Popular is not the same as worthwhile

TODAY MAY 1st 2011 (US time) the news of Osama bin Laden’s death circled the globe.  According to the New York Times, Bin Laden was shot in the head when he resisted capture and his body was later buried at sea.  And there was much rejoicing!

Bin Laden’s death is a popular outcome for the US and its allies because it is seen as justice for the 2,752 victims of the September 11 attacks and the end of a decade long manhunt for the world’s most notorious terrorist.  At the same time, it is worth remembering that the total cost of Bush’s “war on terror” has now risen to more than US$1.2 trillion.  Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s more than four times what America spent fighting World War I.  The cost appears even higher when you factor in the more than 5,000 US casualties and countless other deaths that have resulted from the fighting.  Meanwhile, the war on terror continues undeterred, with no clearly defined enemy and no hope of achieving decisive victory.  The US federal government deficit for 2011 is expected to top $1.27 trillion.

So how does this relate to consulting?

As a consultant, you are not paid to win a popularity contest. Popular means saying what your client wants to hear, telling a story that makes the majority of directors happy, or providing a flashy power-point presentation.  Instead, you are paid to provide insightful recommendations that can be actioned to achieve clearly defined outcomes which will generate value for the client.  The outcomes are worthwhile only if the pay-off exceeds the cost spent in terms of time, money and effort.

Popular is not the same as worthwhile.