Passion Versus Profession – Are Management Consulting and Music Production Really That Different?

As an aspiring management consultant who has also been working as a music producer for several years, composing, arranging, and producing songs for multiple artists, I get a lot of questions about this seemingly strange combination of interests. “If you love music so much, why don’t you do it as a full-time job?” “If you are really that passionate about consulting, shouldn’t you spend more of your free time reading about business trends instead of focusing on your hobby?”

Yes, at first glance the two areas seem very different: Management consulting is thought of as a highly rational and logical process while music is perceived to be purely creative and irrational; it should come from the heart. Consulting is about rigid analysis, solutions founded on facts and numbers, while music is founded on individual taste and perception.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there needs to be a conflict between passion and profession. In fact, most successful consultants I have met throughout the years are really passionate about things that have nothing to do with business – for many good reasons. Not only do hobbies function as a great outlet for work-related stress (and let’s not kid ourselves, a consulting career isn’t exactly stress-free), they also give you a different outlook on many problems you have to solve at work. Let me demonstrate this based on my own experience.

The similarities between consultants and music producers start with the reasons why they are hired in the first place. For consultants, it’s not that companies cannot think of any solutions to their problems themselves. It’s rather that they don’t have the time or personnel to work out solutions, since they have to keep everyday operations running; they don’t always have the necessary experience in the desired area or market; and most of all they need a fresh outside perspective to avoid thinking in familiar patterns.

Likewise, musicians usually know how to play their instruments and have great ideas, but they need producers to guarantee a quick and professional end result. They may not have the necessary equipment to record adequately; they may not have the necessary experience with the mixing process to make a song sound competitive relative to other commercial releases; and most of all they can benefit immensely from a fresh perspective and new ideas regarding arrangement, instrumentation, and effects.

When musicians arrive for a recording session, they usually have a good idea of what they want their song to sound like, but may leave with a very different result. It is also important to involve multiple people in the production process – most songs you hear on the radio have different people responsible for composition, performance, mixing, and mastering, which helps to spot mistakes and prevent what I call “creative bubbles” – when you get so used to thinking about a certain concept that you stop being open to other ideas.

Moreover, the way management consultants interact with their clients is similar to the way music producers interact with artists. Both require a certain degree of empathy and understanding for client-specific issues. At the beginning of each project, it is any consultant’s responsibility to understand the client’s problem, unique background, and boundaries concerning the project. For example, cutting research and development costs when the client’s reputation is based on innovative capabilities wouldn’t make sense in the long run, even if it seems to be the most efficient solution. Likewise, proposing a merger without understanding the two companies’ cultures first may not lead to desired results.

When music producers write or arrange songs for artists, it is just as important to gain a solid understanding of the artist’s musical style, personality, and image. Every sound or word used portrays the artist in a certain way and can make or break a record. The longer you work with someone, the better you get to know them and the better you become at catering to their specific needs. That’s also why many large corporations have been working with the same consulting firm for several years.

Last but not least, good management consultants are just like good musicians because they don’t use standard solutions. Of course, they know what generally works based on experience and data, but they can also tailor successful concepts to the client’s unique situation. While it will be obvious to most readers that consultancies may use statistical tools in order to determine so-called “industry recipes”, similar concepts apply to the music industry. The famous “Four Chord Song” by the Australian comedy group Axis of Awesome, for instance, shows how many popular hits throughout the years have used the same four chords – and while this chord progression seems to be a proven formula, the songs don’t sound the same when listened to as individual tracks. The key is to adjust a successful concept so it fits the singer’s voice, genre, and instrumentation. Similarly, consultants need to adjust business recipes so that they match the client’s core competencies, industry, and organisational structure as well as culture.

It seems as if management consulting and music production aren’t really that different after all and I can guarantee you that a similar logic apply to your passion and profession. You shouldn’t be discouraged to do what you love just because it doesn’t necessarily fit into your job’s stereotype. Actually, spending time on your hobbies can make you better at your job – there’s always much to learn.

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

Image: Unsplash

Why Reducing Stress Stabilises Your Profits

As a small business consultant, I see the impact that stress has on people’s lives up close. Many times it is a good thing as it forces the business owner to adapt and excel so that his business thrives. Excelling, however, is contingent on the business owner knowing how to harness small doses of stress and manage its effects.

Unfortunately, for far too many people stress both consumes them and paralyses their decision-making abilities so that their health deteriorates and their business suffers as their short-term profits evaporate.

Elevated stress levels over time can lead to myriad health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, sleep problems, and headaches. Work relationships with employees, clients, and suppliers can also suffer as unmanaged stress can cause the owner to make more mistakes, become irritable, lack focus, and perhaps even resort to medications to lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Unmanaged stress can impact profits. The American Institute of Stress in 2014 estimated that around $300 billion is lost each year in America due to stress related absenteeism and health costs. While in the UK, the Labour Force Survey found that 11.7 million days were lost in 2015/16 due to stress.

