Boldness

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Consulting Firms in Old Blighty

Another week, another guidebook for you, dear reader.

This week’s guidebook profiles the most prominent consulting firms operating in Old Blighty.

Where is Old Blighty you ask?

Well, if you need to ask, then this week’s guidebook is probably not for you.

“Blighty” is a slang term for Britain, popularised during World War I and still used (or so we understand) by the people who weren’t lucky enough to have one of their ancestors steal a loaf of bread and get sent to Australia.

You can download the guidebook here.

In the same vein as last week, we are distributing this guidebook under a creative commons license, which means you are free to read, edit, share, print or trash the guidebook – which ever takes your fancy.

If you have any suggested amendments, please feel free to let us know and we will update the primary version. Together we win.

7 Keys to Success

Success is what you attract by the person you become

Success

(Source: Flickr)

THE late Jim Rohn once said, “success is what you attract by the person you become”.

A pithy saying, but how do you become a person who attracts success?

Here are seven thoughts to get you going:

  1. Skill development – It is natural to learn from experience and improve at an activity through repeated effort. You can do this by yourself or, for accelerated progress, you can work with a skilled mentor.
  2. Reputation – In the corporate world this is known as a “brand” and in the religious world they call it a “spirit”, but the effect is the same. How many people know you? Is the number growing? What are they saying about you when you’re not in the room?
  3. Network – Your reputation is “who knows you” while your network is “who you know”. Who do you know? Have you been in touch with them lately?
  4. Lifestyle design – You can maximise the use of your time by automating activities that can be automated, turning helpful behaviours like exercise into a habit, de-cluttering your house, and reducing expenditure on consumables and luxury items that are likely to eat up your time.
  5. Leverage – This appears fifth but is probably the biggest one. Do you have leverage? That is, do you have the benefit of a large amount of human effort which you can bring to bear at a single point in time?  Financial leverage is the most obvious one, but there are many others. Government officials benefit from the efforts of tax payers, partners in a professional services firm benefit from the efforts of employees, manufacturers benefit from advanced production machinery, an author benefits from her book, an academic benefits from prior years studying the same topic and from large class sizes, and Google benefits from anyone with a website or who has ever uploaded an image online.
  6. Unique style – Young people are typically made to conform to norms of behaviour, which are enforced by parents and schools. Ironically though, in the real world, unless your goal is to be the low cost producer in your industry, being the same as everyone else is a strategic mistake. As people mature they often gain the confidence to express their unique personal style, and this can help them be more authentic and memorable in the marketplace.
  7. Communication skills – Learning to communicate in a clear and compelling way can multiply your success in two ways. Firstly, writing well can help you be more persuasive and influential. Secondly, learning to speak in public can open up opportunities to be seen and bring people together.

Do you agree with our 7 success factors? We would love to hear your personal experience. Please share your thoughts in the forum.

Consulting Firms in the Land of Opportunity

Are you applying to consulting jobs in the good ol’ U.S. of A?

Wanting to pursue prosperity, success and a better life?

Do you believe in truth, justice and the American way?

Are you faster than a speeding bullet?

But seriously, all jokes aside, we’re not entirely sure whether anyone who reads this blog has an interest in the American market.

If you do, or know someone who does, then you’re in luck.

We have prepared a guidebook that profiles the most prominent consulting firms in America.

And, despite the lame and cheesy nature of this blog post, there is no catch.  You can download the guidebook here for free, no member sign-up required.

We are distributing the guidebook under a creative commons license, which means that you are free to edit, share, publish, republish, or do pretty much what ever you like with this guidebook.

If you have any suggested edits, deletions or amendments, then please feel free to let us know and we will work with you to iterate and improve the guidebook for the benefit of everyone.

Humility

Subtitle: Get over yourself. Great business ideas are usually created by others. Are you ready to receive them?

Humility

(Source: Flickr)

IF you counsel a young child (or grown adult) on the merits of humility, we will not raise an eyebrow. Humility is an admirable quality and has an endearing appeal, much like a puppy dog or a baby in a bassinet.

