Farewell to consulting

I started to question everything has happened so far in this year over the long night, when jet-lag eventually invaded. For a long time I believed I was energetic enough to be immune from all the impacts from weird sleeping patterns, I was wrong. Ageing has been a pretty powerful thing here, destroys all things you get used to before you even realise. I was also wrong about my sentimentality, over the years swimming in consultancies from industries to sectors, bullshitting to all kinds of people, I thought I was able to not allow emotion take an advantage of me, clearly no.

I survived from the blogging era, in fact not too long ago but it seemed never existed. That was a time when people did actually think (a lot more) about what they wrote online, word by word, sentence by sentence. Despite that the original & true purpose of blogging was probably to share, I didn’t really care about who my audience was, if there is any at all. It was a way of self-talk. There is this sheer enjoyment of crafting words and organising blocks of text that I still keep. I had the privilege to be part of the movement myself to evolve the tech, never had the intention to change how people live and work to be as is. It all seemed spontaneous that I am far too busy these days at things that I can’t even tell.

It only took a fraction of seconds to make a decision of leaving consulting — the perfect career I once believed and much loved — though it just happened after seeing the only dependency of having to stay had vanished. It only seemed customary — at least in the olden days — that I would have to produce some structured text to commemorate an ending of a life era, plus it may benefit someone who is about to be involved in what I have been through, and of course for my own pleasure, I am presenting these following things that I have collected as I walked through my career so far. Have I been so successful to master these skills that I am fully entitled to educate people — of course not. I only hoped that a few years down the line when I look back at this, it would make some sense.

❚ Communicate with impact 
It is kind of obvious it is easier for people to process information if there is a clear structure and there isn’t too much distraction. There is also this complication between the information you intend to express and the perception of your audiences. When discrepancies happen, they can be disastrous. Maybe having a tech background helped. Maybe being a minimalist OCD Virgo also helped. In a written format, I always tried to be precise, almost like as if it was engineered. Use simple yet effective verbs and keep adjectives to a minimal. Do not bullshit if you don’t have to. Decompose the chunk of information to shorter, sharper digestible items; bullet points always helps. In an oral but professional setting, like in a presentation, convey you know what you are talking about, bundle with confidence. In an oral but casual setting, like talking to your new colleague, try letting them feel you actually care. Always think before the words being spat out from your mouth as they can’t go back in again.

All sounds reasonable and even trivial, but the easiest to be underestimated and omitted. In consulting we sell time as consumables and (very likely) information as work products, to be able to convey precisely the intended message and minimise the possible effect of bias and incorrect perception have to be carefully thought through.

I also believe it is worth mentioning the darkest skill of bullshitting — to let your audience believe in something that is either doesn’t exist or you don’t really know. It is very likely that the people you would engage with in this trade have some kind of bullshit radar — they have no reason to be less clever than you and it is more than likely that they know much more than you in their disciplines. You do not want to upset them by bullshitting anyway and resulting in a label of being a pedantic arrogant idiot and eventually burn the relationship. The correct way of doing this to me has been boringly simple: do your homework and turn their radars off, if you don’t know, admit it with confidence that you know how to find the answer. “Jack of all trades, master of none” — however, is usually the outcome of this.

❚ Master craftsmanship without a loss of oversight 
We will be talking about my favourite subjects of all — attention to details, in a modest way. I have seen too many extremists in this matter of either being almost ignorant and only cared about progress; or being an OCD and too obsessed with the unnecessities to make any progress at all. Unfortunately I have been a role model of the latter. Over the years I have been struggling with one dilemma that had really bothered me, I was blinded to the false impression that we were developing a product ‘on behalf of the client’. The reality was however, we were merely solving problems for them. Endless amount of attention and craftsmanship can be injected into the thought process of building/perfecting the product and still realising there are still superiors out there. Solving problems however, have to take considerations of constraints, limitations, red tapes and all the unpleasant NO-NOs. We do not live in a perfect world and it took me a while to finally realise there isn’t a perfect project either. So if I had known this earlier I would have stopped moaning about things being non-ideal to prevent us from delivering world-class solutions but to deliver some solution that has clever workarounds. Made with love — as what I usually call it.

❚ Lead self and develop others
Evidently, by definition, you probably need to know roughly where to go in order to ‘lead’, for both self and others. It just took too long for me to finally put together a picture of what exactly do I want to achieve for the next few years down the line before I turn 30 when I probably have to shift gear. Annoyingly this picture has been changing too often hence quite hard to have a ‘release version’. As to what do I owe to reach a point that I can be sure ‘this is what I want’ — I very much feel like the familiar situation when you are sitting in a fancy cocktail bar and the fully-suited bartender asks you what do you want — I would usually go “what do you have” (I know some people would go “surprise me!”). It ain’t cool if you pretend to be knowing everything because you really don’t. Live a full life and experience the never-done always helps — another thanks to what consulting gave me.

I have been a firm believer the most effective way to lead others is to let them believe you are needed for their career and they are needed for yours, both have to happen together. It doesn’t sound very humane by expressing the hint of exchanging benefits but reality is often brutal. Therefore on a contrary applying superiority without reason usually fails instantly. It is not only about making the correct decisions and managing plans, I also believe in development and growth, on a personal level. Offer ridiculous opportunities to juniors and push them outside the boundary often fails initially but would separate out the good and the average over the longer run. Embracing controlled failures in a managed setting has been my usual drill, I found it worked quite well.

❚ Kill procrastination 
We are talking about execution speed here and it is just obvious. One of the most valuable fact I learnt over the years in consulting, if not the most, it must be the significance of time management. This has been a war against the devil in myself and it still is. I do not believe there is a cure (ping me if you think there is), the way I made it better was through prioritising. Cut the crap and focus on the essential. This probably shares some linkage between the earlier point mentioned about not to indulge in excessive details and always keep an oversight. Apply some algorithm tailored to your personality sometimes helps, given you know what your ‘rewarding preferences’ are. If there are 3 tasks A, B and C ordered by man-hour required to complete and complexity, I’d begin with C and finish the whole thing with A the easiest as a reward for clearing this pipeline. Maybe this is just me.

I did not intend to tag this as #dearFutureMe however unavoidably it has gone down this route. A decision was just made to put together a second part of this to pay some tribute to the people I have met this year. An early thank you to you all.

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