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ as prominent as on the cafeteria table. The haves = ‘Has stay-at-home-wife-who-wakes-up-to-cook-for-me’ shamelessly parades his assorted array that boasts nutrition, taste and the odd dollop of love. The have-nots = ‘Have-no-chance-of-living-past-35-coz-of-the-cafeteria-food’ meanwhile look through the menu that has all of 4 options (counting ‘extra ketchup’) and know by rote anyway before picking what they do everyday.

The effect is that the average lunch thus lasts about 11 minutes, 8 of which the haves spend screwing the lids on their stay-warm tiffins and the have-nots spending suspiciously poking at their food to check for unwarranted movement and looking at when they can back to their microsoft office document. Productivity soars! If that’s not brilliant use of psychology, I don’t know what is.

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Anatomy of a kickoff

In blah, consulting, work on December 5, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Engagement kickoff meeting. We’ll call the key participants Entity A (hint: starts with a P…ends with an artner) and Entity B (hint: John Grisham). There are others involved, and by relative importance, they will be called non-entities.

Why not just refer to them with their names? Three reasons; Client confidentiality, lest the managers of the ‘Unethical use of information for material gain’ department of every competing organization to our client is trawling the internet and other dark places to find information that they can use, two; this is only a representation of a gazillion similar meetings occurring all over the world and three; it would make the story less fun to tell.

Entities A and B arrive (within 4-5 minutes of each other, about 10 minutes past scheduled time) with non-entities in tow. It is important here to note that the number of non-entities could vary depending on the scope of the engagement. First few minutes are spent on one or more of the following: traffic (how they started from home/office at daybreak), weather (in proportion to how much rain there has been), work (making sure that no actual details are mentioned). Smiles and nods all around from the non-entities. One of the non-entities (usually the newest) has twiddled with the focus and sundry knobs on the projector to maximize graphic impact. (it’s a mechanism to soothe his frayed nerves not unlike when FBI agents, when in a potentially volatile situation, finger their coat buttons except they’re doing it to gain ready access to the .45 in their hip holster).

The meeting
The assortment of boxes, arrows, pyramids et al start their procession on screen as entity A waxes eloquent. The typical exchange goes along the lines of:

Entity A: I have been involved with 117 similar engagements and I’ll be closely monitoring every stage of the project (I’ll insist that every deliverable is sent to me atleast 2 hours before it is due none of which I’ll see coz my blackberry can not open attachments). Our approach combines the collective wisdom of three generations (of fruit flies) with the essence of all the information there is in the world that will be superimposed with our patented frameworks (that table in the Economist on the page I used to mop up my spilt coffee this morning looked good).
Entity B: Being a very a result-oriented CEO, I’d like to see atleast five generations and that other generation born after specialized in-breeding in the north of the Andes (read about it that morning in a google news sidebar…others read too you smug bastard)
Entity A: Not a problem, Only yesterday, I lunched with the senior scientist who supervised that particular generation (glanced and nodded briefly in a buffet line at a symposium on dog allergies when I bumped into him causing the elbow of his jacket to dip into my paneer makhani).
…67 slides later…
Entity A:…in summary, it would be safe to say that implementing our solution will increase topline by 467% and deliver you to the land of milk, honey and playmates (potentially if all planets line up just right, if elvis comes back and if other less likelier things happen, you might get more than just carpal tunnel from signing our invoices)
Entity B: 467% in topline growth sounds about right but we would also reduce the need for capital expenditure completely while achieving a 97% decrease in operating costs and as a natural extension of that exercise, ensure that someone walks my dogs – twice a day.

Sharp intake of breath from the non-entities but the sound is drowned by that of furious scribbling

Pleasantries exchanged as the group files out of the room…Entity A turns to the biggest non-entity and says with a smile “Don’t worry, I’ll ensure there is no scope creep…you only have to walk his dog once a day..also, don’t bother copying me on the emails henceforth, just contact my secretary to schedule for the final presentation”

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of frameworks and matrices

In consulting, work on July 26, 2007 at 9:22 am

Unlimited expense accounts, first-class travel, 7-star accommodation, fortune 500 CEOs eating out of the palm of your hand…those are the images associated with the most sought after profession on any B-school campus. No wonder that most other career choices pale in comparison. Combine that with the exalted Day-Zero status…and you have a heady mix. Nay…this is not a rant against management consulting or even against the <insert day 0 firm here> of the world, but a different perspective…from that of a management consultant with a firm, the mention of which causes the listener’s eyes to narrow as they do a mental search to make some kind of connection by way of reference but fail. Given the number of ‘day in the life of’ sessions conducted by the usual suspects and the fact that these guys are also the most articulate you’re likely to ever come across, it’d be an achievement for any B-school grad to not know everything that happens between the moment the sharply dressed MC shrugs on his Savile Row jacket to the power handshake with the client CEO as he and his team marvel at the slick ‘deck’ you just presented.

So, what’s the same profession like when shorn of its splendour? When you’re rooming at hotel Staywell instead of ‘The Oberoi’…ok I made the hotel up but you get the idea, when you have to convince your client that flying budget is just not the way to go and when you gotta stand in line to get into a beatup ol’ black-and-yellow to get home after disembarking from that hard-earned ‘full-service’ flight?

Do-it-yourself : Small clients => smaller budgets => (much) lower billing rates => smaller teams. So, a lot of grunt work that might otherwise have been smoothly delegated to that lower life-form know as analysts, you do yourself. This includes calling your respondent group to setup appointments to preparing that industry pack for the first internal brainstorm session with your principal.

Primary Research travails : small firm => lean staffing => lots of pillar-to-post. When one of the ‘key value propositions’ of the firm is in-depth supplier/buyer behaviour by doing in-person research, means umpteen 1-2 day trips to random-ass cities with meetings lined up (by you). Am only guessing here, but an MC from a top-tier firm could possibly get away with a ‘robust methodology’ applied to a ‘dipstick’ survey

Unassigned? what’s that? : You’ve huffed and puffed to send the report to the clients post the final meeting…with all those extras the client wanted (some that your client couldn’t care less for but your boss wanted)..including that sensitivity analysis on the financial projections that took into account armageddon. You hit send and even before the length of your back comes in contact with the backrest of your chair, a principal strolls in saying “you’re done with engagement xyz, right”…rhetorical question really…and you’re off…to the kick-off meeting for the next project. And then your buddy from <insert day 0 firm here> calls and says how he’s been home for the past week coz he’s unassigned…you start fantasizing about that last scenario you modeled

High-profile PIA (pain-in-the-ass): When a habitual consumer of MC services (read any multinational or Indian company featuring on any forbes list), all hell breaks loose. The story usually is that the company isn’t chuffed about their last encounter with <insert day 0 firm here> and hence is looking to ‘de-risk’. What it actually means is to have your happiness sucked out of you for the duration of the engagement….with review meetings aplenty, you work and rework your deck till the project folder has more versions than windows has bug-fixes

But all said, you’re still looking to answer questions that someone who runs a business has asked…and to see even a portion of your recommendations implemented is the high that makes most of the above worth it… of course, that doesn’t mean I have anything against travelling first class 🙂

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