We approve, and quickly move on.

The lip service paid to the benefits of humility is widespread, and is not just a product of a secular market-based economy. When your author was in high school, his headmaster (a religious fellow) expounded the virtues of pride in oneself and pride in the school. This could have been taken as a friendly suggestion but, hold on a minute Father, “isn’t pride one of the 7 deadly sins?” 

When challenged on his teachings the cleric promptly clarified that by pride he merely meant “self-respect”, even though the word “pride” is more commonly understood to mean “a feeling of special pleasure in one’s own achievements and the achievements of ones close associates”.

So what!?, you might be thinking, what is so bad about deriving special pleasure from your achievements and the achievements of colleagues?

The problem is a subtle one, easily missed, and if you are a business leader or an entrepreneur it could prove costly over the course of a long life.

The reality is that the world now contains more than 7 billion people and, as a result, more likely than not, the really great ideas that will be able to transform your life and your business will be invented by complete strangers.

Harbouring a special pleasure for your own ideas or the ideas of your firm is problematic because it goes hand in hand with an aversion to the ideas of other people, you know, the other 6.999 billion of them.

A disdain for “foreign breakthroughs” is a prevalent trait, so much so that behavioral economists like Dan Ariely have given it a name. They call it “the not invented here bias”.

The problem is that people become attached to their own inventions, and are therefore inclined to disregard the work of others. This happened to Thomas Edison when he disregarded Nikola Tesla’s invention of alternating current as a form of electrical power.

It can also happen to you.

In an apparent response to this problem, prolific blogger Seth Godin has encouraged people to steal his ideas. He says that he is fine with people taking his ideas because if you adopt the good ones and build on them then you will be better off, he won’t be worse off, and so society will be richer overall.

His appeal is both helpful and at the same time problematic.

It is helpful in the sense that when you encounter a good idea you should adopt it. You should remain open to good ideas and when you have the good fortune to find one, try to have the good sense to know it. As we learnt last week, it is entirely natural for people and organisations to learn from experience.

At the same time, his request for us to steal his ideas is problematic.

We have two objections.

Firstly, by encouraging people to “steal his ideas” Seth is implying that the ideas he shares are a form of property, his property. While it is true that his form of words are protected by copyright, and rightly so, the ideas that those words convey are not. Ideas are not property, and they are certainly not his.

A good idea is freely available to anyone who has the good judgement to see it and the humility to take it up.

He then further muddies the water by asking us to “steal his ideas”. In doing so he is making the same mistake that we are specifically trying to avoid. Namely, attachment to our ideas based merely on the fact that we came up with them.

Great ideas can come from anywhere, and they invariably do: young children, taxi drivers, grand parents, or fierce industry rivals.

Some of Seth’s ideas are great, but others of them are less so.

By fostering a sense of balanced humility we can ready ourselves to receive good ideas, rather than basing our fondness for a new idea on our affinity for the person who came up with it.

Learning From Experience

A natural and unstructured process that results from doing the work

Learning from Experience

(Source: Flickr)

LAST week we looked at the value of breaking with experience, which followed on nicely from our initial article on the Experience Curve.

This week we focus on learning from experience. What does it mean to learn from experience? And what role does management have to play, if any?

In his book Competitive Advantage, Michael Porter states that “learning does not occur automatically but results from the effort and attention of management and employees … Management must demand learning improvements and establish targets for them, rather than simply hope that learning will occur.”

What is Porter talking about? Is he suggesting that a firm should be run like a university where management lays down a clear curriculum and set of learning outcomes?

Yes, it certainly seems that way. Porter appears to be suggesting that learning is a top down process which management can decree with a snap of its fingers and a pithy incantation, “let there be learning”.

He appears to have things backwards.

If you think of a school curriculum as a pre-planned course of directed study taught as an end in itself rather than developed in response to the pressure of market forces, then learning from experience is exactly the opposite.