As an owner’s ability to perform suffers due to stress, the management of the business can deteriorate. Client work will not get the attention that it deserves, staff will leave to find a less volatile work environment, and competitors will start to gain an edge. Diminishing business performance will undoubtedly cause the owner to become even more stressed, leading to further poor decision making. It will only be a matter of time before the overall business declines because its foundation, the owner, is unstable.

So, what is the small business owner to do?

  1. Remember to keep things in perspective. While the success or failure of your business endeavours are largely dependent on your efforts, there are many things outside your control, such as the economy, regulatory change, and political decisions.
  2. Focus your efforts on the task at hand. Evidence suggests that multi-tasking does not work. It only leads to ineffectiveness and inefficiencies. Just think how dangerous it is to text and drive at the same time; it is illegal, not just inadvisable, as you are repeatedly shifting your focus from the road to the phone. You cannot do multiple tasks at once and expect to do them all at the same high level of performance. Constantly switching your focus as you move between tasks drains your mental reserves.
  3. Schedule your activities to achieve control over your day. There is a reason why militaries and schools are highly regimented, and that is because routine is the best way to achieve results. If you want to have less stress, you need to have more planning, which should encourage you to schedule your activities, track the time taken to complete these activities and then follow up on them to see how it could be done better in the future.
  4. Document processes and repetitive tasks, whether they are back office or client facing. Thanks to technological advancements, this is now very cost effective with companies like Process Street or SweetProcess specialising in standardising operating procedures. Every successful business is bigger than any staff member, even the owner. Therefore, by documenting work process and key areas of organisational knowledge this will allow a new person to step in and with minimal training pick up where the last person left off. If everything is in the owner’s head, or in the heads of employees, you are putting your business in a very precarious position.

As you can see, having high levels of stress for indefinite periods of time and having no way to manage this will have a negative effect on your health and overall business performance. Managing stress is vastly more important than chasing profits because most small businesses are an extension of their owner and an owner can’t just take six months off on stress leave and have other people cover for him. A healthy owner equals a healthy business and a higher chance of converting profiits into a long term sustainable future.

Benard Chedid is a small business consultant based in Sydney, Australia. His aim is to help small businesses professionalise by filling in the missing gaps that are holding them back, whether marketing or administration, sales or bookkeeping.

Image: Flickr

Do you have assets?

Do You Have Assets

(Source: Flickr)

When can you consider something that you have to be an asset?

This may sound like a funny question, but it is particularly important for the success of organisations and your success as an individual.

The answer turns out to be largely a matter of perspective.

If you are an accountant, then your goal is to categorise resources into groups: assets, liabilities, and equity.

From this perspective, assets will be resources that are owned or controlled by an organisation, and which can be used to better operate the business. These might include things like cash, inventory, property, plant and equipment.

If you are a financier, however, then your goal is a little bit different.  You are not trying to categorise resources into groups but rather to maximise your return on investment.

Looking at it this way, assets will be resources that increase in value or generate cash flow. This would include things like stocks (preferably dividend paying), interest bearing loans, bonds, and rental property. However, this perspective will tend to undervalue assets that don’t produce returns sufficiently quickly, and will basically ignore any value produced more than five years in the future.

If you are a strategist, then your goal is different again. You may have one eye on cash flows, but you are basically trying to ensure your organisation’s long term survival and prosperity.

With this in mind, assets will include resources that help the organisation maintain and strengthen its position over the longer term. This will include things like brand recognition, scale of operations and proprietary technology.

If you take the perspective of the financier, then you would rightly conclude that the paid subscriber base of media companies like The Australian, The New York Times and The New Yorker are assets since they undoubtedly generate a healthy stream of short term cash flows.

If you take the perspective of the strategist, however, then you may start to feel slightly uneasy.  In the world of digital media scale of operations is a critical strategic asset, and so steps that artificially limit subscriber numbers (by, for example, charging a subscription fee) are likely to inflict damage on the value of these organisations over time.

An asset may be an asset, but from whose perspective?

It may be a good time to take stock.

Life moves pretty fast

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it ~ Ferris Bueller

THE FRENETIC pace of daily life in Ho Chi Minh City combined with incredible time lapse photography produce a short video that gives you pause for thought (hat tip to Mike Maier for the video).

Are your urgent engagements really that important?  You’re moving pretty fast, but are you really going anywhere?

Stop, take a moment, watch the video.

I really enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

Looking beyond the adequate

WHEN posed with a business problem, there is always a temptation to accept the first solution that adequately addresses the problem.

However, the “adequate” solution is usually not the only solution, and often not the best one.

Adopting the first solution that “works” may get us from A to B and, once we have a solution, there is a temptation to stop searching. However, this is just the time to ask more questions:

  • Is there a faster way?
  • Is there a cheaper option?
  • Can we make the journey more comfortable?
  • Could we include some entertainment?
  • Why are we going from A to B? Would it not be better to go from A to C?

If we are happy not to look for alternatives this means that we are happy not to think.

If we want to make progress, it is important that we continue to think, ask questions and look for alternatives. To quote an old Jewish saying:

If there are two ways of doing something, you should always take the third.