The Bar for Being an Expert

Management consulting is an industry with funny quirks.  One of them is that you can do one project in an area and be considered an “expert.”  My first consulting job was at a small boutique firm, and one of my early projects involved doing a discounted cash flow model.  I had learned some Excel in college, and I used a couple of old projects lying around as examples.  After I had done the model, I was suddenly the go-to person in the firm for financial modeling.  I thought this was due to being at such a small company, but the same thing has happened at various firms in areas including healthcare, pricing, personalization technology, and packaging.  This phenomenon is why no consultant wants their first project to be in a dull industry.

This trend is also in direct conflict with the concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours of mindful practice to be a world-class performer in any area.  Bill Gates spent those hours programming in high school, and violin virtuosos spend that much time playing before becoming recognized as first-class.  Unfortunately, this principle has been shortened in popular usage to “it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert,” which I don’t believe is true.  This version prevents people from realizing how quickly they can increase their perceived value.  Depending on the context, you could become an “expert” in your organization in a few weeks or months. Continue reading The Bar for Being an Expert

Rethinking the MBA

If you follow MBA news, you might know about a recent book called Rethinking the MBA.  It’s an offshoot of an internal strategy project at Harvard Business School, and it describes the current state of the MBA, its strengths and shortcomings, and ways that business schools are trying to make the degree more useful and relevant.  I took a quick look and wanted to share my thoughts. Continue reading Rethinking the MBA

Business Schools Get a Bad Rap

Business schools and MBA degrees have a bit of an image problem.  Despite getting a multitude of applicants, especially during the recession, schools get a beating by the media and pundits every year or two.  The criticisms run the gamut:

  • The learning attained in business school is easily duplicated at work or through self-directed study
  • Supposedly, only a few schools give students a positive financial return after accounting for tuition costs and two years of foregone salary
  • There are various gaps in the curriculum (e.g., not enough focus on people management, communication)
  • More recently, both the analytical techniques and mindset they promote have been accused of contributing to the financial crisis and ethical problems at companies like Enron

There are a lot of nuances to these arguments, and I can’t cover them all here.  So I’m going to present my qualitative opinion on the educational and career value of business school.   Continue reading Business Schools Get a Bad Rap

A Practical Presentation Checklist

I recently wrote a guest post on Business Consulting Buzz on getting client buy-in, a critical skill for any consultant.  That piece covers the more process-oriented aspects of building trust and credibility with clients, but simply presenting well is also important.  For that reason, I thought I’d cover some presentation tips in this article.  This advice isn’t meant to be exhaustive or necessarily groundbreaking, but it does serve as a useful checklist to consider leading up to any presentation. Continue reading A Practical Presentation Checklist

Beware the Perfect Analysis

You’ve probably already heard this saying, right?  “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  The idea is that many people, striving for perfection on a project, end up dithering on the details for so long that they fail to deliver anything.  It essentially becomes a form of procrastination to fine-tune the details rather than getting a first version of something to your boss or your customers and getting real feedback on it.  Personally, I find this aphorism to be very true.  As a manager, you should be aware that this problem can be very dangerous, especially for people who are always trying to over-deliver. Continue reading Beware the Perfect Analysis