People and organisations learn naturally, and often serendipitously, as they gain production experience. This process of natural learning is what Nassim Taleb calls convex tinkering, the option-like trial and error process where people make lots of low cost “mistakes” (that is, discoveries which don’t lead to improved performance) and a handful of breakthroughs.

Convex Tinkering

In other words, learning is a natural and unstructured process that occurs as a matter of course when people show up and make an effort. As people gain experience they observe what works and what doesn’t work, and are thereby able to learn and improve.

People learn from experience. This is a pretty intuitive idea, but it leads to a strange result.

In our article on the Experience Curve we highlighted research showing that, for any given firm, the performance improvements resulting from production experience tend to occur at a predictable rate. That is, a firm’s rate of learning appears to remain fairly constant over time.

This is surprising.

If learning is a natural, unstructured, and somewhat serendipitous process then the last thing we would expect is for the rate of learning to be predictable.

What could be driving this phenomenon?

A possible explanation is that, while the chance of learning something valuable on any given occasion is uncertain, the rate of learning for a group of people over a period of time converges to a stable average (assuming of course that the business landscape and management policies remain unchanged). In other words, any randomness in the learning process may just cancel itself out.

If you are a statistics buff, then you will know that this sort of thing happens all the time when dealing with large amounts of data. So much so that it is has been given a name, the law of large numbers, a property by which the average result from a large number of observations of a random event should be pretty close to what you would expect. For example, if a large number of six sided dice are rolled then the average roll should be quite close to (1+2+3+4+5+6)/6 = 3.5 .

This is all very well, but why should we expect a firm’s rate of learning to be stable over time or, for that matter, to follow any predictable pattern?

We were at a total loss to answer this question, until yesterday that is, when we made a  happy and unexpected discovery by complete accident: a Youtube video about slime mould.


In the Youtube clip, Heather Barnett shares a fascinating story about how Physarum Polycephalum, otherwise known as “slime mould”, has demonstrated an ability to discover food, map territory, navigate a maze by the shortest route, and anticipate temperature changes.

Slime mould is a collection of single celled organisms with no brain, no nervous system, and no language. But despite these limitation, it has shown an ability to learn, remember and solve problems.

From single celled organisms on one end of the spectrum to large multinational corporations on the other, an ability to learn from experience appears to be an innate property of life itself. This is a tantalising and slightly torturous discovery since it means that the constant rate of learning revealed by the Experience Curve effect may defy a deeper explanation. It may be a shadow cast by something unseen and unknowable.

When Porter stated that “learning does not occur automatically but results from the effort and attention of management and employees” he was almost right. What he should have said, and what he perhaps meant to say, is that “learning does occur automatically and might be enhanced by the effort and attention of management and employees”.

Which brings us to the second question, how can learning be enhanced by the efforts of management?

A very good question, and one that deserves careful attention.

If you are interested to come with us as we continue to explore the field of organisational learning, please read next week’s article which will look at the 5 ways management can foster learning within a firm.

Top consulting firms in Australia, a guidebook

ARE you an aspiring consultant interested in working in Australia? Or perhaps a practicing consultant who wants to better understand the industry? Or maybe a partner/owner who wants to suss out your competition?

What ever the case may be, we have produced a new guidebook which provides an overview of the management consulting industry and the most prominent firms in the Australian market.

You can download the guidebook here.

Whether you are aiming to break into the consulting industry or are just carrying out industry research, we hope the guidebook will serve as a valuable resource and enhance your understanding of the management consulting industry in Australia.

Tolerance

Independence of thought, acceptance of difference

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
~ John F. Kennedy

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”
~ Dalai Lama

“Religion is like a pair of shoes … Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”
~ George Carlin

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”
~ Buddha

“Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”
~ Albert Einstein

“The highest result of education is tolerance”
~ Helen Keller

“Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.”
~ Voltaire

“In order to have faith in his own path, he does not need to prove that someone else’s path is wrong.”
~ Paulo Coelho

“Good-humor makes all things tolerable.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher

“Bear with things as the earth bears with us: by yielding, by accepting, by nourishing.”
~ The I Ching